Bad Review: Harper's New Book
“What the hell is going on?” This is the question Harper poses regarding the age of disruption that arrived with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Brexit may have been the opening act, but it was the election of Donald Trump and everything that followed in his wake that is creating a strange new realignment in political circles. Harper’s intention in the book is to “Put forward a positive vision for reformed democratic capitalism, with renewed working-class opportunity and greater community cohesion.” He states that the book will function as a “manual for conservative statecraft in a populist age.”
“Through our numerous successes-and our occasional blunders-Canadian Conservatives were implementing many of the policies and strategies that are necessary to respond to the challenges that Western societies currently face. I call this approach “populist conservatism”.” Page 77, Right Here Right Now
Populist conservatism? This term was never mentioned once in the entire 10 year run that Harper had as Prime Minister. Harper provides some retconning (retroactive continuity) to seemingly make his ten-year reign the precursor of the national populism that we are now seeing sweep the world. I found this bizarre when reading it. Harper’s Conservatives were hardly what we think of when we think of populism. In fact, I thought Harper left the Reform party in the 90’s largely because he didn’t like the leadership of Preston Manning and felt the party was too grassroots and not disciplined and professional. Ideologically the Conservative Party of Canada would best be described as neo-conservative. Harper was no more a populist than George W. Bush was.
Harper mentions the fact that he ripped off Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s policies of providing what his critics referred to as “middle-class welfare”. These were all the boutique tax credits that were used to pander to specific voter blocks. Poletical’s Ryan Rados has an article you can read here for more info. This was hardly populism in a grand sense…it was just identity politics for the purpose of gaming an election. The only other thing I can think of that was populist was the GST cut offered in the 2006 election.
Harper’s government was not populist. It was Chamber of Commerce-styled neo-conservatism, and even at that it was fairly milquetoast. Very shortly into the book and it already looks like bandwagon jumping.
Temporary Foreign Workers – Harper’s Mistake
Harper laments the issues around the Temporary Foreign Worker program. He claims it is one of his greatest sources of dissatisfaction during his time in office. The Temporary Foreign Worker program started focusing on low-skill workers in 2002 and it allowed Canadian employers to sponsor workers to come to Canada in order to “do the jobs Canadians won’t do.” By 2014 there were almost 200,000 foreign workers basically functioning as low-income indentured servants.
Harper asked about the system but was told studies have shown that the program was a necessity. Then Harper started to see the same media stories showing up around the same time that we all did. Stories about employers engineering shortages specifically so they could get their hands on temporary foreign workers. Importing low-cost workers was bad enough, but there were other, darker elements to the system as well…(google it if you want).
So why didn’t Harper just shut down the entire system?
He never addresses it, but we know the answer. He was more beholden to the Chamber of Commerce-style neo-conservatism than to any form of populism and decided to take half-measures instead of decisive action.
Somewheres And Anywheres
Harper goes to great lengths to divide the voters between the Somewheres and Anywheres. Somewheres are people who live ordinary, normal and unexceptional lives and don’t have the means or the motives to globetrot. Consequentially, they take more interest and pride in their communities than do the Anywheres. The Somewheres drive their kids to the hockey rink and plant potatoes in their backyard garden, while the Anywheres attend Eyes Wide Shut parties to celebrate banking mergers.
Harper’s attempt at dividing society into these two camps is overly simplistic. It’s as though he looked at exit polling data and then created ridiculous caricatures based on the inputs to explain in black and white why people vote the way they do.
This shouldn’t surprize us as this is exactly what Harper did in order to map our voting blocks when they were contesting elections in the early days of the Conservative Party. They would caricaturize voting groups and then try to focus on winnable groups with targeted messaging. I remember one caricature was named Zoe and she was something like a 29-year-old, vegan, urban, single woman. They decided not to focus on her vote because those types were a lost cause.
The Somewheres and Anywheres are Harper’s invention, but this cliché has been circling in media analysis for quite awhile.
It’s too simple. It’s too basic. If this is the caliber of analysis that he’s offering to clients through his consulting firm, then no wonder he needs to be hustling a book to drum up business.
The Right Balance
I once read a book by former PC leadership candidate and now Conservative Senator, Hugh Segal. I believe the book was called, The Right Balance. The problem with that book and likewise the problem with Harper’s Right Here Right Now, is that it wanted everything both ways and failed to offer any sort of clear prescription or concrete steps. As a result, the book was tepid and weak.
Harper does a lot of this…
I will now criticize immigration very specifically, but I’ll conclude by acknowledging that I’m pro-immigration, it just needs to be fine tuned in order to get it right.
I will now criticize big business very specifically, but I’ll conclude by acknowledging that I’m pro-big business, it just needs to be fine tuned in order to get it right.
I will now criticize trade very specifically, but I’ll conclude by acknowledging that I’m pro-trade… it just needs to be fine tuned in order to get it right.
Throughout the book, Harper positions himself as status-quo and process driven and equivocal. How he got branded as a right-wing dictator that needed to be stopped in 2015 is dumbfounding. Somewhere along the line (early) Harper went from National Citizen Coalition firebrand (1998ish?) to Joe Clark (2008-2015) and yet the mainstream in Canada went full derangement syndrome on him nonetheless.
I read Scott Adams book, Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter. Scott Adams is the Dilbert cartoonist that has recently come out of the closet politically and is trying to rebrand as, fortune-telling, political advising, MASTER PERSUADER! His book was ostensibly about how Trump won the White House using persuasion techniques and how the reader can apply these lessons to their own life in order to get what they want.
Something felt wrong during the reading of the book. I realized by the time I had finished reading it that the book wasn’t about showing the reader how to become a master persuader…it was about Adams persuading the reader that Adams knew how to show the reader how to become a master persuader. Pretty trippy and diabolical Scott!
Harper is doing something very similar here. This book isn’t about insights and assessments regarding “Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption”, it’s about Stephen Harper presenting himself as someone who has unique success providing insights and assessments regarding “Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption”. The intended audience likely isn’t you.
Upon flipping to the back-of-the-book jacket, it states that Harper is, “Chairman and CEO of Harper & Associates Consulting, a firm that helps its clients navigate global business risk. He speaks to audiences around the world about investment trends, international trade, and geopolitics.”
It was then that I realized that this book was a calling card. It would function as a cover letter for potential clients. Disappointing, but understandable. There’s a narrow window of opportunity for former politicians to capitalize on their background before nobody cares anymore. Harper’s gotta eat!
If you’re just a normal political junkie (like me) there really isn’t much in this book to get excited about. There aren’t a lot of great stories or revelations. Maybe that will come out when Harper decides to write a memoir, but somehow, I doubt it. Harper is a statesman and a gentleman. He’s truly a centrist in his actions and record and despite how vanilla his ten years in power were, we as Canadians were lucky to avoid the Paul Martin/Stephane Dion/Michael Ignatieff possibilities that were presented to us as alternatives from 2006-15. Harper’s new book is simply the next chapter for him trying to carve out a new job. The guy is only 59 and doesn’t seem like the fishing type. If giving speeches to jet-setters about how to be nicer to the little guy is the arena he wants to play in then so be it, but there’s likely no reason for an average Joe like yourself to bother reading a book like this.
1 star out of 5.