The Return Of Stephen Harper?
May 1st, 2021 | JH
It looks like Erin O’Toole is already finished as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. His instincts, actions and strategy have burned a massive amount of the Conservative base and the hubris of “Who else they gonna vote for?” will be answered with catastrophic results during the next election. (Full disclosure: I’m of the hardcore 5% of the former 38% of CPC voters that Erin felt could be swept out the door in favour of appealing to Liberal flip-floppers that will throw his invitation in the trash. I’ll be voting for The Maverick Party, but if I wasn’t doing so, I’d vote for Max Bernier’s PPC or The Christian Heritage Party.)
Many disgruntled CPC supporters are starting to realize that the next election with Erin at the helm is going to be a disaster. Consequently, they are already casting glances and writing wish lists for future salvation from the Liberal hegemony. The name that is quietly talked about in many corners is: Stephen Harper.
Could Stephen Harper be convinced to come back to lead the party that he founded? He will likely deny and decline…at first, but that’s just a game in false modesty and support-searching. If enough people demand it and enough support can be shown for it, he’ll be tempted to return.
But should he?
When Harper won in 2006, we had endured 13 years of Liberal rule. At the time, many people thought that Liberal hegemony was permanent. Paul Martin was supposed to win the largest majority in Canadian history, but he only secured a minority in 2004 and ran out of steam within two years.
(article continues after ads)
There were many reasons for Harper’s win but, in hindsight, it was likely that the tide had simply gone out for the Liberals after 13 years in power and the Conservatives were the default alternative. Harper made them a more acceptable alternative by moving the party to the left, in order to appeal to the centre. Realizing that he had won the smallest minority in Canadian history, he undertook a masterplan to govern with a soft touch and unfold an incremental conservative strategy for the long term…all with the hope of winning the confidence of a tepid and skeptical Canadian public for the purpose of attaining an elusive “strong, stable, majority Conservative government”.
Upon winning that strong, stable, majority Conservative government, many of us right-wingers expected, at long last, to see a bolder conservative agenda. We also saw problems on the horizon that required pre-emptive strikes in order to avoid the constant leftward drift in the culture. Privatizing the CBC, strengthening gun rights, reforming the Senate, toughening up criminal law, bolstering the military… there was a laundry list of dream policy that conservative voters could’ve written down, but all of it either failed or was ignored.
By the time four and half years drifted by, the country was in a malaise. The Chamber of Commerce-styled leadership was out of touch with ordinary Canadians. Too many trumped up scandals and media created hysterics gave people the sense that the CPC was in power long enough, and Harper didn’t help matters by looking bored and offering tired policy.
The conservative incrementalism Harper attempted to inject over that time never took hold. Canadians voted for a free-spending dilettante, promising deficits. (Deficits that Harper himself conditioned the public to accept as proof of a government that “does stuff and cares”)
Justin Trudeau simply undid in ten weeks everything Harper built over ten years.
The immediate post-election consensus in Conservative circles was that the Harperism of the CPC was A-okay, it just needed a friendlier delivery service. All that razzamatazz surrounding Justin Trudeau was just optics and a legendary last name. If the CPC had a candidate that didn’t look like an accountant doing an impression of Richard Nixon then…
Then we would win back power!
We got Andrew Scheer.
It’s easy to dismiss Andrew Scheer now as an incompetent Keebler Elf-type guy who was too timid and bashful to wrestle in the big leagues, but at the time he looked and sounded exactly like what the people and the party wanted. He was Harper with a smile. He was exactly Harper with a smile, platform and all.
But he lost.
It wasn’t the social conservative “albatross” that did it, although that may be a part of the equation. It wasn’t the missteps regarding his dual citizenship or his inflated insurance adjuster status either, although that definitely looked bad. It wasn’t the inside baseball feuds with Maxime Bernier or the milk cartel critics or the media, although all of this was a distraction.
The main reason that Andrew Scheer lost in 2019 was because he was Harper with a smile.
Harper’s 2006 strategy of incrementalism was effective at deftly manoeuvring within the liberal frame while trying to govern in a slightly right-of-centre manner. It allowed us a pause from the relentless push towards progressive madness, but ultimately it failed to change the country and it failed to maintain power. Nevertheless, the party used past experience as proof of concept and pushed forth with more of the same.
Meanwhile, the progressive cultural zeitgeist was evolving. The rise of woke progressivism has proven much more aggressive than even the “Stop Harper” traditional activism from 2011-2015. Wokeness blossomed during the final Obama term and exploded with the election of Trump. Andrew Scheer was elected leader of the CPC in 2017 and was wholly unprepared for the stridency of the new progressivism.
