Ever since his speech in Switzerland many have been talking about the real Stephen Harper and his so called 'hidden agenda'. Rarely though are things ever black and white, and even more rare in the political realm.
Talk of reducing public pensions, capping transfers for health care, opening up new avenues for the financial sector to provide private pensions...Are these just trial balloons or is Stephen Harper looking to move Canada sharply to the right?
Let's take a step back, because I don't think our current Prime Minister has changed, only his circumstances. He has successfully started nudging Canada to the right over the past 5 or so years, anyone who refuses to acknowledge that is blind.
Stephen Harper is both a Libertarian and a politician, and politics has to come first. There are many fiscal Conservatives who have been justifiably upset with the proliferate spending of the past few years. But in reality Harper had no choice, not going into major deficit after the last election but one would have meant losing power because he'd failed to garner a majority. The only option was to push real reform onto the back burner in order to maintain power.
Now he doesn't have that concern, but acting too radically could still have repercussions. Imagine the uproar if the Canada Health Act were declared null and void, if OAS were wiped out completely, if the CPP was sold off to the private sector. Obviously that would be political suicide, even for a Prime Minister with a majority mandate and four plus years to run.
Now to be clear, I'm not suggesting that this is what is on the agenda. But at the same I don't discount the possibility. With lower taxation leading to lower revenues, services have to be reduced, that's simple economics. There are arguments to be made for both bigger and smaller government, debate is a good thing.
Harper was both Vice President and President of the National Citizens Coalition, an organization founded to fight against the imposition of state run health care in this country. If the Conservatives under Stephen Harper want to eventually eliminate government funded health care, then capping the amount they will pay just when costs are set to explode is a good plan.
There is nothing inherently wrong with believing that health care would be better delivered by the private sector, differing opinions are the hallmark of a healthy democracy. But suggesting as much during an election campaign, or as a matter of party policy, would be suicidal in today's environment. But in another ten years, perhaps not.
Citizens expected to look after themselves without big brother government interfering and running everything, that's the debate I can see coming. And at this point its hard to say which argument will hold sway with the electorate in another five to ten years.
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