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DESVEAUX: Signs hint that Stephen Harper is preparing to take back the Conservative leadership

“I think I probably could still easily be leader of my party if I wanted to. I mean, I’m de facto the founder of my party” — Stephen Harper, May 2018.

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In a public opinion survey released in November by Abacus Data only Stephen Harper is preferred by self-identified Conservative voters over Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer. The poll neglected to measure the relative support for Scheer against the much-touted Rona Ambrose or Jason Kenney, for examples, but curiously included both Mark and Caroline Mulroney as possible leadership candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada.

Source: Abacus Data

According to David Coletto with Abacus, “Our test of potential alternatives to Mr. Scheer finds none, except for Mr. Harper, are preferred over Mr. Scheer among those who voted Conservative in the last election. This should give him some comfort, especially since Conservative members will ultimately decide whether to initiate a leadership election.” Scheer could find some comfort in these numbers if Stephen Harper was firmly committed to Harper & Associates and his new role as an international business and public affairs consultant – but I’m not convinced the former PM is out of partisan politics quite yet.

Chairman of Abacus Data, Bruce Anderson, is also the Chairman of Summa Communications where “he offers communications and campaign counsel and strategic advice to clients.” The link to Summa Communications goes nowhere but the Summa Strategies website boasts that “A new partnership with Bruce Anderson adds communications counsel to the services available to public affairs clients.” Summa Strategies is home to Tim Powers, the nominally-conservative voice on CBC’s “Power and Politics”, who playfully describes Scheer as a “little kid baby brother.” It’s also home to Jim Armour who calls Harper “a natural prime minister.” According to his online profile, Armour “was Communications Director for two Leaders of the Official Opposition and helped brand the launch of both the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative Party of Canada.” One of the conservative leaders Armour worked for was, of course, Stephen Harper.

Andrew MacDougall was also formerly Director of Communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. MacDougall lashed out at Andrew Scheer in a Tweet on Saturday after Scheer announced his decision to fire his chief of staff and director of communications. MacDougall came as close as one could to calling for Scheer to resign, without actually saying it. It’s absolutely standard practice for political leaders to replace staff, especially after a failed election, and MacDougall certainly knows this.

Source: Twitter

On August 14, 2019, Rachel Curran, senior associate with Harper & Associates, publicly questioned Scheer’s ability to capitalize on Trudeau’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act over his interventions on the SNC-Lavalin corruption case. In an interview with CBC Radio after the election, Curran was less delicate with her language saying “real mistakes” were made in a “winnable election.”

Source: Twitter

Several Harper-appointed Senators have left the Conservative Caucus and joined the new Canadian Senators Group in the Upper House, citing discontent with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Senators Jean-Guy Dagenais and Josee Verner both criticized Scheer’s view on issues like same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005 and Scheer was clear that he has no intention of changing that law. Rather than defend the leader of their party against predictable attacks, the Senators instead repeated Liberal talking points that Scheer is hiding a secret agenda.

It is also worth noting that Stephen Harper sits on the Conservative Fund of Canada, the money branch of the party, so he has not cut official ties to the CPC.

Pressure is clearly mounting for Andrew Scheer to resign on his own or for Conservative delegates at the next convention to force him to resign by demanding a leadership vote – and this pressure is coming from many key Harper supporters.

The Abacus Data survey is not the first time the former Conservative Prime Minister has been mentioned as a possible replacement to Scheer. In fact, over the last two years there has been what looks like a quiet campaign to set the stage for Harper’s return.

In October 2017 – just months after Scheer narrowly won the Conservative Party of Canada leadership election – a professionally produced click-bait ad was being promoted on Yahoo & Google search engines asking Conservatives to vote “Yes” to Stephen Harper and “No” to Andrew Scheer. Scheer was still working to establish his personal brand and increase his national profile, but Conservatives were already growing frustrated by his perceived inability to make an impact on the polling numbers despite a blundering Trudeau. It is unclear who is behind this ad campaign, but it can be traced back to Calgary.

Image source: Google ad

On August 23, 2018, hope of any post-leadership race unity in the Conservative party was shattered when failed leadership candidate and high-profile Conservative Member of Parliament, Maxime Bernier, left the party to start the People’s Party of Canada. Bernier took aim directly at Scheer when he said “I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.” While partisan Conservatives were mostly critical of Bernier’s decision to leave the party, they also felt the failure to keep Bernier happy and occupied was a failure of leadership that landed squarely on Scheer. It is worth noting that Bernier did not directly criticize Harper when he left the party despite their well-known hostility to one another.

