Alex Himelfarb And The Real Harper Agenda

If the name isn’t familiar to you, it should be: Mr. Himelfarb used to be Clerk of the Privy Council, in the last half of Jean Chr├ętien’s term as Prime Minister and during the Paul Martin era. So it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about how Canadian governance is supposed to work.

Which is why his latest essay, entitled “Going, Going, Gone : Dismantling The Progressive State,” is worth a look. In it, Mr. Himelfarb attempts to come to grips with Stephen Harper’s real agenda for his term as Prime Minister. It was never hidden; in fact, Monte Solberg laid it out in a column from which Mr. Himelfarb quotes extensively. And to which he adds:

The federal government seems to be retreating to a much narrower Constitutional set of responsibilities. Gone, apparently, is the cooperative, and yes sometimes combative, federalism that built the progressive state.

Mr. Himelfarb, to his credit, then attempts to defend the “progressive” system as he knows it, explaining the roles that various programs like the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the National Welfare Council, and other advisory bodies that have felt the budget axe. Most interestingly, he defends that quasi-governmental organism known as the NGO:

Essential to civil society are the many non-governmental organizations that give voice to people otherwise not heard, including future generations who will inherit the consequences of what we decide. These organizations, which so often challenge and criticize, are never much loved by governments. They always struggle for survival. Decades ago governments decided to stop core funding, to limit funding to the purchase of services, to make it hard for charitable organizations to engage in advocacy. But they survived, even if weaker. This budget and some of the chilling rhetoric around it takes the next step, as environmentalists are treated as a bigger problem than climate change and non-governmental organizations are warned that they better be careful about their advocacy if they want the advantages of charitable status. This and the cut to the small but effective Court Challenges Program in a previous budget rob our democracy of the dissenting voices that give it strength.

What’s actually refreshing about this essay is that, unlike most of the government’s critics, Mr. Himelfarb is willing to mount a proactive defense of modern government as it has evolved over the past thirty-odd years. It may be that said critics merely assumed that such a defense wasn’t really necessary; a progressive government, in their eyes, may well be a “self-evident” need. Or it may be simply that their conception of how government works is so fixed into the progressive, collective psyche that they simply shrink from attempting such a defense, for fear they may lose their intended audience.

Whatever. You only need to look at these efforts from Carol Goar and Elizabeth Payne to realize that the “feel-good” progressivism that Mr. Solberg wants to eradicate is still considered to be their trump card in debate. It is good of Mr. Himelfarb to remind everyone that it isn’t.

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3 Responses to Alex Himelfarb And The Real Harper Agenda

  1. Thucydides says:

    I think the author totally misses the point.

    The summation contrasting “more democracy” with “more markets” is totally false; markets are democracy. You choose what you want and what resources you will use to get it, you engage with other citizens on a continuing basis in a market.

    In contrast, the programs and mindset being mourned here are products of a mindset which refuses engagement, and which demands only obedience to the dictates of the “empowered.” If you don’t like what the empowered want, or the crumbs they are willing to throw you, there is very little effective recourse.

    Post-progressive society, in contrast, will reward people who choose to be engaged, and who are willing to be masters of their own fate. The poor and disadvantaged will finally be empowered to act on their own, not exist as wards of the Progressive State (and many will certainly rise to the challenge). Claiming the Progressive State has any interest in actually helping the poor and disadvantaged can be refuted by taking a real look at the statistics; despite billions of dollars spent over more than a half century of the life of Progressivism in Canada, poverty statistics have hardly changed, indeed we constantly hear that poverty is increasing! The equally shoddy results in the fields of healthcare and education should be convincing arguments against the Progressive model, and for much more market participation.

    The Progressive State model is financially and morally bankrupt, we can close out that era of history with a controlled draw down, or we can attempt to continue with the progressive state and suffer through a cataclysmic collapse. Far better to continue with a controlled drawdown, and to create a bright future for our children.

  2. Alain says:

    Ah, the man like all “progressives”/collectivists want to ignore the Canadian Constitution where the division of powers is clearly laid out.

  3. Pingback: Alex Himelfarb And The Real Harper Agenda | The Wellington Street Post

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