Stephen Harper’s Evaporating Legacy

Harperism bookIn his 2014 book, Harperism, veteran journalist Donald Gutstein argued that Stephen Harper, during his time as Canadian Prime Minister, sought to fundamentally change the course of Canadian political history. His goal was nothing less than to establish a permanent legacy under his own name similar to the economic and social policy legacies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

In maintaining careful control over his agenda, Harper kept his Ministers on a short leash. He insisted on unwavering party loyalty and strict adherence to the party line. He even went so far as to provide his Ministers with scripted responses to questions in Parliament and carefully vetted their statements to the press.

But since losing to the Liberals in the federal election last October and resigning as leader of the Conservative Party, Harper’s hoped for legacy seems to be rapidly evaporating. In their first few months siting in opposition, his former ministers, MPs and other party members have quickly distanced themselves from their former leader’s policies.

Rona AmbroseThe first sign of a break from Harper’s legacy came just two weeks after the election when Rona Ambrose, the newly appointed interim leader of the Conservative Party, announced her support for a public inquiry into murdered and indigenous women. CBC News described this as “a stunning reversal of the position taken by the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, who repeatedly rebuffed growing calls for a national inquiry.”

Tony_ClementMore recently Tony Clement, a prominent Minister in the Harper government and former candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party, forcefully called on the Liberal Government to make public the report on the recent controversial arms sale to Saudi Arabia that his own government had negotiated in secret and had refused to release to the public. When criticized for asking the Liberals to release the information that the Conservatives had steadfastly refused to release while governing, Clement replied, “the new leadership of the Conservative Party feels differently.”

cbc_radio_logoBut perhaps the most telling sign that Canadian Conservatives are seeking a dramatic break from the legacy of Stephen Harper and his policies, came to light in a panel discussion this past Saturday on CBC Radio’s current affairs program, The House. When asked whether Conservatives should mount a long or a short campaign in selecting their next leader, the Parliamentary Bureau Chief for La Press, Joel-Denis Bellavance, replied,

The strategy to have a long race is to encourage people from the outside to come up and join that race. Right now if you have a short race, only former cabinet ministers will be running. Some of them say right now to defeat Justin Trudeau, you need somebody who’s equal in terms of youth and generational change.

In other words, the emerging view is that if the Conservatives are to have any chance of governing again, they will need to choose a leader who is not strongly connected with the previous Harper government. They will need a fresh face and new ideas signaling a “generational change” within the Conservative Party.

Stephen Harper’s hoped-for permanent legacy is evaporating before our eyes.