06.28.2016 01:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: Stephen Harper – with a whimper, not a bang

And so it ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.

Late last week, in a secluded part of Centre Block, staff were seen packing up Stephen Harper’s Parliamentary office.  Anyone wandering by could see the moving boxes and the packing tape, in plain view. Harper, the twenty-second Prime Minister of Canada, had cast his last vote in the Commons.  He was heading home to Calgary.

Harper hadn’t said a word in the Commons since being defeated by Justin Trudeau in the Fall. But he had shown up to vote, plenty of times – more than the NDP’s Tom Mulcair, reportedly.  Even after that night when Trudeau had strong-armed the Conservative whip – even when the Liberal Prime Minister had elbowed a female NDP MP in the chest, no less – Harper had kept silent.  You can’t picture Brian Mulroney ever exercising that kind of restraint.

And so, he’s going, and will soon to be gone.  Harper will resign his Calgary seat over the Summer, and head off to do what former Prime Ministers and Presidents usually do – write memoirs, sit on some boards, give some speeches, play golf together.  Sleep in.

Unlike some folks, and certainly unlike many Liberals, I did not detest Stephen Harper.  There are ten reasons for this, all of them much more personal than political.

1.          When my Dad was dying, he phoned me and my Mom to talk about fathers.  He did this despite the fact that Yours Truly had ripped him, on TV and radio and in newspapers, for years.  He was kind to my grieving Mom, and I never forgot that.

2.          On the aforementioned TV and newspaper and radio and newspaper platforms, I predicted – as did many others – that, with a Parliamentary majority, he would make abortion and gay marriage illegal, he would constitutionalize property rights, and so on.  He did none of those things.

3.          I, and others, thought he was an admirer of Republican-style manifest destiny – and that he would therefore lead us into illegal wars to curry favour with the likes of George W. Bush.  He didn’t do that, either.

4.          Unlike some former and present Liberals I will not name, he was always immensely respectful towards my political father, Jean Chrétien, even when Chrétien ran him down in the papers.  He told me admired Chrétien’s commitment to Canada, and his discipline, and his fiscal probity.  And it showed.

5.          One time, I can now reveal, Harper rang me up to talk about ways to prevent some grossly homophobic Jamaican rappers from getting into Canada.  His officials had told him there was nothing he could do, and he was unhappy about that.  He said I knew something about both popular music and bigotry, and wanted to talk to work on ways to keep these gay-bashers out.

6.          Similarly, when I was Chrétien’s Special Assistant in Opposition – and when the neo-Nazi Heritage Front was infiltrating Reform Party riding associations in Toronto – Harper actually told Tom Flanagan to send me their relevant membership lists, so I could tell them who was a suspected Nazi.  With Chretien’s approval, I did that.  They kicked out the ones I spotted. It impressed both Chrétien and me.

7.          As a charter member of the Alberta diaspora, that unkillable Central Canadian insinuation that all Albertans were followers of Jim Keegstra and the Ku Klux Klan always pissed me off.  It clearly pissed off Harper, too.  But, unlike me, he did something about it: he dragged Alberta into the centrist Canadian political mainstream – paving the way, paradoxically, for the likes of Rachel Notley and Justin Trudeau to later win lots of seats there.

8.          Even though I was a dirty rotten Liberal, he twice hired me to be a Ministerial Special Representative on aboriginal issues, which are pretty important to me.  (He did likewise with Chretien’s nephew Raymond, too.)  Under his watch, spending on aboriginal programs grew, significantly.  I discovered Harper wasn’t what some of his detractors said he was, at least in respect of those things.

9.          As a war room guy, I always admire a worthy adversary.  Stephen Harper was always a worthy adversary.  Me and my fellow Grits grossly underestimated him for a decade.  We paid the price: in 2006 and 2008 and 2011, he kicked our ass.

10.   Finally, I thought he might wreck the place.  He didn’t wreck the place.  This is still the best country in the world, and I think – if those of us who opposed him are honest with ourselves – he clearly thought so, too.

Per T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men,’ above, the world did not end with Stephen Harper.  And, per Eliot’s ‘Prufrock,’ nor was he “full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse,” ever.

