In 1999, a right-wing doctor, David Gratzer, wrote a book, Code Blue, that tore apart medicare, suggesting it should be replaced by U.S.-style private medicine and medical savings accounts. Dr. Gratzer now advises Republicans on health care.Of course, the problem in these cases is that Harper's actions in government are broadly consistent with his previously-expressed positions, even if they're presented in such a way as to scare voters less than the previous stances.
Commenting on the book, Mr. Harper said: “Gratzer proposes a workable solution for the biggest policy problem of the coming generation – government-controlled health-care monopoly. Canada needs Gratzer’s solution.” Mr. Harper’s praise appeared on the cover jacket of Code Blue.
As Canadian Alliance and Conservative leader, Mr. Harper never repeated those views. On the contrary, he has repeatedly said he favours Canadian-style medicare. Would it be fair to run an attack against him for views he held in 1999?
Mr. Harper once favoured Canada’s participation in the invasion of Iraq (Mr. Ignatieff, then at Harvard, favoured the invasion, too). He was part of a political party, Reform, that cast doubt on the science of climate change, a position his government’s websites don’t support today.
It would be just as inappropriate to tie him to long-abandoned positions as it is for the Conservatives, in their disgusting attack ads, to tie Mr. Ignatieff to positions he’s since rejected.
No, Harper doesn't talk anymore about replacing health care with a private system. But his government has chosen to end what little enforcement of the Canada Health Act ever took place, helping to make it even easier for provinces to move in that direction on their own.
No, he doesn't want to get into Iraq anymore. But he's extended Canada's compensatory combat mission in Afghanistan at every opportunity, including by forcing it through as a confidence measure. And he's wasted no chance to serve as an international voice of the American right even as the U.S. itself has shifted its position under Barack Obama.
And no, his government doesn't dare to admit to climate denialism. But it's produced exactly the complete lack of meaningful policy one would expect from a party which genuinely refused to accept that climate change is an issue worth addressing.
So the end result isn't that we should ignore Ignatieff's past statements just like far too many people have been willing to ignore Harper's. Instead, we should recognize that Harper's views likely haven't changed even if his framing has, with his government's actions in power serving as compelling evidence. And indeed we'd be well served to pay more attention to what Harper really thinks as evidenced by his statements when they weren't under a microscope, rather than focusing solely what he wants the public to believe he thinks today.