Harper's no longer master of his own house
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Yet his retirement in 1985 heralded a radical challenge to traditional conservatism. An ideological right wing emerged that grew out of both Albertan separatism and the Reform Party, of which Stephen Harper was a chief architect. This new movement questioned the very legitimacy of
government, opposing universality of social programs and government regulation.
Harper himself characterized Canada to a US audience as a “welfare state in the worst sense,” writing in the Globe and Mail in 1995 that for core Reformers, the “g-issues” of “guns, gays, and government grants” were their key issues. He strongly opposed reform and regulation of banking
and finance when Paul Martin introduced it as Liberal finance minister.
Over time the Reformers became the Alliance, finally merging with the federal Progressive Conservatives in 2003. The common thread is Stephen Harper. Moderated for a national audience, his brand of conservatism took hold with an iron grip, to the point that anyone advocating a Lougheed-style government today would be, and is, branded a socialist.
By slow incremental steps, the Harper view of market dominance as a primary arbiter of government policy came to dominate discourse on the right.
Put simply, if the market don’t fix it, it ain’t broke.
As prime minister, Stephen Harper significantly moderated his early rhetoric, but its traces can be seen in his aggressive moves against the environmental movement and emphasis on crime, prisons and the drug war.
But make no mistake, the Wildrose Alliance is the Alberta manifestation of Harper conservatism. His interfering hand is evident in the tireless efforts of his former generals Tom Flanagan and Rod Love, who sent all the king's horses and all the king’s men to capture the prize.
But the old lion Lougheed, facing near certain defeat for Alison Redford, ventured from his lair to meet them with a roar, serving notice that Alberta's conservative legacy was his to bestow, and Redford is his choice. Endowed with a first-rate mind, international experience, and an expansive view of Alberta’s role in Canada and the world, Redford is the modern embodiment all Lougheed’s ambitions.
In the end it was a rout. A stunning repudiation of the ideological conservatism and, in a curious twist, a rebuke of the prime minister himself. Alberta voted like the international powerhouse it is, electing a premier who strides the national and global stage with assurance.
In an outcome no one predicted, Canada’s suddenly unpopular prime minister’s government is now on its heels, isolated as the most far right in the country. And Harper is no longer master of his own house, Alberta. He’s forged no expansionary alliances, and his enemies are emboldened and multiplying. From here on, he’s playing defense.
That Alison Redford helms the country’s most powerful and dynamic province and owes no favours to Stephen Harper is a reality lost on no one.
But it’s a new day for Alberta and the country. The pretenders are vanquished, the sword is pulled from the stone. The true inheritor of Peter Lougheed's mantle has at long last emerged.
The curtain rises.