Monday, November 01, 2010

The source of the vacuum

Apparently Rob Ford's mayoral victory has led to plenty of questions about broader populism in Canada, with both Alex Himelfarb and Robert Silver writing noteworthy posts on the subject. I'll deal later with the state of left-wing populism, but let's start with the answer as to why national movements haven't yet popped up on the right.

There, I'd think the answer is a fairly simple one. It's been well documented that one of Stephen Harper's main management strategies within the Cons has been to tear down any internal structures which could allow anybody else to build a power base which might challenge his leadership. And there has been little if any resistance from right-affiliated groups outside the party to Harper's actions either, as the likes of the Fraser Institute and Canadian Taxpayers Federation have been eager to take up the Cons' party line rather than risking any gap between their theoretical values and the party in power (e.g. by applauding the Cons for spending more money to get less results out of the census).

And I'd go a step further in hypothesizing that the country's leading supposedly-independent Con may actually be the best example yet of how Harper has managed to channel right-wing anger toward his party rather than toward outside movements.

While Maxime Bernier has nominally challenged the direction of the Cons' government at times, he's never done so in a way that Harper himself would figure to disagree with - meaning that he's served primarily as a useful ideological counterweight to the opposition parties in trying to frame the Cons' actions. And rather than seeming to assemble any movement behind himself, Bernier has instead made himself available to pitch the Cons' party line on request.

So the simple answer to why there's no popular movement on the right is that Harper has gone to great lengths to prevent one from developing, setting up a magnet for populist frustration within his own party (and in the person of an MP still under his control) rather than risking the formation of any outside groups. And that task has been facilitated by the fact that right-wing groups who might otherwise have figure to lead the charge have instead gone out of their way to avoid harming the interests of a small-c conservative government.

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