The government's agenda thus has three broad objectives: One, curb (somewhat) the growth in transfers to the elderly, whether for pensions or, via federal transfers to the provinces, for health care.
Two, increase the supply of labour. Bring in more immigrants, encourage people to work longer, be less tolerant of idling.
Three, raise productivity, mostly by putting more competitive heat on business - that is to say, by opening the borders to competition from with-out - but also by raising national savings, providing the wherewithal for productive investment. Hence the cuts in taxes on savings, and hence, again, the greater openness to foreign investment.
Not only does this show signs of unaccustomed coherence in this government, but it represents a marked shift in emphasis. In the minority government years, and in the first months of the majority, the Conservatives preferred to cast themselves in the "guardian" role: strong on defence, tough on crime, vigilant against threats to public security or national sovereignty. For a variety of reasons, those messages have tended to have less resonance of late, or at any rate have been downplayed.
So Harper has, to use the term currently in vogue, pivoted from tough guy to bean counter. Probably just as well. Steve always looked just a tad preposterous when he dressed up to play Commando. I hope Coyne is right, that Harper has indeed changed course, but I somehow doubt it. Harper, experiences teaches us, is all about bullying someone, some way over something that he either dislikes or really wants. His order is imposed, not founded on consensus.
While managing the economy is essential and something for which the Libs venerate people like Paul Martin, bean counting has to be harnessed to serve the country, the people and their future. And you can't plan for the future if you don't look for it. And this is where Harper falls far short of the mark.
When it comes to leading a nation, preparing it for the future, Harper is bound by stunted instincts. We cannot replay the 20th century through the 21st. There are great changes in store for the world this century and, while Canada may be spared the worst of the immediate impacts, it won't be immune to the repercussions that follow. None of this, however, is on Harper's radar screen.
Climate change, for example, is not integral to Harper's agenda. Yet how can you chart a nation's economic future if you omit a force that may, quite easily, overwhelm your objectives and render them obsolete? If you seek the reins of power you must be prepared to steer the wagon around obstacles in the road.
Likewise, Harper is unwilling to grasp that the challenges ahead also afford a variety of rich opportunities. You'll have the bad either way but you'll only have the good if you reach for it in time. Harper can't see that, which explains why he ignores these difficult problems, kicking them down the road to some successor for whom the opportunities may, by then, be long foreclosed.
Canada needs a leader. Instead we're stuck with the department head from Accounts Receivable.