Stephen Harper wasn’t obtuse.  He was many things, but never that.




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    smelter rat says:

    Meh. Still the best country in the world, despite him, not because of him. To be fair though, he didn’t have a lot of bench strength. History will not remember him fondly, if at all.

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    BillBC says:

    I know where the “whimper/bang” phrase comes, and it’s a neat meme, but inappropriate here, I think. Harper isn’t a whimper/bang kind of guy. He left with dignity, not a big blustering self-important speech. I think that fits better.

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      westcoastjim says:

      Harper left in his typical sniveling and cowardly way. His speech on election night was pathetic and graceless. That he was not willing to admit to the people in the room and on TV that he was stepping as leader showed his true lack of character.

      Leaving with dignity? What a joke.

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        LindainBC says:

        I see the typical whining and sniveling from the usual. How is that pot legalization going – another panel, another committee, another review, LOL Justin said he would legalize it three years ago running for the leadership and 7 months in power and he is now going to give it a study. The only thing the Liberals have done since coming into power is reverse all the Conservative platform. No platform of their own other than “lets get a committee and panel on that and do some studying.

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      smelter rat says:

      Seriously? He left via the back door, sent an email indicating he conceded defeat in the election and then hung on for 9 months collecting his cheque while doing sfa for it.

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        The Doctor says:

        Re “doing sfa”: according to that notorious conbot Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hebert: “in total, the former prime minister participated in 99 votes since the new Parliament opened. For the sake of comparison, he attended as many votes as his party’s interim leader, Rona Ambrose, and showed up for 10 more than Mulcair did.”

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        Cory says:

        Paul Martin stayed on for over 6 months after resigning as PM. I don’t recall Liberals complaining about that at the time…

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          One Guy says:

          For that matter, Paul Martin stayed on for over 9 months after losing THREE confidence votes and then recovering after bribing Belinda Stronach to cross the floor.

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    Eric Weiss says:

    And Liberal Central Canadians are more guilty of #7 than anyone else. As a transplanted Albertan I’ve seen that attitude on numerous times first hand too.

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      jannx says:

      I have no more problems with Albertans than I do with Quebecois. “Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark”….famously uttered by Premier Ralph Klein. Who also got out of his taxpayer funded limo to berate a homeless Albertan during one of his drinking episodes. A province that should have had $190B in the Heritage Fund but there’s only $17B because of brilliant management by the previous 25 years of ‘Conservative Government’. Now Albertans are demanding money from Canada because they’ve spent $173B of the Fund and think they are not being treated appropriately by Canada during a global collapse of the oil markets started by Saudi Arabia. Alberta continually maintains it’s unappreciated, not included, an underdog yet they’ve blown more money (To political pals perhaps? Who knows?) I could go on….

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    William says:

    That is very big of you Warren to make these statements. I’ve nothing but respect for the man personally, and while he was obviously a very polerizing man, he never deserved the comments some prominent Liberals and Democrats directed towards him. Frankly, he was a good PM. His staffing at the Prime Ministers office on the other hand left a great deal to be desired, and frankly they lost him an election.

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      Kevin T. says:

      Kind of like how Stephane Dion never deserved the character assassination ALL Harper supporters directed towards him, especially after his battles with the separatists on their home turf and how he fought for his country. Harper’s years in and with power, and how he used that power is what lost the election and gave the conservative party’s greatest nemesis’ son a solid hand for a transformational government over the next 12-16 years.

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        Warren says:

        Sixteen years? Really?

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          Kevin T. says:

          Not all 16 years, but at least four elections (because that is the kind of thing he’d do, just to show how “easy” it is). I think he’ll probably resign a short time after being elected a fourth time to give the new leader time to get ready.

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            Warren says:

            I will bet you one million dollars that he won’t want to exceed two terms.

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            Kevin T. says:

            He has played the game differently, so that is possible, and as history has shown, a smart move to quit while ahead (and he does seem to learn quickly, albeit belatedly sometimes). But people finally got used to the Conservatives playing chess and Trudeau goes on his own way and starts playing gin rummy. His actions and words have confounded and confused many old school pundits and politicians. If he can manhandle an opposition whip and elbow a woman in the chest on camera and get even MORE popular, who knows what can happen.
            If I had a million dollars I wouldn’t be driving a busted ass minivan! So maybe we could bet 970,000$?

