Margaret Wente: Despite the rap sheet, Harper isn’t the worst
His economic management has been generally fine. Canada did the right things during the economic crisis and weathered it remarkably well. Job creation is respectable, household incomes have gone up, and federal public-sector debt has gone down. Mr. Harper has greatly expanded our trade links and capped it off with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a far-reaching and enormously important deal.
He hasn’t exactly gutted the welfare state, either. The Conservative government has spent billions on infrastructure investments, aboriginal programs and ambitious new initiatives in the North. It has dropped bags of money on the middle class. It has steadily lowered taxes. (Note that the other parties strenuously deny that they will raise them, except for taxing that odious 1 per cent.)
My colleague John Ibbitson’s new book, Stephen Harper, is a balanced and masterly account of the Harper years. As he points out, Mr. Harper’s most important goal has been to shrink the size of the federal state, and he has succeeded. He did this in large part by handing a lot of money, authority and taxing power back to the provinces, no strings attached. This had the salutary effect of ending the federal-provincial wrangling that used to suck up so much time and energy. It also helped to dampen the sovereigntist movement in Quebec. On the constitutional and federal-provincial front, Mr. Harper has given us a decade of merciful peace.
He has been sound on national security, in a way that is occasionally excessive but also resoundingly supported by most Canadians. His immigration policy is generous and smart. His government has been a staunch defender of gay rights in bad parts of the world, and his global championship of maternal health has truly made a difference. There’s no sign that most Canadians want major changes to any of this...