While Scheer was dealing with lacklustre polling numbers and a breakaway conservative insurgency led by Bernier, Harper addressed an audience at the prestigious Stanford School of Business in May of 2018 saying, “I think I probably could still easily be leader of my party if I wanted to. I mean, I’m de-facto the founder of my party.”

In September 2018, exactly one year before the Canadian federal election, Stephen Harper released his latest book, “Right Here, Right Now”, the title of which reads like a campaign slogan.

While Trudeau was mired in scandal at home and abroad – primarily the SNC-Lavalin affair, and blunders on the world stage with his embarrassing official visit to India – and Scheer was dealing with his own inability to capitalize on this in the polls, Harper was enjoying prestige on the world stage. On January 8, 2019, a professionally produced video was released of the former prime minister having a very serious meeting with current Indian Prime Minister Modi. While the video provided a contrast between Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau on what dignified foreign diplomacy and trade talks look like – it also reminded Conservatives that Harper has the gravitas Scheer lacks: Harper is a statesman; Scheer occupied a junior position in the Speaker’s Office. Harper was the leader of the National Citizens Coalition; Scheer was a junior insurance salesman. Maybe.

Throughout the campaign, photographs and video circulated of Harper with foreign leaders like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen. The message was clear: The only person fighting effectively for Canada on the world stage during the federal election was a man not even in the race.

All of this can be easily explained, of course. Those loyal to Harper are disappointed in the performance of the man who replaced him – and they are speaking out. Harper is showcasing his work on the world stage because that’s his new gig. Perhaps, but I find the picture in its entirety too compelling to ignore: Harper has been carefully planning his return to federal politics and is the only person, according to the Abacus Data poll, who can defeat Andrew Scheer.

Additionally, Conservative federalists are terrified by the prospect of a credible independence party (federally and provincially) gaining traction at their expense. Stephen Harper may be the only Westerner with the credibility to pacify its growing base.

I’m going to speculate even further: Over the next six months, we will see a draft Stephen Harper website and social media channels designed to collect data in order to properly message and run a leadership campaign. You might also see Maxime Bernier float the possibility of shutting-down the People’s Party of Canada if Stephen Harper comes back. The PPC has no party constitution or governing council that could prevent such a move. Bringing Bernier back into the CPC family would be a major win for Harper who was the architect of bringing together the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party. A win for Harper here would be a blow to Andrew Scheer, exactly what Bernier seems to want.

If Stephen Harper is interested in returning to federal politics, the universe is unfolding exactly as it should – or maybe it’s being gently nudged in the direction the brilliant strategist and his friends want it to go. If I’m right, it could be bad news for both Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau.

Clinton P. Desveaux is a social thought leader and can be contacted at ClintonDesveaux@gmail.com

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Elvina Dumoulin

    November 26, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    I want Stephen Harper to come back as the leader of the Conservative Party…he is the best…I have always supported him…and I will keep on supporting him along with my children…we are all conservatives!Mr.Harper is the only one who can defeat Trudeau in a coming election and I think that could come in the following year.Trudeau is an ass and I want him out!If I have to see his face any longer I’m gonna break my tv set…it’s that bad!I want muslims out…his terrorist friends out and I want him to be arrested and prosecuted for having run the country to the brink of bankruptcy by sending unauthorised tax payer money to his terrorist countries and for NSC Lavallin also!

    • Oldie

      November 27, 2019 at 6:48 pm

      Get help immediately! Sick people like you aren’t safe to be out in public. You need to be under professional care, in a secure lockup facility. Please get back on your meds!

  2. PrairieGru

    November 30, 2019 at 9:39 am

    This is a bunch of nonsense piled around some thin speculation about Harper. Is that all it takes to imitate Breitbart?

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Opinion

NAVARRO-GENIE: Want to help Harry and Meghan? Leave them be.

No matter what we think, they are entitled to personal autonomy and they alone must be responsible for the array of consequences their decisions bring.

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Personal autonomy and the exercise of individual conscience are cornerstones of western civilization. We expect mature individuals to accept that personal autonomy includes embracing the consequences of independent decisions. We have entrenched these values in the canon, from Magna Carta (1215) to Canada’s Constitution Act (1982). So, when Harry and Meghan, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they no longer wish to have official royal duties, our generous inclination is to support their desire for greater autonomy. 

Plenty of ink is being dedicated to the former Sussexes, but little has focused on an important consequence of their decision:  they have renounced their public duty. 

Dropping the bombshell publicly before advising Her Majesty the Queen showed an absence of good judgement, the main standard of public duty. In addition to being the family matriarch and their grandmother, the queen is also the reigning monarch and head of state. Any of these roles individually commands dutiful respect.

