Here’s a question about our democracy: When we eject a party from office for bad policy, destructive acts, and/or corrupt government practice, should the new governing party use its new power to go back and reverse all the actions the rejected government has been guilty of?
If the answer is yes, then whatever party replaces Harper’s Conservatives next year must reverse many of his horrid acts of legislation and policy.
Such as: An end to his fierce gutting of essential fact-finding institutions like our census forms, the CBC, and environmental sciences’ research staffing and funding.
A return to our more-balanced foreign policy, pulling back from Harper’s uncritical loyalty to the US and NATO, and his harmony with Israel’s aggressive agenda against its neighbours, and from bombastic preaching to Iran and Russia.
Cuts his military spending, and restore more support and respect for the UN. A less hostile attitude toward prostitution and cannabis, more funding for provincial health plans, and raising taxes on corporate profit, with less-permissive latitude in trade pacts with China or Europe.
All these would be reversed, if the opposition truly meant their words of condemnation against these polices when they were trying to stop Harper passing his bills. Harper has had a majority and has rammed his agenda ahead. His base loves him for it.
But the answer is no.
Government is not bound to reverse the course of its predecessor’s actions. It is very rare that such paths are followed in Canadian political history in the last few decades.
I might say the new party in power should reverse all Harper’s directions, but that is a moral judgement that applies in private life between friends or colleagues, while in politics a different morality is in effect.
I would want a friend, or relative, or workmate, to reverse course if he or she was shown that their acts were rejected by family, friends and colleagues.
That would be acting with integrity and appropriate ethical concern. But, I cannot expect politicians to reverse all the actions of the government from which they take power.
Yet in recent BC history, one party has replaced another in government and used its power decisively to reverse a course set by the outgoing government.
The NDP was positively-inclined toward teachers at the end of the 1990s, and contracts with the BCTF allowed teachers to negotiate class size and composition.
During the 2001 BC election campaign, Liberal leader Gordon Campbell said he would honour contracts signed by the NDP. But once in power, he and his Education Minister Christy Clark did indeed rip up teacher contracts with class size and composition clauses.
They reversed an NDP action vigorously and decisively.
BCTF appealed this abrogation of the sanctity of contract and won in the courts. The Liberals today still refuse to accept the courts’ decision, and are appealing. The Liberals are arguing that the NDP’s teacher contracts were a fundamental policy error and that government cannot shirk its fiduciary duty to manage the public purse.
Liberals say they will not promise the education sector “more than its proper share” of public revenue, while rejecting more revenue by higher corporate taxes.
This is the Liberals’ ideological stance, trapped inside their view of corporations as the benign basis of society and economy. That argument is unlikely to win at the court of appeal, I feel fairly certain.
Conclusion: BC Liberals may claim that what they are trying to do is claw back public funding controls, controls the previous NDP government was unwise enough to lose in negotiating with the BCTF.
But a contract is a contract. The precedent of BC tearing up contracts with its employees is not one that BC wants to set.
I, among others, doubt the Liberals’ sincerity. But, I like their sheer nerve in reversing their political foes’ actions. I do wish passionately that when Harper is defeated, Justin Trudeau turns our course 180 degrees around and retracts substantial chunks of the Harperite agenda.
I want the Canada I knew before Harper. If truth be told, I want the Canada before Mulroney and Free Trade, before Maggie Thatcher, and before I got old.