Harper warns about re­turn to so­cial­ism and ‘cor­ro­sive’ pol­i­tics of lib­eral elites

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - An­thony FUREY afurey@post­ @an­tho­ny­furey

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper says the big­ger threat is not the cur­rent pop­ulist move­ments un­fold­ing across the po­lit­i­cal world, but what far-left al­ter­na­tives come af­ter if cur­rent po­lit­i­cal par­ties fail to lis­ten to reg­u­lar peo­ple’s con­cerns and ad­e­quately adapt.

“The real risk is that if they fail and con­ser­va­tives do not adapt, the next wave in my view will not be peo­ple go­ing back to es­tab­lish­ment op­tions,” Harper says. “It will be peo­ple turn­ing to the far left, that wants to dis­man­tle demo­cratic cap­i­tal­ist so­ci­eties, that wants to go back to pur­su­ing so­cial­ist or even Marx­ist eco­nomics. And in my view that would be tak­ing the prob­lems we have now — which are se­ri­ous but solv­able — and turn­ing them into a longterm eco­nomic down­ward spi­ral. And in an ad­vanced glob­ally com­pet­i­tive world we can­not af­ford to go down the route of a com­pletely failed eco­nomic agenda.”

Harper sat down with the Sun dur­ing a re­cent visit to Toronto to dis­cuss pop­ulism, trade deals and more. The for­mer Con­ser­va­tive PM has kept a low pro­file since the 2015 fed­eral elec­tion, but is now speak­ing out again as his new book Right Here, Right Now: Pol­i­tics and Lead­er­ship in the Age of Dis­rup­tion hits the shelves.

While Harper does not wish to com­ment on daily po­lit­i­cal is­sues in Canada, or of­fer feed­back on cur­rent PM Justin Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment, he doesn’t shy away from of­fer­ing hard­hit­ting views on the broader is­sues fac­ing world pol­i­tics.

In par­tic­u­lar, Harper’s con­cerned about the range of re­sponses to the cur­rent pop­ulist surge that’s com­ing from elite seg­ments of so­ci­ety. “This idea that you can just dis­miss en­tire el­e­ments of the pop­u­la­tion as rad­i­cal, ex­treme, big­oted — we can’t treat large masses of peo­ple like that,” Harper says. “I think when elites sim­ply de­cide that the will of the pop­u­la­tion can be ig­nored or ridiculed, I think that’s a much big­ger threat.”

“In many ways pop­ulism is now used as a term for peo­ple who don’t like an elec­tion re­sult. If you get the elec­tion re­sult you want, that’s democ­racy.

If you don’t, that’s pop­ulism,” he added.

Since leav­ing of­fice, Harper has founded a global con­sult­ing firm and is also chair­man of the In­ter­na­tional Demo­crat Union, the world­wide al­liance of cen­tre-right po­lit­i­cal par­ties. This global per­spec­tive has only in­creased his con­cerns about how so­cial­ism is viewed to­day.

“Why does so­cial­ism, or even com­mu­nism, why does it re­tain a kind of re­spectabil­ity as an op­tion when it has been such a dis­mal fail­ure?” Harper rhetor­i­cally asks. “A dis­mal fail­ure just as an eco­nomic pol­icy, for­get about the po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion, and hu­man rights abuses on a mass scale that oc­curred un­der those kinds of sys­tems.”

He sees part of the prob­lem stem­ming from how in­sti­tu­tions have failed to teach younger gen­er­a­tions the lessons of the past. “Marx­ism has been por­trayed as a re­spectable and vi­able phi­los­o­phy through many aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions and it’s come back into other in­sti­tu­tions in our so­ci­ety — ed­u­ca­tion, cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions — and it’s con­sid­ered a vi­able choice. Es­pe­cially by peo­ple too young to re­mem­ber what a real so­cial­ist eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem looked like.”

But the for­mer PM isn’t rec­om­mend­ing to­day’s cen­tre-right par­ties blindly rush to fol­low the pop­ulist trend ei­ther. Their re­sponses must be con­sid­ered and mea­sured. “The thing that all par­ties wres­tle with is how do they adapt their poli­cies while main­tain­ing their prin­ci­ples, while mak­ing sure they con­tinue to at­tract con­ser­va­tive vot­ers who might be at­tracted to these new par­ties with­out them­selves fall­ing into the traps of ex­trem­ism or pro­tec­tion­ism,” Harper ad­vises.

A big frus­tra­tion fac­ing cen­tre-right par­ties and their sup­port­ers, Harper ac­knowl­edges, is the in­creas­ing ten­dency on the left to vil­ify any­one who doesn’t see the world their way. “Any­body on the right, just con­demn them and call them names,” Harper de­scribes it as. “I just ig­nored that. I think that the left does it­self more dam­age and I think we’re wrong to care about that, we’re wrong to lis­ten to the kind of me­dia that per­pe­trate those stereo­types and we’ve just got to go ahead and make sure that we’re con­nect­ing di­rectly with or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple and serv­ing their in­ter­ests.”

He’s also got harsh words for those fur­ther­ing this vil­i­fi­ca­tion: “That pol­i­tics — and a lot of it is com­ing from, frankly, pow­er­ful lib­eral elites — that pol­i­tics is very cor­ro­sive. In my judg­ment much more cor­ro­sive than any­thing Don­ald Trump is do­ing.” To hear more about Stephen Harper’s views on trade, the fu­ture of democ­racy and more, watch the ex­tended con­ver­sa­tion with the Sun on­line

In many ways pop­ulism is now used as a term for peo­ple who don’t like an elec­tion re­sult. If you get the elec­tion re­sult you want, that’s democ­racy. If you don’t, that’s pop­ulism.”

Stephen Harper

Dave abel/ Toronto SUN

Stephen Harper holds his book Right Here, Right Now.

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