Fraser Institute

After warning of benign dictatorships, he now heads one

With the Harper government finally holding a majority in Parliament, it’s worth re-looking at the radical milieu that gave early inspiration to Canada’s Prime Minister. Some years ago, writer Marci McDonald wrote The Man Behind Stephen Harper for The Walrus magazine.  McDonald’s piece talked of fears that Tom Flanagan was “the man poised to become the real power behind [Harper’s] prime ministerial throne.”

Flanagan and associate Rainer Knopff are old boys of the “Calgary School,” which provides academic badges for what McDonald calls a “rambunctious, Rocky Mountain brand of libertarianism.” They are also Senior Fellows of The Fraser Institute, a ‘non-partisan’ charity that channels millions each year to libertarian and pro-corporate political causes.

In December, Northern Insights offered a look at Tom Flanagan in Prince of the racist radical right, or just a moron?

When developing strategies for future political influence, Harper and Flanagan published a 1997 opinion piece titled Our Benign Dictatorship.” It boasted:

“Canadian conservatism is at its strongest level in many years. The oldest conservative institutions — the National Citizens’ Coalition, the Fraser Institute, Alberta Report and its sister magazines — have been joined by new research institutes, mass organizations and publishing houses. The Donner Canadian Foundation,with real money to spend, has accelerated the growth of a conservative intellectual network. In the media, conservative columnists are multiplying “like zebra mussels,” as Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn put it.”

The right wing activists knew full well that gaining power required  “real money to spend.” Money that enabled astroturf groups such as the National Citizens’ Coalition and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to gain prominence, that funded “research institutes” and handsomely rewarded media members who treated the libertarian, neo-con and neo-lib agendas with sympathy and support. Money was the key that enabled all the other resources to be marshalled.

Where was the money to come from? Harper’s coterie were comfortable but not powerfully wealthy. To afford success, Harper and his mentors — less principled that they pretended even to themselves — were prepared to make Faustian bargains for access to wealth. Canada’s rich and super-rich citizens became the “conservative” movement’s usurious financiers. In return, the elites merely wanted legal and taxation systems that guaranteed an ever widening gulf between rich and poor. This required political dedication to what Naomi Klein calls the “policy trinity” of the Chicago-School program:

“the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending.”

Self-styled conservatives, having gained for themselves financial strength and media dominance, began efforts to deny resources to political opponents. Specific strategies aimed at undercutting influence of public sector employees and labour unions, undermining public broadcasting and ending public financial support to opposition political parties. In 2008, Stephen Harper reaffirmed his intention to remove taxpayer support of political parties but his government’s minority status prevented action, an obstacle now removed.

Of course, Harper’s Conservatives are willing to forgo public financing. They can afford to, having raised more in personal donations in 2010 than all other federal parties combined.  That multi-million dollar advantage is made even greater by Harper’s absolute control over government spending. For example, shortly before the 2011 election, the Government of Canada launched an unprecedented advertising blitz to sing praises of the budget, the Conservative Economic Action Plan and countless other federal initiatives. Under Harper Conservatives, government “informational” advertising” has grown to about $80 millions a year. Gordon Campbell’s Liberals, by the way, cynically allocated an even larger proportion of total government spending to public relations.

When the Conservative Prime Minister ends public funding of political parties, he will follow that by privatization of the CBC. His actions will ensure those with deep pockets can steamroller others who cannot afford to have their voices heard. Harper’s objective is to weaken further opposition to the “policy trinity” of the Chicago-School program. The neo-liberal movement wants an insurmountable political advantage. It hungers to combine unfettered control of public expenditures, obedient support of mainstream media, intellectual assets funded through right wing think tanks and the financial muscle of Canada’s super-rich elites.

Well meaning commentators have suggested that opponents tread lightly in the face of Harper’s win in 2011, arguing that Conservatives deserve a chance to implement their policies. This ignores the devious strategy Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan made public in 1987.  Rather than warning opposition parties to tread carefully, we must remind Harper and friends that 39.6% of the popular vote is not a mandate for massive change in Canada.

3 replies »

  1. How typical of those well meaning commentators to say that.No,we must fight Harper every step of the way.No deals.No compromises.And it's good to see Northern Insights “back on the air”.


  2. If it is even possible, I might consider Tom Flanagan even more despicable and odious than his protege, the newly installed dictator of HarperLand. It isn't bad enough that he promotes the Greed Justification economic theories of the Chicago School at its Junior Varsity extension campus in Calgary, the same Chicago School that provided so much inspiration and guidance to Augusto Pinochet during his spree of Crimes Against Humanity in Chile.

    What really grinds my posterior is that on top of that, he IS the definition “chickenhawk” to a degree which would make even Dubya Bush the Lesser or Dick Cheney jealous. This man, when he had a chance to be a real soldier and go kill furriners in the name of Corporate Greed in Vietnam, chose instead to DRAFT DODGE to Texas North, only to spend the next many decades to this day trying to turn Canada into a war mongering clone of the nation he couldn't be bothered to fight for…….and now with his boy in the big chair, is in a position to challenge the USA for the title of biggest bully in North America, but using other people's children as cannon fodder, of course!


  3. Harper and Flanagan may have recognized Canada's system enabled dictatorships that are benign simply by choice of the rulers. The G20 Ontario police riots were tests of whether or not the D word could be used without modifier.

    Given the response of most Canadians, we are already conditioned to allow authorities to operate without limits.


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