Dis­ci­pline, force of will fuel Harper’s play-to-win Con­ser­va­tive ma­chine

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Scott MacKay

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.

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