By Ted Rushton
In a marvellously unperceptive book about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin outlines the dramatic collapse of Canada’s Liberal Party in excruciating detail.
Quite simply, Martin doesn’t understand the adage by long-dead Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter that free market capitalism is a process of “creative destruction.” This doesn’t apply merely to economics; it applies to all actions of people in a progressive society. Conservatives who value stability are the enemies of a dynamic growing society; fatally matched by liberals who value novelty as an easy substitute for change.
Quite simply, to select a representative example, it’s why General Motors went bankrupt. GM forgot it was in the business of making cars, and emphasized profits instead of products. The result was a decline in engineering and innovative standards due to the immediate emphasis on quick and easy profits; in contrast German, Japanese and Korean companies emphasized product with the expectation that good vehicles would produce good profits.
“Well, I didn’t ‘get it’ at the time either, but I think I do now,” admits former General Motors vice president Bob Lutz in a new book, ‘Car Guys vs. Bean Counters’. His emphasis is that companies reap what they sow; if the emphasis is profits, a great company will produce great profits until the product on which those products are based is replaced by superior products from rival companies — thus the “creative destruction” of the free market.
The same basic fact of economics applies to politics, which is why the U.S. political climate is so vindictive and destructive. It’s a process of “creative destruction” that destroys all but the toughest politicians, which is why despite the worldwide economic collapse of the past five years the U.S.is still the “go to economy” for every society seeking a bailout.
In Canada, the economy is largely tied to the U.S. — with the advantage of a national health care plan that slashes costs for manufacturers. It’s why Canada, with 10 percent of the population of North America, produces almost 20 percent of the vehicles. Even companies such as GM, before and after its bankruptcy, understands the benefits of a national health care plan as compared to every business creating its own health care system.
The problem in Canada is a GM-style political system. The emphasis is on political peace, order and lazy leaders who inherit senior positions rather than engage in the “creative destruction” of no-holds-barred public battles to win leadership roles. In Canada, a ‘Barack Obama’ couldn’t get past a local party ward heelers without 30 or 40 years of dutiful obedient service to his elders plus buckets of political favours delivered; Canadian politicians are about as independent as hogs marching up a ramp into the slaughterhouse.
The premise of a Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama primary battle waged by appealing to the public for more than a year is so un-Canadian as to be unthinkable. The result is selection of intellectual party leaders with all the appeal of yesterday’s pizza and stale beer.
“Why is all that pizza left over from last night?”
“Oh, it’s because even the mice have better taste than to nibble it!”
“Great! We need to order more of that pizza that lasts instead of that stuff that disappears as soon as we open the box. That way we’ll never run out of pizza.”
All this was very accepted, logical and routine until a maverick politician set out to create a political movement in his own image — rather than that of his predecessors. In most societies, this would be “radical politics”. In Canada, is became the Conservative insurrection.
Dynamic change is always annoying, especially to comfortable bureaucrats of limited acumen and maximum comfort, which may explain why Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is so infuriating to the chattering classes. Lawrence Martin stumbles over scores of examples in his book ‘Harperland: The Politics of Control’ about how and why Harper succeeded, without once seeming to understand the dynamics of recent events.
Instead of due deference to the ‘good ol’ boy’ media, humble respect to the old order which assumed Liberals were the ordained rulers of Canada, plus complete obedience to the incumbent paper pushers of the bureaucracy, Harper created a powerful new culture of popular politics loyal only and completely to himself. With facts but little insight, Martin outlines the ruthless rise of Harper who now rules Canada with an iron fist in a steel glove in a marshmallow town.
It’s great newspaper reporting, based on the premise newspapers are the first rough draft of history. Sadly, as a “rough draft” it lacks insight and depth to show if Harper is a conservative ideologue, a crafty pragmatist without ideology or an autocrat imposing a coup d’etat.
Perhaps the lack of ideology analysis is apt; Martin describes Harper as malleable as a chameleon who will likely continue a shape-shifting career. The great weakness of Harper and this book is that Harper didn’t “win” a Parliamentary majority on May 2; instead, the Liberals lost. It’s similar to the election of Barack Obama in 2008, in which George Bush left his party with a massive election defeat.
Politicians like to think they “win” elections. Few realize that sometimes — perhaps often — their opponents lose. Martin cites case after case of Liberal ineptitude without seeming to realize that incompetence of the opposition may be Harper’s greatest strength. If so, then the next few years could be traumatic for Canada if Harper assumes he has a “mandate” for change.
Martin points out that until now Harper succeeded by incrementalism.
Now, his new majority in Parliament and command-and-control attitude may create major social upheavals in Canada. This book is prologue, a first rough draft of turgid turmoil that may lie ahead for Canada.
Politicians are most dangerous when they think they “won” rather than recognizing their opponents “lost”. Martin indicates the Liberals “lost” and Harper got the “None of the Above” vote. If so, instead of incremental change Canada may be face several years of incendiary upheavalism.