Harper on process vs. policy

Listening to Stephen Harper repeat his warnings against a rebel coalition today, I recalled a passage from one of the canonical texts of his rise to power: his 2003 address to Civitas, a private conservative club. The only full non-firewalled text of the speech I can find is here. It’s the speech where he mulls the advantages of social conservatism over fiscal conservatism as a vote-getter, but here’s the part I’ve been thinking about since the weekend:

“There are two ways conservatives can respond to the challenges faced at the national level. Our party has explored both over the years, in two important phases. These two phases were not ‘Reform’ and ‘Alliance’: they were not about name or organizational changes.

“Rather, our party underwent one period in which it was policy-driven, and another period in which it was process-driven. In the policy-driven phase, the party emphasized what it stood for. It took stands on a litany of issues, from its fight against he Meech Lake/Charlottetown constitutional agenda, to the battle for deficit reduction, lower taxes and fiscal responsibility. This was the period in which the party grew from nothing to become an important electoral and parliamentary force.

“However, for the past half-decade or so, the party moved into a phase in which it emphasized process. Specifically, the party focused its energies on a process by which it could garner greater electoral success. This was called ‘coalition building.’ In practice, it involved disassembling the party’s institutional structures in order to bring in new supporters from other entities. In terms of policy, conferences were held to create and sell a new ‘vision.’ In practice, this amounted largely to making existing policy stands vague or simply invisible. Whatever the electoral potential of this approach promised by the polls, the results were clearly going in the opposite direction.”

I thought about this because the Conservative leader sure has been talking a lot about process lately.

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