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Conservatism goes 'mainstream' thanks to Harper, study finds

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Common on June 7, 2011.


Stephen Harper has made conservatism in Canada more acceptable, according to a new study by a conservative think-tank. At the same time, however, the Canadian voter is disgruntled and feels disconnected from politicians - and this, the study's authors warn, should be alarming to the country's leaders.

"When you have an electorate that feels that they are that disengaged that far from those who lead the ability to develop the centrifugal force to hold the country clearly is imperiled," said pollster Allan Gregg, a former Conservative strategist and co-author of the 2011 Manning Centre Barometer, which measures Canadians views and perceptions of government and issues.

The study shows 76 per cent of Canadians do not believe politicians share their view, up from the 62 per cent who answered the same way in 2005. In addition, 53 per cent of Canadians said the recent federal election "left them with a more negative impression" of federal politics than they had held before.

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Mr. Gregg, former Reform Party pollster Andre Turcotte and Preston Manning, the Reform Party's founder, responded to the study results at news a conference in Ottawa Wednesday. It was released in advance of the Conservative Party's policy convention, which begins Thursday.

Both Mr. Turcotte and Mr. Manning noted that the new conservatism in Canada was not a Republican or Tea Party style of conservatism.

In their study they call it a "unique strain of conservatism, combining free market principles, moderation, incrementalism and social justice."

They conclude that it "has become mainstream as the ideological 'centre' has shifted to a new conservative orthodoxy."

And Mr. Gregg noted that Mr. Harper has "moderated the image of Conservatives" to conform more with the kind of conservatism being expressed by the population. Yet he said the country has become less conservative in traditional "American conservative values" over the last year.

The study also looked at the role of government. Mr. Gregg said it suggests "governments should be concentrating on the problems of today rather than tomorrow" and moving with "caution rather than boldness."

"That is new, trust me," Mr. Gregg added.

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In terms of leadership, the study authors found little argument among voters as to governing and ideas that should be tackled. They also found that traditional ideological differences across partisan lines "have virtually disappeared."

"What I think you are seeing here is something almost the equivalent of end-of-ideology epoch," Mr. Gregg said. "There is no major differences left among the electorate in terms of directionally where we should be going."

The study of 1,000 Canadians was conducted between May 4 and May 11.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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