Two Cheers for Maclean’s (Coyne & Wells)

Andrew Coyne

I’ve been very critical of Maclean’s in the past and expect to be so again in the future, but I would be amiss and unfair if I didn’t note the magazine houses the two best analysts of Canadian politics, Andew Coyne and Paul Wells. I was particularly taken with Coyne’s recent analysis of Canadian conservativism in the age of Harper as a politics of pure expediency, a politics for the sake of politics:

Stephen Harper’s Tories can run $56-billion deficits, raise spending to all-time record levels, and grease every Conservative riding with layers of pork; they can abandon Afghanistan, coddle Quebec, and adopt the NDP approach to foreign investment; and still there exists in people’s minds another Conservative party, somewhere, for whom these policies are anathema.

I suppose it’s possible these other Conservatives exist in theory, as a kind of Platonic ideal form. And so the principles commonly ascribed to them may also be said to exist, as abstractions. But if they never actually act on them, of what real-world significance are they? How is it meaningful to talk about them?

This gets at something real about Harper, his genuine lack of any fixed principles. There have been very few public figures quite as soulless as Harper.

4 thoughts on “Two Cheers for Maclean’s (Coyne & Wells)

  1. If you read William Johnston’s Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada, quite a different picture of Harper emerges from that presented by Andrew Coyne. He is depicted as the upholder of conservative principles against Preston Manning’s mushy populism. Of course, when in power, things change. Harper is being as conservative as possible under the circumstances.

  2. Hi Jim,
    Thanks for this comment. I’ll have to look up Johnston’s book. Andrew Coyne is a bit of true believer, so he’s somewhat unwilling to acknowledge the fact that all politicians have to compromise their principles when in power: that in fact is part of what politics is about. On the other hand, it’s also the case that, as Coyne has shown, the the list of principles that Harper has abandoned is a long one.

  3. The best argument against Coyne is in fact the argument of Wells. His point is basically that, according to Harper, the aim is indeed primarily power, because making many small changes over a long period of time has a deeper effect than making dramatic changes over a short period of time (especially because those changes are easily undone, e.g., Mike Harris). In this sense, power and principle necessarily converge, and Harper takes the historical success of the Liberal Party to illustrate that point. And, while Coyne’s argument is certainly powerful, it would certainly be hard to argue that Harper is any less unprincipled than the collective history of the Liberal Party: which is to say, that he’s also just as principled as them, which is for him the whole point (to leave a long-term imprint). A lot of Canadian political science also corroborates the view which Wells attributes to Harper (e.g., “Absent Mandate”, by Clarke, et al).

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