The crass action has public implications beyond the disrespect to our Monarch, and the most immediate for Canadians is our prime minister announcing his willingness to have Canadians pay for Harry and Meghan’s steep personal security costs, should they decide to settle in Canada.  

Prior to the invitation, came rash speculation backed by a flash opinion survey asking whether there is support for Harry to become our governor general. 

Both ideas are senselessness raised on stilts. 

The governorship general idea is tone deaf to the couple’s wishes. They have rejected public duties, wishing to be autonomous. How disrespectful is it to offer someone what they have just rejected? Do you stubbornly offer dog meat to someone wanting to be vegan?

However much Harry might know about Canada, the highest political office in the land should be reserved to someone who has the fortitude to perform his public duty –a standard also applicable to the present occupant at Rideau Hall, one might fairly say.  

The principal issue is that Harry and his wife are not interested in, or have the resilience for, performing public duties. Putting aside the question of ability, consider his judgement and disposition. Despite being raised in a royal household, prepared for a life of service and duty, Harry demonstrated anemic judgement in handling his exit from duty. 

However generously we wish to look at his exit, Harry reneged on duties he was trained to perform and unwisely embarrassed his people and his country, his grandmother and his monarch. 

And there is the rub!  We now want the former Duke of Sussex to come to perform in Canada for Canadians, in the stead of his queen and grandmother, greater duties with more consequence than those he rejected in the United Kingdom?

What kind of affront would this be to Her Majesty for Canada even to submit Harry as Canada’s choice for GG? (Let’s not forget the queen has the last word on who represents her personally). And if Harry and wife wish to demonstrate autonomy, how many shades of hypocrisy could we spot on Harry embracing Canadian public duties having rejected lesser duties at home? 

What is more, are there assurances that the former Sussexes would perform and stick with Canadian duties for the same Sovereign they rejected? Would Harry be more diligent and loyal in performing duty to strangers in a strange land than in his own country of birth?  

Provided they satisfy our immigration laws and regulations, the former Duke and Duchess of Sussex are welcome to come and stay in Canada, in accordance with their stated wishes.  But in keeping with their wishes, they ought not be treated as royalty. That’s how we can help!

They have not asked for financial help with their security costs. Absent any state duties, they are not Canada’s responsibility.  Offering to pay for them condescendingly insults their wish for autonomy as much as does offering them public duty they rejected. 

So let’s leave them be! If the former Duke and Duchess want to evade their royal kin in the United Kingdom, we can be for, against or neutral. No matter what we think, they are entitled to personal autonomy and they alone must be responsible for the array of consequences their decisions bring. 

Let us not push on them to receive monetary aid we claim we cannot afford for veteran Canadians, who have loyally and bravely performed their duties to queen and country. 

Marco Navarro-Génie is a Columnist for the Western Standard, the president of Haultain Research Institute and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

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Opinion

LITTLEJOHN: A provincial Alberta is landlocked. A national Alberta not so much.

Albertans need to decide if they want to be a landlocked province without the ability to do much about it, or a nation with the leverage to reach our potential.

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Opponents of Alberta independence believe that they have a trump-card in convincing Albertans to remain a subject of the federation: it would be landlocked.

On the surface of it, they have a point. It doesn’t require a cartographer to look at a map to realize that an independent West without BC would lack a coastline.

The argument goes that without direct coastal access, a vengeful rump-Canada would have a veto over all of Alberta’s affairs, and energy exports in particular. As difficult as it is to deal with other provinces now, it would be virtually impossible if Albertans were foreigners without recourse to the courts. This side claims that British Columbia’s leverage would grow, along with their ability kibosh pipelines.

Unlike rich landlocked nations like as Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg – whose commodities can be transported without pipelines – Alberta’s economy would tank, rendered subject to the whims of our neighbors. This is a major reason why many Albertans believe that their standard of living would suffer as an independent state.

Premier Jason Kenney shares this view.

“Landlocking ourselves through separation is not a solution. The green-left has been leading a campaign to landlock our energy. Why would we give them what they want?”

Kenney and the federalists ignore the elephant in the room: Alberta is already landlocked. 

After the passage of bills C-69 and C-48, it is highly unlikely that any private investors will bother to even attempt to build a new interprovincial pipeline. The Trans Mountain Expansion appears likely to proceed, but it is hardly a ‘future’ pipeline, given that it has been pumping oil since 1953. 

As a province, Alberta is bound by the constitution to respect the federal government’s powers over interprovincial trade. From milk, to beer, to oil, Ottawa has proven itself highly reticent to exercise these powers against offenders, giving an effective veto to politicians in Quebec and British Columbia. Even without a formal veto, these politicians have successfully intimidated potential investors with their pernicious rhetoric and threats of endless lawfare.

