Stephen Harper Still Exerting Influence

Stephen Harper Still Exerting Influence

As published in the Victoria Standard: August 7 , 2018.

Recent media reports about Stephen Harper’s public activities suggest that he has been quietly active since losing power and quitting as Conservative leader in 2015. In spite of Harper’s low public profile, he has advised senior Republican figures, written a political book, chairs the 80 member International Democratic Union and leverages influence through his consultancy firm.

Harper’s early July Whitehouse visit included meetings with Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow, International Republican Institute President Daniel Twining and hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton, an unapologetic draft dodger like his boss. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders ignored journalist’s question about Harper’s Washington activities and the former prime minister was silent on the topic. Harper’s failure to notify Canadian officials about his July visit irked a Trudeau government facing trade issues with a unpredictable Trump government carelessly altering the rules of global politics and commerce.

In April 2016, Stephen Harper paid a visit to Republican power broker and mega-political (PAC) donor Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate known for his generous financing of presidential campaigns and illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. Harper was there to offer advice on repairing political divisions and clearly demonstrate his uncompromising support for an expansionist Israeli state.

Perhaps Harper regaled the “Enforcer” with details of his 2003 role in merging the Progressive Conservative (PC) and Canadian Alliance parties. According to leadership candidate David Orchard, Stephen Harper convinced Peter MacKay to renege on a written agreement with Orchard not to merge the PC and Alliance parties. This episode has been justified by those who benefited from Stephen Harper’s time in power.

More disturbing is Harper’s resurfacing during a time when illiberal demagogues are gaining legitimacy in Europe and the U.S. As chair of the International Democratic Union (IDU), Stephen Harper offered victory congratulations to fellow member Viktor Orban, Hungary’s anti-immigrant leader whose hard-right Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Alliance openly restricts the activities of civil society organizations.

In the past, Harper had often complained about what he called growing anti-Semitism in European nations like IDU members Hungary and Poland. However, aside from this inconsistency, Harper’s partisan leadership style and divisive political tactics must have impressed the IDU’s more authoritarian members.

While addressing a group of Stanford University business students last February, Harper mused about the potential ease of re-establishing himself as Conservative leader. In a later Stanford interview he emphasized that he was a “straight” conservative rather than a progressive conservative while avoiding the dangerous topic of social conservatism.

Without irony, Harper noted that he could have utterly dominated the Conservative Party and briefly touched on his new book about the rise of populism as it relates to conservatives. Although Prime Minister Harper was no populist, he cleverly exploited public fears to scapegoat Muslims and immigrants, attacked so-called elites, dismantled environmental protection, emphasized military force over diplomacy and lowered the tone of public discourse. Perhaps Trump’s campaign advisors were looking north for inspiration.

Harper also wrote an unsolicited letter to the Trump adminstration, supporting their decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal, whereby sanctions would be lessened in exchange for Iran’s demonstrated commitment to restrict its nuclear research to peaceful purposes. Harper’s discomfort with the deal was mainly rooted in his stubborn determination to support any policy that protects Israel’s military dominance and nuclear monopoly in the Middle East.

Talk of Harper’s possible return to Canadian politics is inevitable, although there seems scant time for the Conservatives to change leaders for the 2019 election. As well, removing current leader Andrew Scheer might de-stabilize the Conservatives and conjure memories of the 2003’s controversial PC/Canadian Alliance merger. However, Canadian Trump fans might eagerly welcome Harper’s return to office.

While Trudeau and his advisors are quite capable of ruthless tactics and excessive secrecy, his government has provided a welcome break from the excesses of the former Conservative government. Unfortunately, many Canadians still yearn for Harper’s return and are content with the notion of a “great leader” at the helm. Such passive individuals willingly accept a marketing democracy where one dollar equals one unit of influence with no thought for the future. That bleak philosophy conserves nothing and risks everything.