Cross-posted at The Stop Stephen Harper Blog.
Stephen Harper is often accused of having a "hidden agenda" and yearning to form a majority government so he can implement it.
In fact, though, there is nothing "hidden" about what Harper wants, which is to change Canada fundamentally from a centre-left country into a small-c conservative, right-wing nation.
The only question is how fast he will be able to do.
If he wins a majority in the Oct. 14 election, the transformation may happen very quickly.
Indeed, Harper leaves no doubt what he wants to do.
"I said for a long time, and nobody listened to me for the longest time, that my goal was to make conservatism the natural governing philosophy of the country," he said in a recent interview with the National Post. "I think we're moving the country in the right direction and I also think our party is becoming, I wouldn't say centrist, maybe more pragmatic."
To drive home that theme, Harper told reporters on the campaign trail last week that he is fully convinced Canada has become more conservative over the last 20 years.
He also argued that Canadians are more accepting of his positions on crime, taxes, national unity and social policies relating to families.
Is Harper correct? Are we becoming more conservative, more right wing as a nation?
While Harper may have an argument when it comes to wanting better controls on government spending, especially after the runaway deficits under the last Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, he is way off base when it comes to social issues.
For years, Harper has talked about the death of the Left.
Such talk is conventional wisdom in the conservative movement, especially in the United States, where Harper gets his political inspiration. He particularly likes the anti-government, socially conservative agenda espoused by the late U.S. president Ronald Reagan.
His dislike for Canada as a centre-left nation with strong social policies was well illustrated in a 1997 speech he gave when he was vice-president of the right-wing National Citizens Coalition to a conservative American think-tank. He told the crowd that Canada is "a northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it."
He went on to praise the U.S. right wing, saying: "Your country, and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world."
In Harper's ideal world, he would give away most powers of the federal government, slash government funding of the arts (he claims ordinary folks don't care about the arts), get tougher on criminals and further reduce taxes.
Also, he would ease regulations on businesses, promote more free trade, allow more privatization of essential services, cozy up more to Washington and abandon Canada's traditional role as an "honest broker" on the world stage.
But as much as Harper would like to deny it, Canada has long been one of the world's most successful small-l liberal countries.
And as much as he would like to ignore it, most Canadians don't share his views. That's reflected in polls that show that, while the Tories are ahead, some 65 per cent of us support the centrist Liberals and the left-leaning NDP, Greens and Bloc Québécois.
In fact, small-l liberalism remains strong in Canada.
Polls consistently show we are a compassionate nation, strongly supporting universal medicare, tough environmental laws and significant foreign aid. We back same-sex marriage, abortion and a ban on capital punishment, issues on which conservatives find themselves opposed to the mainstream.
The left and centre-left want more money to fight poverty, to help natives, to create more daycare spaces. They back racial and gender equality, multiculturalism and don't consider the phrase "politically correct" to be a bad thing.
Not a bad list.
So, if voters in the centre and on the left fail to deliver a clear message to Harper on election day and hand him a majority government, will he really remake Canada in his own right-wing image?
For that, just listen to Harper himself, who, in the interview in which he touted a conservative governing philosophy, stated flatly: "I am not in politics to be loved, I'm in politics to get things done and make a difference."
That's not a "hidden" agenda.