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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

Opinion

GRAFTON: Canada’s corruption rating falling under Trudeau Liberals

Guest columnist Ken Grafton writes that under Trudeau, Canada’s high rating on corruption is falling fast.

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Notwithstanding five investigations by the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and the potential of an RCMP investigation into possible criminal activity in connection with the Lavalin-Gate scandal, the ethically-challenged Trudeau government was re-elected last October. Despite holding the distinction of being the first prime minister to be found guilty of violating federal conflict of interest rules and then doubling-down with a second violation, a surprising 5,911,588 Canadian voters felt that Justin Trudeau should continue as the head of government for another four years.

In addition to the two key centres of Toronto and Montreal, large swaths of the Maritimes, Yukon and Northwest Territories cast their votes for a government wreaking of corruption. Astounding to many – especially in view of the fact that SNC-Lavalin had a history of bribery, was again up on bribery charges following an RCMP investigation into its actions in Libya with terrorist sponsor Muammar Gaddafi, and had been found guilty of illegal campaign contributions to the Liberal Party in 2016 – Lavalin-Gate didn’t appear to be an issue for Liberal voters at the polls.

Now the prime minister is being investigated yet again by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in connection with the WE Charity scandal. Conservative Shadow Minister for Ethics MP Michael Barret addressed an open letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki on July 10th, calling for a criminal investigation into the matter. 

While the Trudeau government may be awash in corruption, it doesn’t appear to be a concern to most Canadians. A July 27th poll by Angus Reid showed that only 16 per cent of Canadians choose ethics and corruption as one of their top three issues facing the country, and 56 per cent believe that WE-Gate will have little impact on Trudeau’s government.  

Berlin-based Transparency International (TI) is a non-governmental organization that monitors government corruption globally. It publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), rating 180 countries by perceived levels of public sector corruption, and defines government corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” The CPI is the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, rating countries on a scale of 100 (very clean) to 0 (bring cash). The 2018 CPI rates Denmark at the top of the list, with a score of 88; and the lawless war-torn state of Somalia at the bottom, with a score of 10. The US falls in 22nd place, with a score of 71 (down from a pre-Trump placing in 2015 at 16th, with a CPI of 76). Canada scored high in 2018 with a CPI of 81, placing a very respectable 9th out of 180. 

That number fell to 77 in 2019, moving Canada off the Top 10 List to number 12. As Transparency Canada explains, “Last year, issues surrounding corruption came to the forefront in Canada and grabbed international headlines that let the world know that our modest, polite country had nefarious dealings.” Lavalin-Gate was a major factor in the downgrade, raising concern from the OECD Working Group on Bribery in a March 2019 warning statement.

In addition to providing data to corporate compliance officers, TI is a reference point for leaders and journalists around the world. The Economist has stated “No country can ignore its reputation for corruption. That means that no country can ignore Transparency International.” 

It’s no surprise perhaps that Denmark and Germany enjoy the highest credit ratings possible, while lawless Somalia is at the bottom with a CPI of 180. Although there are other considerations involved, many of the factors that determine a country’s CPI also affect credit ratings. The same factors can determine where a corporation chooses to locate or otherwise invest, contribute to wealth inequality (OECD), affect immigration patterns (with the least corrupt countries generally offering the best prospects for new immigrants), and impact tourism (as corruption and public safety are often linked). 

There are many arguments against corruption, and many reasons to embrace ethics and transparency. The UN has stated “Corruption undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability.” A 2016 OECD report “Putting An End To Corruption” sums up the threat to democracy. 

“Corruption undermines sustainable economic, political and social development, for developing, emerging and developed economies alike. Corruption endangers private sector productivity…hinders public sector productivity…and is a threat to inclusive growth by undermining the opportunities to participate equally in social, economic and political life and impacting the distribution of income and well-being. Corruption also erodes trust in government and public institutions, rendering reform more difficult.” 

This should be required reading on Parliament Hill.

According to TI, the Corruption Perceptions Index is a composite index, a combination of different international surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputable institutions. The index draws on 13 surveys from independent institutions specialising in governance and business climate analysis covering expert assessments and views of businesspeople.

How will WE-Gate impact upon Canada’s international standing as a relatively corruption-free market environment? 

A glimmer of hope perhaps from Angus Reid. Trudeau’s approval rating has dropped to 44 per cent. Troublingly for Trudeau, this lost approval comes primarily from those who voted Liberal in the last election. Although four-in-five Liberal voters still approve of the prime minister, there has been a drop of nine points in two weeks.

Since the CPI – by definition – is a measurement of perceptions, it follows that the ethics violations by Prime Minister Trudeau must result in damage to Canada’s good standing. 

Look for a further downgrade in Canada’s CPI. Corruption is a slippery slope.

Ken Grafton is a freelance columnist

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Opinion

GEROW: Western Canada needs its own currency

Darcy Gerow writes that currency manipulation from Ottawa is a hidden tax on all Canadians, but robs the West more than others.