Alberta may eventually win long, dragged out fights in the courts, but the victory is a pyrrhic one. 

Without the ability to inflict real damage on other jurisdictions blocking its right to trade freely, Alberta is bringing a spoon to a gunfight. 

As a country, Alberta would have its hands untied, with the ability to retaliate in kind. Trade wars are almost always harmful, but the real threat of one is necessary. As Lawrence Solomon points out, “If Alberta were independent, its newfound bargaining power would certainly cause the Rest of Canada to capitulate, and speed to completion any and all pipelines Alberta needed to either ocean.”

An independent Alberta would indeed rely on imports and exports crossing foreign borders, but not without hugely expanded leverage. Threats of cutting Alberta off are hollow for the simple reason that Alberta would have an even greater ability to cut British Columbia off from the rest of Canada, and vice-versa. 

If B.C. attempted to landlock an independent Alberta, she would quickly find herself a modern East Prussia, cut off from access to the mother country. All the trucks, trains and planes carrying Eastern commodities to and from B.C. ports, and Toronto-Vancouver flights, would be forced to route either through the United States, or the Arctic.

The vast majority of Alberta’s energy trade is north-south. While it would hurt, Alberta could survive even a total embargo from a rump Ontario-Quebec state.

By contrast, the vast majority of British Columbia’s trade is with the rest of Canada. Those keen to point out that Alberta has no costal access on the map, should also note that standing between British Columbia and Ontario, is Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. A trade war would cut B.C. off from the Rest of Canada, and the Rest of Canada off from the Pacific. 

B.C. would have little incentive to turn off Alberta’s pipelines, knowing that Alberta could shut down the roads, railways and airways that keep B.C. alive. 

A war of tariffs and tolls would hurt everyone, but not equally. Alberta would be injured, but British Columbia risks being decimated. More realistically, British Columbia and the federal government would opt for a genuine free-trade agreement with Alberta than a devastating trade war. 

A vengeful rump-Canada might wish to wound Alberta, but doing so would punish British Columbia, and potentially drive it into the hands – oddly enough – of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Out of mutual self-interest, it’s most likely Canada would negotiate. 

Canadian provinces hardly have free trade as it is. Just as it is easier for sovereign nations in Europe to trade with each other than for Canadian provinces, a Canada-West trade agreement might actually free our economy to a greater extent than it is right now. 

Alberta would almost certainly obtain better access to the American market than as an appendage of Ottawa. As an independent nation, Alberta could negotiate for its interests alone, instead of horse trading to protect Ontario steel and Quebec dairy. Alberta has no need for protectionist side-deals, and could negotiate the most radically open free-trade deal it wanted. If successful, the remaining leverage of B.C. and Ottawa to landlock Alberta evaporates. 

Alberta is already landlocked. Albertans need to decide if they want to be a landlocked province without the ability to do much about it, or a nation with the leverage to reach our potential. 

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Opinion

FORBES: Tories will be tempted to sacrifice the West to win Toronto

If Wexit continues to grow, the federal Tories have chosen the worst possible time to pivot their attention to Toronto.

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Canada’s federal Tories are looking for a new direction for the 2020s. The party brass has announced that they will select a new leader on June 27 at a convention in Toronto. Yes, the Toronto where the Tories also selected their last leader. The decision to keep the convention in Toronto is symbolic of the party’s desire to “broaden the tent” by appealing to the vote-rich urban centres. They obviously need to do this, but if they are not careful, the party risks further alienating the West and undoing whatever little inroads they could ever hope to make.

First, let’s look at how we got to this point. Now that outgoing party leader Andrew Scheer has been thrown to the wolves, many among the party faithful seem to be clamouring for a major change in direction. Playing it safe was the old strategy that got Scheer to the leadership back in 2017, as the candidate preferred by the party’s establishment. After a decade of power under Stephen Harper, the party had hoped to repeat their success by choosing a “Harper with a smile.” Even Scheer’s federal election campaign looked like a re-run from the Harper years, offering voters a few micro tax credits and hoping that the latest bout of Liberal scandals would allow them to sail through to Ottawa. It was an uninspiring strategy, perhaps, but it had worked before.

Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer campaigning in Toronto in October 2019 (Source: WikiCommons)

With the failure to topple a scandal-ridden Trudeau in the 2019 election, however, some of the party’s leading voices are not interested in business as usual. Many seem to envision this leadership race as part of a broader transformation, with calls for more foundational change in party policy, branding, and strategy. Conservative commentator and former Harper staffer Andrew MacDougall, for example,wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that the party needs a “root-and-branch reform” to overcome its reputation for being too “traditional” and “old.”