An example of this failure was his big CBC interview early on in his leadership. He was obviously coached to sell the same Harper line about “we will not re-open the abortion debate”. This was satisfactory for progressives in 2006, but by 2017, political candidates were required to be enthusiastically supportive of abortion whole-heartedly. If they weren’t, then they were morally bankrupt and unworthy of office. Scheer slapped the “we will not re-open the abortion debate” line on the table and was then grilled relentlessly about his position anyway. He was forced to sheepishly repeat himself while the CBC host woke-scolded his position and made it clear to viewers that his perspective was beyond the pale.
"The conservative incrementalism Harper attempted to inject over that time never took hold."
Perhaps someone with Harper’s gravitas would have performed better. A Harper declaration with a stare down, may have garnered more respect than Scheer’s red-faced smirking, but nevertheless, the line of questioning would not have eased. In 2006, the “we will not re-open the abortion debate” was sufficient. In 2017 it required explanation to the point of condemnation and apology.
Another issue was Pride parading. Harper was never pressured to march in Pride parades in order to show his allegiance to the LGBT movement. He always had Baird or Kenney doing dog whistles to gays with condemnation of homosexual persecution overseas and whatnot and that seemed to suffice, but we’re at a point now in which Erin O’Toole is expected to march in Pride parades or he’s viewed as unfit for office. The only thing stopping him from doing so, supposedly, is the ban on having police officers participate in some of the parades. Toronto is the fully woke example.
But can you see Harper prancing down the street in a Pride parade? I can’t. But that’s now the world we live in.
The rise of wokeness happened in conjunction with the rise of Justin Trudeau. Having the Liberal party in charge and watching progressive orthodoxy completely dominate the zeitgeist is a hurdle that Harper never had to face during his original leadership. He had entrenched left-wing bureaucracy and media and courts and unions opposing him 100%. It was ultimately the grind of all that opposition that led to his downfall. But since those days, the hegemony has become total in every conceivable way.
The media isn’t just left-wing biased anymore. The media is now a subsidiary of the Liberal Party of Canada. Private newspapers and broadcasters are on life-support with government funding, and government protection…and they know it... and it shows. The CBC has evolved from a left-wing activist organization to a fully woke progressive Pravda. Social media has far more impact and functions far more nefariously than it did back in 2011 when Harper won his majority.
Because of Harper’s bizarre idea to not fill Senate seats before he lost in 2015, we will now be stuck with a Liberal controlled Senate for at least a generation.
The courts have drifted to the far-left since Harper was being stifled by them 6 years ago. The latest example is the carbon tax decision citing the moral emergency of climate change as justification for court decision making. It will likely get worse as law schools in Canada are increasingly pressured to submit to woke orthodoxy, the law students who become lawyers who become judges will eventually turn our courts into something that looks like a NDP policy convention. (We’re halfway there already)
The bureaucracy in Canada is its own eco-system. Neutral at best. Leftist at worst. Harper dealt with this problem constantly during his ten years in power. Six plus years of Liberal appointments isn’t going to make things easier upon his return.
Every section of conservative support is under progressive pressure. Farmers are facing the climate cult. Small businesses are getting Covid crushed into bankruptcy. The oil and gas industry is targeted for total shutdown. Social conservatives are being cancelled. Gun owners are losing their firearms. Christian pastors are jailed for holding services. Parents are being banned and arrested for stopping their kids from being put on hormonal puberty blockers.
This is Canada.
Stephen Harper is going to compete in this environment? He’s going to win an election and push back against all this? Stockwell Day was cancelled for suggesting that Canada wasn’t systemically racist and you think Stephen Harper can win elections in modern year Canada?
Harper wasn’t the beginning of something, he was the end of something. He attempted to provide one last chance for reform. We didn’t realize it right away and it’s taken some time to sink in, but Harper proved that Canada fundamentally can’t be fixed. There is too much opposition. Too much division. Too much regionalism. Too many vested interests. Too much historical baggage. We’re a disparate people with no shared values or goals living in a country that was hastily constructed on a shaky foundation. With record-breaking debt and mass government incompetence that shaky foundation may begin to finally break.
On top of this rotten foundation the woke madness we’ve been experiencing is a fever symptom of grave underlying cultural illness. This cultural illness isn’t unique to Canada and it seems to be a common result of modernity across the West. What it will take to restore sanity is an essay for another time, suffice it to say that it will be a hard day when that day comes.
None of this has anything to do with Stephen Harper. He will simply be a footnote regarding Canada’s last gasp in the before times. Conservatives need to get past dreams of rewinding the tape in order to solve present day problems.We require new solutions. New ideas. New actions.
Leave Stephen Harper on the speaking circuit and let’s move forward.
© 2021 Poletical