Bye-bye, Harper

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

When Stephen Harper re­signed his Calgary seat last month, the com­mon re­ac­tion in At­lantic Canada likely was, “What took you so long?”

The for­mer prime min­is­ter’s an­nounce­ment via a ster­ile mes­sage posted to Face­book and Twitter was in tune with his un­usual per­for­mance on elec­tion night.

As he took to the podium in de­feat, Cana­di­ans ex­pected to hear a gra­cious con­ces­sion speech, that he was step­ping down as party leader and re­sign­ing his seat im­me­di­ately.

In­stead, Harper thanked his sup­port­ers and said good­night. The an­nounce­ment he was step­ping down as leader came in a state­ment to the party pres­i­dent re­leased to the media. Harper would not say the words on cam­era.

Then he lin­gered in the back rows of the House of Com­mons for 10 months.

Harper was a ruth­less cam­paigner and took neg­a­tive ad­ver­tis­ing to a level pre­vi­ously un­known in Cana­dian pol­i­tics. He pro­rogued Par­lia­ment to avoid de­feat and out­foxed his op­po­nents. But he lost bat­tles in the Supreme Court and on Se­nate re­form. His poli­cies were di­vi­sive rather than in­clu­sive.

While Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was gen­er­ous in his com­ments last week, few At­lantic Cana­di­ans shed tears or felt any sense of loss at Harper’s de­par­ture.

Harper was never able to shake off his com­ments about there be­ing about a cul­ture of de­feat in At­lantic Canada. His gov­ern­ment’s changes to em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance were seen as an at­tack on the re­gion. At­lantic pre­miers were united in op­po­si­tion, ar­gu­ing we were un­fairly pe­nal­ized be­cause of our heavy re­liance on sea­sonal in­dus­tries.

Harper’s bat­tles with for­mer New­found­land and Labrador Pre­mier Danny Wil­liams are leg­endary. Wil­liams ac­tively cam­paigned against him, urg­ing vot­ers to cast a bal­lot for any­one but a Conservative.

Harper re­fused to at­tend pre­miers’ meet­ings. In­stead, he sum­moned Robert Ghiz, Dar­rell Dex­ter, Sean Gra­ham, David Al­ward and others to Ot­tawa for one-on-one au­di­ences. His ap­point­ment of Ot­tawa res­i­dent Mike Duffy as a P.E.I. sen­a­tor sig­nalled his dis­dain for At­lantic Canada.

He out­ma­noeu­vred Peter MacKay to seize con­trol of the Conservative party. Had MacKay pre­vailed, the party’s his­tory in this re­gion might be dif­fer­ent (though likely not in New­found­land).

Harper’s bat­tles with Amherst’s Bill Casey car­ried on for years. Casey op­posed bud­gets that hurt Nova Sco­tia and to­day the pop­ulist MP is en­joy­ing the last laugh as a Lib­eral.

It was not all bad news, though. Harper was at the helm when Canada weath­ered the 2008 world­wide re­ces­sion. He com­mit­ted to an am­bi­tious naval re­build­ing pro­gram and apol­o­gized to First Na­tions for years of ne­glect and ne­go­ti­ated am­bi­tious trade deals.

But in the end, At­lantic Canada had enough and cast its lot with a youth­ful leader who of­fered hope and op­ti­mism. Cana­di­ans wanted a more tol­er­ant coun­try and a gov­ern­ment with a con­science.

Harper out­stayed his wel­come.

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