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With a united Wildrose Independence Party in Alberta and Jay Hill at the helm of Wexit Canada, the independence conversation has gotten serious. A May 2020 poll conducted for the Western Standard found that 45 to 48 per cent of Albertans supported independence. That’s real close to a 51 per cent tipping point. Though, for a lot of Albertans, independence is only an opportunity to lean into Ottawa for a fair deal on equalization and the constitution.

There is enough support for a fair deal to build a solid footing for Western independence, but that foundation will be useless if this house is framed using the Canadian dollar.

The Canadian dollar is consistently hitting new lows every year when measured against indicators like the consumer price index, which measures the price impacts of inflation caused by the Canadian government’s manipulation of the money supply. 

An independent West (or just Alberta) should reject a foreign government (in this case Ottawa) devaluing its currency. Unlike Quebec sovereigntists – who want to continue using the Canadian dollar – Westerners would be better off with their own currency, a Western dollar which is free of manipulation.

Junior high civics classes have conditioned Canadians to trust the government with the money supply as a noble endeavor, that the marketplace can’t provide a product sound enough to be used as a medium of exchange or a store of value. The federal government took that trust and printed up a trillion dollars in debt for all kinds of corporate welfare programs. Most recently, to give to their buddies in the mainstream media and WE charities, or to conduct the massive Covid-19 vote-buying welfare scheme, and they’ve done it at the expense of impoverishing those who trusted them with what little wealth they had. All while the marketplace has given us a product that is sound enough to be a medium of exchange and a far superior store of value – gold. 

The Canadian Dollar was backed by gold until 1914 when the Finance Act was passed. This allowed the dollar to be artificially devalued to fund the First World War. The dollar reached a new all-time low measured in gold at the end of 2019 from which it will never recover.

A fair deal on equalization, or better yet, the end of equalization is a great thing, but if the West keeps the Canadian dollar, the door to unfair treatment by Ottawa will always be open. The ability to manipulate the money supply is akin to a tax. Instead of confiscating the actual dollars – like they do with equalization – they are confiscating the value of a dollar. They are stealing purchasing power. As Western provinces have historically out-performed Eastern ones when it comes to productivity, a tax on purchasing power disproportionately affects the West.

If Albertans or the entire West succeed in achieving independence, it would be foolish to continue paying the inflation tax to Ottawa. 

While the West does not have the gold to completely back a currency yet, it isn’t necessary to get the ball rolling. The Western dollar can be pegged to the price of gold at a rate similar to the Canadian dollar and legislation will be required to restrict devaluation by Western governments. As Canada continues to devalue the loonie, our share of the Canadian debt – which would presumably follow us into independence – will be wiped out by inflation.

Here in the West, people are dumping dollars and turning to gold. Remember that Western Standard poll? Having a gold backed Western dollar on the table is enough to tip the scales towards independence.

Even for those not convinced that independence is the right course, Westerners should be demanding sound money as part of a fair deal with Ottawa. What’s the point of keeping those equalization dollars if the money itself is worthless?

Darcy Gerow is a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

LETTER: Stop repatriating ISIS fighters to Canada

A reader says that Canada must shut the door on returning ISIS fighters.

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RE: Calgary man charged with terror crimes after allegedly training with ISIS in Syria

The arrest of a Calgary man by the RCMP on terror-related charges linked to his time with the Islamic State should be a stern reminder to Canadians that the old foe of Islamic extremism hides beneath current tensions. The RCMP say there are 190 Canadians linked to Islamic terror groups. Sixty have returned to Canada. The most notorious organization, Islamic State, butchered its way across nations and conquered sizable territory and resources.

We should never forget that these groups intend us harm. ISIS, more than any other, seduced many individuals into committing crimes for them – many of these persons were never officially linked to Islamic State. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is right to counsel Ottawa to never allow the repatriation of ISIS fighters back into this country. Last month, Human Rights Watch accused Canada of abandoning some of these people inside prison camps variously controlled by the Kurds and the Turks.

The problem of terrorist repatriation is a global one. The Kurds and the Turks, by turns, have demanded their return and an end to their unwanted global responsibility. Britain’s appellate court has been lambasted by critics for allowing its former citizen, dubbed the Jihadi Bride, an ISIS member, to return home. Shamima Begum left Britain for Syria and stayed with the terror group for three years. Now sitting inside a refugee camp, she apparently begged to be repatriated. Britain’s Conservative MPs argue her return sets a dangerous precedent. They are correct in saying so.

Global, indeed Middle Eastern, security has always depended on a powerful alliance between the U.S, Israel, and a few Arab nations. States like Egypt and Jordan share military and economic partnerships with Israel. The American withdrawal from parts of the Middle East like Syria was a mistake. They enabled the Taliban to rebound and Hezbollah to resume attacking Israel. The China-Iran alliance could enable the tracking of Western forces. 

Christopher Mansour
Barrie, ON

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