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        PJH says:

        Don’t forget his father only managed a minority gov’t his second election in 1972…..and if not for a football……might have lost outright the next one in ’74…..

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          The Doctor says:

          His father’s central campaign promise in that ’74 election was also a big fat lie (“I will not bring in wage and price controls”), but of course drooling Trudeau hagiographers don’t like being reminded of that fact either. . .

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            PJH says:

            “Zap…..you’re frozen!”……..yes, I remember it well……..

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    PJH says:

    My main beef with Harper was his apparent complete and utter disdain for environmental issues. The litany of complaints is too long to list, but can be found here:http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/policy-and-politics/crimes-against-ecology
    Compared to the “greenest PM ever”, Brian Mulroney, Harper, on environmental issues, was an unmitigated disaster.
    Was he a capable administrator?, most certainly, but I will never forgive the man for gutting environmental standards in this country.
    It’s my great hope that our current PM reverses every single last bit of legislation that Mr. Harper and his gov’t enacted that affected the environment of Canada.
    If we aren’t doing every single thing we can to protect our environment, what is the outlook for our future generations? I think you only have to look to China to see the result.
    Aside from the aforementioned, overall, he did serve the country well, and I have to respect that. I wish him well in his retirement.

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      Cory says:

      Interestingly, Harper is the only PM to ever win a WWF environmental award (for doubling our protected parks and creating the worlds first protected marine area).

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    Michael Clifton says:

    A lovely tribute, Warren. Made me a little teary, darn you.

    As you know, I am no fan of our boy Justin. I was no fan of Harper either. But a few people told me otherwise. They told me the kind of things you mention. I won’t name them because they are other people’s stories, but, suffice to say, I became convinced that although his demeanour and apparent attitudes as PM seemed far from what I feel is ideal, he was in essence a good man trying to do what he believed was good. And some of it was, very much so. Other things, not so much. But that’s the way it goes. That’s the way it is with Justin too. Some of what he’s doing is good, even very good; but on other fronts he fails, and will be seen to have failed. And, as with Harper, the reviews will ultimately be mixed. The greatest honour any of them can receive, is a kind and respectful tribute from a foe. Good for you for giving the man that.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    It’s easy to get your ass kicked in three successive elections — when your OWN supporters don’t bother to show up at the polls. Was that because of Harper, the great strategist? I don’t think so.

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    Vancouverois says:

    From the comments here, I can see that Harper Derangement Syndrome is as vitriolic and deranged as ever, even eight months after it became pointless.

    These people need psychiatric help.

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    Kathleen Canning says:

    Harper was not perfect by any means, but he was a good decent man. He loved his country and had morals. We would be far better off today if he was still our PM. Trudeau knows nothing, has done nothing good. What he has done is support transgender, gays and bringing in assisted suicide.
    He is concerned about offending gays, transgenders and Muslims, but Christians are offended all the time. There is a double standard in Canada now.
    He wouldn’t have anyone in his government unless they believed in abortion. What if his mother had aborted him?? What happened to freedom of speech???
    Canada will be in ruins by the time his 4 years are up.
    Trudeau is a bully. Has no respect for anyone else, and his poor wife is asking for more help. Give me a break, she has a chef, two nannies, how does she think the average person lives?
    Trudeau was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and sounds like his wife was as well.
    Trudeau likes his selfies, and needs to learn to respect other members of parliament.

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    Tim Sullivan says:

    I’m late to this party, but …

    Personal sentiments aside, Warren, Stephen Harper was a a terrible prime minister. He has so few redeeming qualities, I cannot appreciate the BS spewing his accolades.

    Stephen Harper was not a democrat.

    He fixed elections and broke the law. He had committees disrupted. The in-and-out scam, Dean Delmastro, Peter Penashue and robo-calls were under his watch. A federal court judge said something happened with the CIMS database to fix elections but too little evidence was produced. Harper went after any critic, from Linda Keen to Richard Colvin and so many others, Harper could not take the criticism or allow the truth from officials. His is the Contempt of which the government was found, the once-and-only contempt in history of Westminster-style parliaments.