That’s the assumption, but is it true? After all, the party was apparently not too “traditional” for the West, including the major urban centres of Calgary and Edmonton. There are a lot of potential reasons why the Tories failed to connect with voters: Scheer’s lack of name recognition compared with Trudeau’s, an uninspiring platform, etc. The answers will come out in time, starting with John Baird’s expected report. In the meantime, who exactly are they trying to impress with all this talk about a new progressive direction?

The answer is simple: Toronto. Matt Gurney’s comments in the National Post seem to sum up Conservative Party thinking these days:“If the Tories are ever going to form a national government again, they’re going to need to dramatically improve on their performance in and around Toronto (doing better in Quebec would be nice, too).”

On the surface it seems like a sound strategy. After all, every party needs to move beyond their base to achieve nationwide support. And the GTA is the most vote-rich part of the country, with 25 seats in Toronto alone and 30 more in the surrounding 905 region. With this population base, relatively small region of the country controls more seats than Alberta and Saskatchewan combined.

Massive crowd of people gathered for “We the North Day” in downtown Toronto (Source: WikiCommons)

Westerners should be cautious of endorsing a plan for the Tories to suck up to the GTA even more than it currently does.

Firstly, there is a low chance that this Toronto-focused strategy will even work. The current Conservative share of the vote in most Toronto area ridings is as pitiful as the Liberal vote is in most Western Canadian ridings. Do the Tories really think a leader who loves the carbon tax and waves a pride flag will make up for these dismal showings and bridge the gap? That’s like Liberals saying they will win Calgary if they just take a few more selfies at the Stampede. It’s not going to happen.

Even when Harper was able to take many 905 seats in the 2011 election, it had less to do with strategy than with circumstances. The Tories benefitted from a strong NDP collapsing the Liberal vote. Most of those seats went right back to the Liberals as soon as the NDP itself collapsed in the post-Layton period. The CBC’s Eric Grenier explained this dynamic as follows: “When the NDP is struggling, the Liberals have a high likelihood of winning. When the NDP is doing well, the Conservatives tend to have the edge.” The Conservative majority in 2011 was not about fundamentally reforming the party, it was about being at the right place at the right time.

Former NDP leader Jack Layton at a campaign rally in Toronto in 2008 (Source: Matt Jiggins, WikiCommons)

But major changes in the Conservative Party could do something far worse: it could further alienate an already volatile West. Consider how Western conservatives will respond if a Laurentian Red Tory gets elected on a platform designed primarily to appeal to Toronto and Quebec. In the 2017 Tory leadership race, Michael Chong ran on expanding the vote in urban centres by focusing on climate change and promoting immigration. When he declared his support for the carbon tax, however, he was roundly booed in Edmonton. Chong ultimately came in fifth place with 9.14 per cent of the vote. Leadership contenders should take that as a warning that Western Canada’s support must not be taken for granted.

Best case scenario for a Tory Toronto strategy: they swing a few seats in the GTA and disgruntled Westerners hold their nose to vote for an Eastern Tory. This isn’t a given, as many Westerners will begin to look elsewhere to have their voices heard. In the last election the upstart People’s Party (PPC) was only able to pick off 1.6 per cent of the popular vote, but Patrick Cain argued on Global News that even that small vote share may have cost the Conservatives up to six seats. If small-‘c’ conservatives continue to get the impression that the Tories are moving to the left to appease Toronto, that number will grow, negating hard-won growth in the GTA.

Whereas Maxime Bernier’s PPC has so far only made a small splash on the national scene, a Western independence party at the federal level could be a different matter altogether. The PPC has the challenge of spreading its limited resources across all 338 ridings and finding a message that appeals to voters in every part of the country. Consequently, there is no particular region where they have yet achieved a breakthrough.

WEXIT organizers are working to register just such a party at the federal level. If they – or another Western sovereigntist party – can build up a strong regional base like the Reform Party, they have the potential to be a real game changer.

Wexit rally in Calgary (source: Facebook)

Time will tell if Wexit’s rallies and social media following can translate into effective political mobilization. Wexit is as yet a political movement with significant support, but not viewed as a viable political engine. This weekend’s Wexit rally in Edmonton may be a good indication as to whether the movement will continue to gain steam and become a credible political force in the 2020s.

If so, the federal Tories have chosen the worst possible time to pivot their attention to Toronto. If they want to avoid another major rupture on the right, they would be wise to tread carefully in their courtship of the GTA.

Western Canadians have proven time and time again that we are willing to turn on the establishment parties and throw our support behind parties that will stand up for our interests.

The Tories have been warned.

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