Book on Harper explains his longevity

Paul Wells is one of the more astute commentators on Canadian politics, and his new book on Stephen Harper

By Pat Murphy

Troy Media

Paul Wells is one of the more astute commentators on Canadian politics, and his new book on Stephen Harper — The Longer I’m Prime Minister — is a good read. But while the book’s warts-and-all picture certainly isn’t hagiographic, it won’t satisfy the Harper-hating legions.

Wells, you see, thinks Harper’s success is neither an accident nor a trick. Rather he “wins elections because millions of people want somebody like him to be prime minister.” Oh dear, such heresy!

If you’re looking for a refresher on the Harper years, the book’s generally chronological structure does the job reasonably well. However, its real strength is the light it shines on personality and motivation.

And while it’s mostly about Harper, there are some pungent observations on others.

For those who’ve ever wondered about the Liberal affection and respect for Joe Clark, there’s an easy explanation. “Every Liberal loves a Conservative loser.”

And Stephane Dion? Well, he was a guy flexible enough to change his mind and take on board an idea that he’d initially rejected. However, there was a proviso. First, he had to persuade himself that it “was not only an excellent idea, but that it was his own.”

Then there’s Michael Ignatieff, a chameleon who made several careers out of being whatever it was he needed to be in order to get along and join the club. As Wells neatly puts it, Ignatieff was “a world champion shucker-off of old flesh.”

So what about Stephen Harper? Who is he, really?

To his credit, Wells doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. It would seem that few people do. Even as close a political associate as the late Doug Finley, former campaign director for the Conservative Party of Canada, drew a blank, telling Wells that he didn’t really know the prime minister.

But a penchant for privacy and inscrutability notwithstanding, a sense of the person does emerge. Much of it is well-known. Yes, he’s intelligent, combative, secretive, ruthless and vindictive. If you cross Stephen Harper, he’ll carry a grudge indefinitely.

There are also aspects that are less well-known, even surprising.

For instance, while Harper might be stiff and deficient in social skills, he’s someone you can have a real conversation with. If he engages you, he’ll actually listen to what you have to say. And unlike conversations with other recent prime ministers, it won’t all be about him.

As for Laureen Harper, she’s a key part of her husband’s political support system. She scans the media with him first thing in the morning, acts as a filter for his reading, and puts some added steel in his spine when required.

Most useful, though, Wells is particularly good at putting his finger on what Harper is all about politically. And contrary to some detractors, it’s not just about winning for its own sake. Harper wants to leave behind a government that meddles less in jurisdictions where it doesn’t belong, and that’s less able to devise costly schemes to dictate how people should lead their lives. To accomplish that, political longevity is critical.

Wells particularly notes two considerations. One is the concept of the New Class. The other is the simple fact that it’s tougher to spend money if you don’t have it.

The New Class — a concept first outlined by American journalist Irving Kristol in the 1970s — describes an informal alliance of educators, lawyers, social workers, et al. Or put another way, people who prosper “in the kind of society only an activist state could build and sustain.” And the source of their influence isn’t directly electoral, but rather depends on appointment.

In Canada, that has historically translated into an unelected establishment — such as the courts and the bureaucracy — appointed by Liberals. By staying in power, Harper can transform that into one appointed by Conservatives.

Then there’s the grubby matter of money. Policies like GST reductions and guaranteed fiscal transfers to the provinces upset the cognoscenti. Surely, they argue, federal policy could be more closely calibrated with informed social and economic objectives?

But there’s another way of looking at it. When the Liberals return to power — as they surely will one day — there’ll be less spare cash lying around for their New Class buddies to dream up ventures in social engineering.

If your politics are left-of-centre, that won’t thrill you. But don’t make the mistake of calling it stupid.

 

Just Posted

Stettler Slam hip hop show

Rappers ignite crowd and dancefloor in Stettler Aug. 10

Endiang landmarks torn down

Posed a public safety hazard

Stettler woman facing 67 fraud-related charges appears with co-accused

Crown likely proceeding with more serious charge of indictable offence

Stettler court beat

Prisoners appear via CCTV from Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat and Red Deer Remand Centres

‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin has died

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn reports Franklin passed Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit

Italy says death toll will mount in Genoa bridge collapse

Authorities worried about the stability of remaining large sections of a partially collapsed bridge evacuated about 630 people from nearby apartments.

Former CIA Director: Trump worked with Russians and now he’s desperate

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, John Brennan cites press reports and Trump’s own goading of Russia during the campaign to find Democrat Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.

Church sex scandal: Abuse victims want a full reckoning

Since the crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, dioceses around the country have dealt with similar revelations of widespread sexual abuse.

Baloney Meter: is flow of asylum seekers at Canada-U.S. border a ‘crisis’?

“I think any time you have a government that allows 30,000 people over the course of a short period of time to come into Canada illegally, the impact that that has, that is a crisis,” said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

B.C. RCMP say Kinder Morgan protest camp to be dismantled today

RCMP say they will enforce a court injunction today and remove Trans Mountain pipeline protesters who have been camped outside a Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby.

Quebec sets aside $900 million for companies hurt by U.S. tariffs

Premier Philippe Couillard says his government will make $863 million available over five years

Most Read


Weekly delivery plus unlimited digital access for $50.40 for 52 issues (must live within 95 kilometers of Stettler) Unlimited Digital Access for one year for $50.40 Prefer to have us call you? Click here and we’ll get back to you within one business day.