Stephen Harper Still Ex­ert­ing In­flu­ence

The Victoria Standard - - Commentary - MORGAN DUCHESNEY

Re­cent me­dia re­ports about Stephen Harper’s pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties sug­gest that he has been qui­etly ac­tive since los­ing power and quit­ting as Con­ser­va­tive leader in 2015. In spite of Harper’s low pub­lic pro­file, he has ad­vised se­nior Repub­li­can fig­ures, writ­ten a po­lit­i­cal book, chaired the 80 mem­ber In­ter­na­tional Demo­cratic Union and lever­aged in­flu­ence through his con­sult­ing firm.

Harper’s early July visit to the White House in­cluded meet­ings with Trump eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low, In­ter­na­tional Repub­li­can In­sti­tute Pres­i­dent Daniel Twin­ing and hawk­ish Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton, an un­apolo­getic draft dodger like his boss. White House Press Sec­re­tary Sarah San­ders ig­nored a jour­nal­ist’s ques­tion about Harper’s Wash­ing­ton ac­tiv­i­ties and the for­mer prime min­is­ter was silent on the topic. Harper’s fail­ure to no­tify Cana­dian of­fi­cials about his July visit irked a Trudeau gov­ern­ment fac­ing trade is­sues with an un­pre­dictable Trump gov­ern­ment care­lessly al­ter­ing the rules of global pol­i­tics and com­merce.

In April 2016, Stephen Harper paid a visit to Repub­li­can power bro­ker and Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee (PAC) donor Shel­don Adel­son, a casino mag­nate known for his gen­er­ous fi­nanc­ing of pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and il­le­gal Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries. Harper was there to of­fer ad­vice on re­pair­ing po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions and clearly demon­strate his un­com­pro­mis­ing sup­port for an ex­pan­sion­ist Is­raeli state.

Per­haps Harper re­galed Adel­son with de­tails of his 2003 role in merg­ing the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive (PC) and Cana­dian Al­liance par­ties. Ac­cord­ing to lead­er­ship can­di­date David Or­chard, Stephen Harper con­vinced Pe­ter Mackay to re­nege on a writ­ten agree­ment with Or­chard not to merge the PC and Al­liance par­ties. This episode has been jus­ti­fied by those who ben­e­fited from Stephen Harper’s time in power.

More dis­turb­ing is Harper’s resur­fac­ing dur­ing a time when il­lib­eral dem­a­gogues are gain­ing le­git­i­macy in Europe and the United States. As chair of the In­ter­na­tional Demo­cratic Union (IDU), Stephen Harper of­fered vic­tory con­grat­u­la­tions to fel­low mem­ber Vik­tor Or­ban, Hun­gary’s anti-im­mi­grant leader whose hard-right Fidesz-hun­gar­ian Civic Al­liance openly re­stricts the ac­tiv­i­ties of civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions.

In the past, Harper had of­ten com­plained about what he called grow­ing anti-semitism in Euro­pean na­tions like IDU mem­bers Hun­gary and Poland. Aside from this in­con­sis­tency, Harper’s par­ti­san lead­er­ship style and di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal tac­tics must have im­pressed the IDU’S more au­thor­i­tar­ian mem­bers.

While ad­dress­ing a group of Stan­ford Univer­sity busi­ness stu­dents last Fe­bru­ary, Harper mused about the po­ten­tial ease of re-es­tab­lish­ing him­self as Con­ser­va­tive leader. In a later Stan­ford in­ter­view, he em­pha­sized that he was a “straight” con­ser­va­tive rather than a pro­gres­sive con­ser­va­tive while avoid­ing the dan­ger­ous topic of so­cial con­ser­vatism.

With­out irony, Harper noted that he could have ut­terly dom­i­nated the Con­ser­va­tive Party. He then briefly touched on his new book about the rise of pop­ulism as it re­lates to con­ser­va­tives. Although Prime Min­is­ter Harper was no pop­ulist, he clev­erly ex­ploited pub­lic fears to scape­goat Mus­lims and im­mi­grants, at­tacked so-called elites, dis­man­tled en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, em­pha­sized mil­i­tary force over diplo­macy and low­ered the tone of pub­lic dis­course. Per­haps Trump’s cam­paign ad­vi­sors were look­ing north for in­spi­ra­tion.

Harper wrote an un­so­licited let­ter to the Trump ad­min­stra­tion, sup­port­ing their de­ci­sion to with­draw from the 2015 Iran Nu­clear deal, whereby sanc­tions would be less­ened in ex­change for Iran’s de­mon­strated com­mit­ment to re­strict its nu­clear re­search to peace­ful pur­poses. Harper’s dis­com­fort with the deal was mainly rooted in his stub­born de­ter­mi­na­tion to sup­port any pol­icy that pro­tects Is­rael’s mil­i­tary dom­i­nance and nu­clear mo­nop­oly in the Mid­dle East.

Talk of Harper’s pos­si­ble re­turn to Cana­dian pol­i­tics is in­evitable, although there seems scant time for the Con­ser­va­tives to change lead­ers for the 2019 elec­tion. Re­mov­ing cur­rent leader Andrew Scheer might de-sta­bi­lize the Con­ser­va­tives and con­jure mem­o­ries of the 2003’s con­tro­ver­sial PC/ Cana­dian Al­liance merger. Nonethe­less, Cana­dian Trump fans might ea­gerly wel­come Harper’s re­turn to of­fice.

While Trudeau and his ad­vi­sors are quite ca­pa­ble of ruth­less tac­tics and ex­ces­sive se­crecy, his gov­ern­ment has pro­vided a wel­come break from the ex­cesses of the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, many Cana­di­ans still yearn for Harper’s re­turn and are con­tent with the no­tion of a “great leader” at the helm. Such pas­sive in­di­vid­u­als will­ingly ac­cept a mar­ket democ­racy where one dol­lar equals one unit of in­flu­ence with no thought for the fu­ture. That bleak phi­los­o­phy con­serves noth­ing and risks ev­ery­thing.

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