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Book Review: Stephen Harper's Right Here, Right Now

The former Canadian PM discusses the basis behind populist insurgencies worldwide in his newest release.

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be accurate.

Lucas Holtvluwer Montreal, QC

While it may not be a book for Canadians of all political stripes, Stephen Harper’s Right Here Right Now offers a well-compiled set of thoughts and insights as to what the driving forces behind the recent populist insurgencies worldwide are and how conservatives should address them. Subtitled Politics And Leadership In The Age Of Disruption, Right Here Right Now delves into the forces behind Brexit and Trump and offers a very pragmatic and Harper-like approach to addressing these issues. Touching on everything from immigration, trade, and globalization, Harper offers a unique take which is well worth the read for both conservatives and liberals alike. Even if you do not agree with his solutions to the issues raised by modern-day populism, his analysis of the current state of world affairs is worth the read alone. Of chief importance to Harper’s analysis of current populist trends is the idea of the Somewheres versus the Anywheres; a concept developed by British journalist David Goodhart in his writing about Brexit. The Somewheres are local people who work jobs often of a physical nature, who live in the same area they grew up in, who have close ties to their local communities through various organizations and work in industries susceptible to the growing force of global trade. They make up the bulk of the population. The Anywhere’s are typically well-educated people who live in large cities, who work professional, white collar jobs, who enjoy a cosmopolitan, urban lifestyle and are not particularly tied to one city or another. They are a much smaller percentage of the population but often hold positions of great influence; particularly in government and media. For the Anywheres, the era of globalization is a fantastic thing. It gives them the ability to travel and work all over the world while still having access to the conveniences and luxuries of home. It allows the world to work together to overcome the big problems of our time such as climate change. For the Somewheres, the era of globalization has been a tumultuous one. Their small towns have seen rapid change, both demographically and economically. The jobs their parents once had are no longer there; plants have been shut down, jobs have left the area. With a rising cost of living and stagnant wages, the future is bleak. Harper points out that political parties on either side of the spectrum have really missed this growing divide. Neither the Left or the Right currently has the policy mix that will help bridge this divide and bring a sense of stability back to the West. However, in the midst of all this turmoil, he takes the time to point out that Canada has largely been able to avoid this populist uprising. This, he says amongst other things, is due Canada’s merit-based immigration system and strong regulations in the banking sector which prevented the need for massive bailouts to banks after the 2007-08 recession, as seen in the U.S. and elsewhere. A merit-based, economically focused immigration system helps to increase the potential of smooth integration into society and reduces the cause for angst amongst the native citizens. Likewise, not having to bail out the banks and seem like you’re helping the establishment while leaving the Somewheres to fend for themselves was key to limiting the need for the current populist revolt. Of course, in addition to these factors, Harper adds that the incremental and pragmatic conservatism of his government was also a big factor in maintaining the peace and stability of Canada. He points out that his government, while still being one that was pro-trade, pro-immigration and pro-globalization, still managed to address the needs of the Somewheres by implementing popular policies like tax cuts for the middle class and increasing competition in the telecom market. He critiques conservatives, particularly Republicans, for being dogmatic in their approach to markets and for misunderstanding the policies of the Reagan administration. Harper points out that Reagan’s deregulation and tax cuts were appropriate at the time given the current sluggish economic conditions. However, that does not mean that these are always the right policy solutions. Today’s Republicans find themselves in a booming economy with tremendously low unemployment numbers. Continuing with the status quo of supply-side economics and tax cuts for the rich is not the solution to the problems of the disenfranchised Somewheres with stagnating wages. Harper counsels conservatives to find practical and effective solutions outside their current policy mix that address these pressing concerns of the Somewheres. If they don’t, he fears socialists like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders will ride the populist wave into power and lead to the rapid decline of the West. Harper calls upon conservative leaders to follow the lead of conservative titans Edmund Burke and Ronald Reagan and use the wisdom of the past to create solutions for the future. “Conservatism is about seeing the world as it is and applying the lessons of experience to new challenges.”Throughout the book, Harper makes the compelling case that the forces of populism and the growing divide between the Anywheres and the Somewheres is not going away anytime soon. This is a reality that leaders from all walks of life are going to have the face up to. Whether you agree with his policy answers or not, in this age of division and disruption, Harper’s Right Here, Right Now is definitely a book well worth reading.

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Lucas Holtvluwer
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