Can you imagine the irony that poor Stephen Harper must feel. He has become the prime minister of a northern European welfare state, in the worst sense of the term.
Despite his best efforts to ignore the impending recession, a recession apparently caused by American consumers, who forgetting their conservative values, tried to live beyond their means, he has now been forced to become the benevolent socialist leader, doling out government welfare to a growing number of Canadians who have failed to remain employed.
This is not what Stephen Harper signed up for and certainly not the role he thought he would be playing as the most conservative prime minister in our history.
However his week did not start out this way. On Tuesday Steve was optimistic about the downturn telling the Brampton Chamber of Commerce that we should set aside our Canadian modesty and start selling our strengths to the world. Canada will be one of the first countries to recover, he told us. I imagine that it was good for Steve to get out of the office.
Imagine sitting in parliament all day as a conservative, trying to force the so called socialist opposition parties to speed up approval of billions of stimulus dollars that will not only throw your budgets into deficit, but is intended to be spent in a way that opposes the very principles that you have built your whole political career upon, free enterprise, less government spending, reduced social welfare.
It was with little wonder that Steve would jump for the opportunity on Wednesday to speak before the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a conservative think tank headed by Steve’s old political boss Preston Manning. It was an opportunity for Steve to get back to his roots, reaffirm his conservative beliefs, to be reborn, one could say, and just as importantly explain to this key base of supporters, who are somewhat disillusioned with his recent actions, his brand of conservatism, the three Fs, Freedom, Family and Faith.
You don’t get to do that in front of the cameras, not as a politician. You can only vent your frustrations behind closed doors and away from reality.
In front of his core base of supporters Steve espoused that his tax cuts protected Canada despite the parliamentary report that showed they caused the deficit.
He claimed that Canada did not have a mortgage crisis, despite his government bringing in the zero down 40 year mortgages, which resulted in the $75 billion government guarantee of risky assets.
He freely attacked the opposition Liberal party claiming they had a secret agenda to raise the taxes of those of us making over $250,000 a year. An agenda I assume that that the Liberals must only speak about behind their closed doors. Who knew.
Unfortunately, and regardless of any personal reaffirmation he might of felt, you know the sharing of drinks and banter with seemingly like minded folk, not all in attendance believed, understood or supported his message.
Some attendees thought he not only failed to build bridges back to his base, he burnt them down or as one attendee was quoted, If you want to vote for a centrist party, you can vote for the Liberal Party of Canada. They're very good at that.
Definitely not the result that Steve intended. However if you talk like a socialist and walk like a socialist, to this group of libertarians you are a centrist and although that is what Steve is trying to become it must have been disappointing to realize that his heart felt conservative values were no longer recognized.
With little time to recover from the rebuke by some of his once solid base of supporters (I am sure there were conversations overheard by strategically placed PMO operatives) things suddenly got worse for the prime minister on Friday, with the release of the unemployment numbers. There are now 1.4 million unemployed Canadians taking advantage of his extended social welfare programs, with its five extra weeks of coverage.
Steve a once proud conservative, libertarian, started his political career by standing before a group of American neoconservatives and jokingly stated that they, the Americans should not feel particularly sorry for the unemployed in Canada, of which we had over a million-and-a-half at the time, that they the unemployed don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance.
After such a week, it was with little wonder that when Steve and his human resources minister, spent yesterday, announcing job retraining programs, earmarking another $2 billion dollars to support the newly unemployed, he felt compelled to throw in a caveat that would somewhat satisfy his inherent beliefs and demonstrate to his now somewhat disillusioned base that there will be no free rides in his new vision of socially conservative Canada.
Any former workers that are fortunate enough to be long tenured, in other words receive a severance package equal to the number of years they worked for their employer, will have to use part of their severance pay for retraining if they want to receive employment insurance benefits.
Regardless that these former workers cannot claim or collect EI benefits until the severance period is over and regardless that they may or may not need to be retrained, these newly unemployed will have to fork over a portion of their severance, just to cover themselves in case the severance runs out, before they get a job.
In his last event on Friday, our prime minister, who has spent much of the week trying to redefine his center, has informed Canadians that there will be no free rides for the unemployed under his stewardship and I would assume, psychologically satisfied his own need to move that center he has been searching for, further to the right, into more familiar territory.
It must truly be a dilemma to be a socially focussed, conservative prime minister.