FIRST READING: 'Harper was right!' — a quick scorecard of examples, from Netflix tax to China policy

It turns out his campaign warnings about Liberals blowing out the budget were extremely correct

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Last week, the Liberals tabled legislation for an eventual “digital services tax” on big tech companies, including Facebook and Netflix.

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It’s not entirely surprising that the Trudeau government would look to tax Netflix; it has already used other legislation to subject them to strict content controls. But keen political observers may remember that one of the most-mocked episodes from the 2015 election was a video in which then prime minister Stephen Harper warned that “only our party can be trusted not to bring forward a new Netflix tax.”

There was plenty that Harper got wrong. The Conservatives have openly embraced the notion that they backed the wrong horse in the same-sex marriage debate. There’s no shortage of weed-smoking right-wingers who are happy they can now get their cannabis from a store. And even the most partisan Tory can still be made to shudder by mentioning the words “barbaric cultural practices hotline.”

But as noted below, the rise of the Netflix tax is far from the first time that a Harper forecast has come true.

He was absurdly correct on Liberal overspending

During the 2015 campaign, both the Conservatives and the NDP promised balanced budgets if they won government. But the Liberals pledged to run three years of “modest short-term deficits” of about $10 billion, on the grounds that interest rates were low and the spending could be used to bolster infrastructure and “kick-start” the economy.

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In a campaign strategy that was widely ridiculed at the time, Harper focused heavily on the notion that the “three modest deficits” was a just a fake-out, and a prime minister Justin Trudeau would end up blowing out the deficit well beyond $10 billion per year. “Friends we’ve gone through this before; look at the mess in Ontario with the ‘modest’ deficits of a Liberal government,” Harper said at a Hamilton campaign stop.

“Trudeau’s deficits will not be small,” Harper said at another campaign stop. “He said the budget will balance itself. He has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to these things.”

The other items on this list are all somewhat open to interpretation, but Harper is correct that Trudeau absolutely did not stick to “small” deficits. The national debt has doubled under Trudeau’s watch, and even before the massive expense of COVID-19 (which saw at least $200 billion in non-pandemic deficit spending), the Trudeau government had already blown past its promised targets, posting a $14 billion deficit in 2018/2019.

The Liberal strategy on China is now almost a mirror image of Harper’s

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While the Harper government may have initially pursued the idea of expanding trade relations with the People’s Republic of China, Harper left office with a profound suspicion of Beijing’s intentions. In a post-politics 2018 interview with U.S. conservative broadcaster Ben Shapiro, for instance, Harper would noticeably emerge as the most China-skeptical of the two — even going so far as to endorse tariff policies that isolated China at the expense of Western consumers.

The Trudeau government has followed a similar arc in its relations with China. Trudeau kicked off his premiership with a goodwill trip to Beijing that bordered on the obsequious: He presented his young family to China’s leadership and spoke of his intentions for a “reset” on relations.

But now, after a series of hostile moves against Canada by Beijing — most notably its “hostage diplomacy” involving Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — the Trudeau government has returned right back to the chilly mistrust that characterized Sino-Canadian relations when it took office. Ottawa’s most recent Indo-Pacific Strategy, published earlier this year, spoke of China as a “disruptive global power” and promised to pursue relations with a “clear-eyed understanding of this.”

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Buying the F-35

During the 2015 election, the Liberals explicitly promised in their platform “we will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.” The Conservatives had championed the F-35 as a cornerstone of Canadian defence policy, and to that the Liberals contended that Canada was being hoodwinked by an overpriced jet that woudn’t work for Canada’s needs and could be easily replaced with “lower-priced” options.

So the Trudeau alternative was to launch an “open, fair and transparent” procurement process that concluded in early 2022 that Canada should buy the F-35. The result is that Canada is getting the exact same jet, albeit at the expense of keeping its already-outdated fleet of CF-18s in the air for 10 years longer than if they’d simply stuck with the original F-35 contract.

