Discipline, force of will fuel Harper’s play-to-win Conservative machine
FRIEND and foe alike, most Canadian political junkies yearn to be a fly on the wall in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office. This thirst for intimate details about what really makes Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada tick is driven by the party’s actions, particularly by its leader’s iron-fisted domination of his caucus, the media and anyone else who dares poke around in the affairs of the not-so-natural governing party. Is there any wonder so many presume there must be a hidden agenda tucked away in the files of the PMO? Although readers won’t find any such secretive master plan in Bruce Carson’s well-constructed 14 Days: Making the Conservative Movement in Canada, the author provides thorough and near-photographicquality recollections of the historic march of Canada’s right wing from its post-Mulroney low in 1993, through the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the ReformAlliance, to official Opposition, to minority and ultimately to today’s Conservative Party of Canada majority government. Carson also looks one day into the future with a final chapter of musings on the “Path Forward” for Canada’s conservative movement. The book’s title — 14 Days — is a misnomer, as each “day” is really a summary of a period in this evolution.
Carson is well-qualified to tell this tale, having served as an off-and-on-again adviser to Stephen Harper and the Conservatives for a good part of the past two decades. And despite several well-publicized legal storms faced by the author over the years (including fraud convictions in the 1980s and ’90s, and more recent allegations of influence-peddling) it’s hard not to detect affability (if not decency) in terms of his interaction with the people of all political stripes chronicled in 14 Days. What is most striking about this trip down memory lane is the clear depiction of Canada’s conservative movement as a force just slightly and awkwardly out of step with mainstream Canada (especially after the Reform-Alliance infusion) but a party that, nonetheless, has been able to claw its way to a majority government by nudging the political centre to the right. This is no small achievement, and one that could not have occurred without the patience, intense discipline and sheer force of will that has become the Harper juggernaut. Strategic innovation is also put on a pedestal here, as the party reinvigorated not only the negative political advertisements but also pioneered daily mock questionperiod sessions, where parliamentary secretaries do their best to trip up cabinet ministers so they are ready for the real show down the hall. Today’s Conservative Party of Canada takes nothing for granted, exists in a state of perpetual election-readiness, and only plays to win. Scholars of Canadian political history and others who wish to refresh their memories about the players (remember Stockwell Day?) and policies (Federal Accountability Act, anyone?) that led Canada to its current state would be well-advised to study this account. So would Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Scott MacKay is the president of Probe Research Inc., a Winnipeg-based public opinion
and marketing research firm.