    He kept cabinet meetings (where and when) secret. There was a permanent gag order on ministers and officials and scientists. He never did explaine why Helena Guergis was booted out of cabinet. He allowed, unlawfully, have backbenchers announce government funding using fake cheques with party insignia, not government of Canada. Almost every MP misused the householders and 10%ers in some fashion, mostly for political purposes, not the non-partisan purposes they are designed for. The Economic Action Plan” misspending was flagrant and shameful.

    He refused to allow opposition members from attending conferences. This a extremely short-sighted. Not only should the opposition be present to know what the government is doing, so it can do its job for which it was elected, but it cuts off future personal relationships. An oppo member now meeting a foreign official can only help down the road when that oppo member is in government, or at other meetings to solve problems for the world.

    Stephen Harper was bad at policy. He cancelled the census to handcuff future governments from knowing stuff upon which to base policy. Business need census data to know things like where to place stores or even how to structure market surveys (and political polls). He had his minister LIE about what the chief statistician said. The replacement process was less effective (or ineffective) and more costly. Can anyone tell us why in fact the census was cancelled in the first place if not handcuff future governments? No one has yet explained why it was. And if I read how the number of bathrooms one has is a private matter, don’t read EVERY SINGLE HOUSE SALE SPEC SHEET.

    The environmental file was a complete and utter disaster. He once said, as prime minister, “So called green house gasses…” No one thinks he did anything constructive on the environment file, is there?

    He was bad at foreign relations. This might be because he had never really left Canada before he was PM, but there are important misses while he was PM. Canada always was able to punch above its weight internationally because it took reasoned, balanced and considered approaches to issues. It did not always defend the US and it did not always slam the Palestinians. Canada was unable to gain a seat at the UN Security Council. If that was the intention, fine, but there was no stated Intention to avoid that seat. Harper lost the vote because he was not liked. Why? He cancelled the water treaty. He walked away from Kyoto. He was a apologist for Israel no matter what the issue. He sabotaged environmental conferences. He cut off perfectly good foreign development partners like KAIROS.

    He had bad judgment. Apart from a slew of terrible cabinet ministers (if cabinet ministers were of any use), he put some pretty shitty people into pretty important places. Notwithstanding Senator Duffy’s acquittal, who thinks that was a good appointment? Pam Wallen too, but to a lesser extent. Patrick Brazeau was always a terrible appointment. What about appointing a criminal to the SIRC? Arthur Porter should have been enough for the caucus to kick out Harper from government. Harper’s man Bruce Carson, disbarred-and-bankrupt-lawyer-advisor in the highest ranks of the PMO is shameful. He named his VIP security chief to Jordan as ambassador and there were significant security fall-out from that. With all due respect to Mr. Kevin Vickers, his appointment to Ireland as ambassador was not well thought out.

    As for cabinet, Peter Kent didn’t know what O3 was. Peter McKay didn’t get anything right, including procurement policy for DND, the SCC Chief Justice’s role in administering a third branch of government, what the legal requirements were for the appointment to the SCC, or how to wish bureaucrats a happy Mother’s Day. Peter Penashue was a crook. Tony Clement was a liar. Bev Oda was ^ not a good minister, taste in orange juice aside. Gordon O’Connor, former military and former minister of DND did not have a fundamental understanding of the role of the Red Cross in prisoner care.

    Stephen Harper was regressive. He defunded virtually every women’s rights group. He defunded the charter challenge program. Notwithstanding the SCC findings about gay marriage, his party remained opposed to it on paper. He did not one thing to develop a law to implement the SCC assisted suicide Carter decision (even to revoke it with the notwithstanding clause or ask for more time). This speaks to his poor administration than to any particular policy choice he’s made) He allowed the citizenship ceremony fraud to go unpunished and didn’t seem at all shamed by his officials’ conduct. The barbaric cultural snitch line (not sure what to say here except it was going to be a dedicated hotline to the RCMP) was to be a thing.

    The above is only from the top of my head. Imagine if I did research.

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