Tory blue for­ever... and ever

Ma­clean’s colum­nist of­fers in­sider ac­count of Harper’s ob­ses­sion with en­dur­ing power

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Sheilla Jones

WHO is Stephen Harper? “The driven loner. The ob­ses­sive knot of re­sent­ments. The float­ing brain in a jar in the base­ment of 24 Sus­sex, sur­rounded by cats and the souls of crushed Lib­er­als.”

While the prime min­is­ter may be all those things, writes se­nior Ma­clean’s colum­nist Paul Wells, he could not have won elec­tions in 2006, 2008 and 2011 with­out of­fer­ing some­thing that ap­peals to mil­lions of Cana­dian vot­ers.

It is this “some­thing” that Wells seeks to de­fine in The Longer I’m Prime Min­is­ter, his fit­ting fol­lowup to 2006’s Right Side Up: The Fall of Paul Martin and the Rise of Stephen Harper’s New Con­ser­vatism.

Be­cause Wells has stud­ied and writ­ten about Harper for so long, his at­tempt to get a han­dle on a man who quite de­lib­er­ately stays low-key, form­less and un­know­able — mak­ing it harder for his de­trac­tors to hate him and eas­ier for his ad­mir­ers to like him — has an air of au­thor­ity. But even so, Wells’ premise that Harper gen­uinely be­lieves Lib­er­als have brain­washed gen­er­a­tions of Cana­dian Con­ser­va­tives into think­ing they are Lib­er­als is a star­tling idea.

It does ex­plain, how­ever, Harper’s undis­guised con­tempt for Cana­di­ans he con­sid­ers to be pur­vey­ors of Lib­eral hege­mony — civil ser­vants, the me­dia, sci­en­tists, in­tel­lec­tu­als, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists — and the de­light he takes in be­ing hated by them.

To un­der­stand Harper, ac­cord­ing to Wells, is to un­der­stand his drive to re­place a Lib­eral hege­mony with a Con­ser­va­tive one that will en­dure. Harper ex­erts fierce con­trol over any­thing and ev­ery­thing his gov­ern­ment and party says, so that “Con­ser­va­tive val­ues are Canada’s val­ues” is re­peated in one form or another in soothing, re­as­sur­ing tones, ac­com­pa­nied by im­ages of cute kit­tens, blue sweater vests and vis­tas of the Rocky Moun­tains. All that is good and com­fort­ing about Canada is Con­ser­va­tive. All that is bad and scary about Canada is Lib­eral.

Harper has made no se­cret of this agenda. In the ex­u­ber­ant af­ter­math of win­ning the 2008 elec­tion — thanks in no small part to CTV’s Mike Duffy, who was re­warded shortly there­after with a Se­nate ap­point­ment — Harper drove home “the Con­ser­va­tive Party is Canada’s Party” mantra for the cheer­ing party faith­ful at a pol­icy con­ven­tion in Winnipeg.

“We will suc­ceed be­cause Con­ser­va­tive val­ues are Cana­dian val­ues,” he said. “Love of coun­try. Com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity. De­vo­tion to the fam­ily. Re­spect for peace, or­der and thet law. Re­ward for riskr and hard work. Th­ese are the val­ues on which our coun­try was built and, in this way, the Con­ser­va­tive story is Canada’s story.”s

Wells’ ex­am­i­na­tion ofo Harper’s ob­ses­sive­ness about hold­ing onto power “by do­ing as much as he can get away with” serves up plenty of de­tail. But but he re­lies heav­ily ono anony­mous party in­sid­ers (or for­mer in­sid­ers) to spill the beans on what goes on in Harper’s se­cre­tive in­ner cir­cle.

Nor­mally, such re­liance on un­named sources is a weak­ness, but in this case, it seems re­mark­able that Wells got them to say as much as they did.

Wells does, how­ever, paint a dis­turb­ing pic­ture of Harper, the con­trol freak, who is ter­ri­fied that he, him­self, will de­stroy his hold on power by say­ing some­thing stupid.

If any­thing, Harper’s ex­treme need for con­trol and his vin­dic­tive lash­ing out against any­one he per­ceives as his enemy be­trays him as a man who be­lieves his hold on power is frag­ile and can shat­ter at any time.

The longer Stephen Harper has been prime min­is­ter, says Wells, “the fur­ther he drifted from his best habits and the deeper he sank into his worst.”

Wells’ book is not a cheer­ful read and it bogs down at times in elec­tion cam­paign minu­tiae. But it does shed a small amount of light on a man who puts a lot of ef­fort into stay­ing form­less and un­know­able, the bet­ter to crush Lib­eral souls.

Sheilla Jones is a Winnipeg-based au­thor, for­mer po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor for CBC and an un­re­pen­tant po­lit­i­cal junkie.


The Longer I’m Prime

Min­is­ter Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006By Paul Wells Ran­dom House Canada,

448 pages, $32

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