Waffling on an MMIW inquiry is making more sense

In its final months, the Harper government took a lot of heat for its strenuous refusal to greenlight an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. One of the Conservative government’s first actions had been to approve the Truth and Reconciliation Commission regard Indian Residential Schools. However, as women’s and Indigenous groups dialled up the pressure for a similar inquiry into high rates of murdered Indigenous women, Harper’s much-criticized answer was that this was a “law enforcement” issue, and any attempts to approach it as a “sociological phenomenon” would be counterproductive.

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The MMIW inquiry ended up being approved by the Trudeau government. But where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a measured, scholarly documentation of a key facet of Canada’s past, the MMIW inquiry would yield the bizarre contention that Canada was committing an ongoing genocide. That’s part of why even the government that commissioned it has mostly decided to treat the inquiry’s conclusions with lip service.

As noted in 2022, almost all of the inquiry’s recommendations — which included the implementation of an “annual livable income for all” and programs to put more Indigenous people in “media and pop culture” — have gone unheeded by Ottawa.

IN OTHER NEWS

It’s time for the Conference of the Parties, the UN’s annual international climate change conference. While the event often creates unusually high rates of carbon emissions due to the fleets of private jets and limousines it attracts, this year might be a bit higher than usual given that it’s in Dubai, a heavily air-conditioned desert metropolis almost entirely dependent on petroleum for survival. Notably, the summit’s official president is also the head of the UAE’s state-run oil company. Canada’s own attendance will be somewhat contradictory. The Trudeau government is sending its usual large delegation to push ideas like “net-zero.” But the guest list also includes two of the figures most opposed to Trudeau government climate policy; Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. Smith is expected to push the idea of “carbon capture,” with the subtext being that if we simply capture enough carbon we can all keep using fossil fuels. This is naturally at odds with the federal position, which chiefly prioritizes emissions reduction.

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Stephen Harper, Jean Chretien
In other Stephen Harper news, here’s him posing with former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien at a recent fundraiser. “Always wonderful to catch up with a true gentleman and my friend, The Right Honourable Jean Chrétien,” he wrote in a caption posted to X.com. Much of Harper’s early political career was devoted largely to opposing Chrétien, although Conservative insiders have reported that the Conservative leader always maintained a keen respect for Chrétien’s ability to seize, retain and direct power. They’re also both among the tallest people ever to occupy the position; Harper is 6’2″. Photo by Stephen Harper/X.com

The Ontario Liberal Party – the one that still remains in relative shambles following the catastrophic defeat of premier Kathleen Wynne in 2018 – has a new leader. Bonnie Crombie, the current mayor of Mississauga, narrowly clinched the leadership on Saturday. Crombie is the anointed successor of Hazel McCallion, who served as Mississauga mayor for 36 years and died earlier this year at age 101.

AngusReid François Legault
The Angus Reid Institute just released their quarterly survey of premier popularity, and the big takeaway is a shocking fall from grace for Quebec Premier François Legault. In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Legault easily ranked as one of Canada’s most popular provincial leaders, with an approval rating of 77 per cent. And now, more than two-thirds of his constituents don’t like him anymore. The Montreal Gazette listed some of the main reasons why, but they include widespread public sector strikes, mismanaged transit projects and a punishing tuition hike levied on English-language universities. Photo by Angus Reid Institute

The convention that elected Crombie, meanwhile, featured a controversial video message from House of Commons Speaker Greg Fergus. Dressed in his official speaker robes, Fergus recorded a tribute to John Fraser, the Ontario Liberal Party’s outgoing interim leader. As the House of Commons resumed on Monday, MPs pilloried Fergus for appearing to violate the required impartiality of his position. Although Fergus is a Liberal MP, he’s supposed to avoid any conventional partisan-y things so long as he holds the position, lest it appear that he’s favouring his own side while managing debates.

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