Stephen Harper may have picked the wrong horse – again

Last week, Harper took less than two minutes from his lucrative post-PM pursuits to endorse Pierre Poilievre’s candidacy for Conservative Party leadership. But will it make a difference?

Stephen Harper admits defeat
Stephen Harper gives his concession speech after Canada's federal election in Calgary, Alberta, October 19, 2015 [File: Mark Blinch/Reuters]

I did not know that Canada’s former prime minister, Stephen Harper, read this column.

Such is, I suppose, the unlikely reach of Al Jazeera. I was unaware that Harper’s reading tastes extended much beyond the ever agreeable opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal or the Jerusalem Post.

In any event, you may recall that a few weeks ago I devoted a column, reluctantly, to Pierre Poilievre, the jejune heir apparent to Harper.

The column was, I thought, a rather tame but accurate portrait of an ephemeral career politician who considers cheap, media-attractive stunts suitable substitutes for serious thinking about the serious challenges confronting Canada and the world.

Given the pedestrian subject matter, I was surprised when the column rocketed to the top of Al Jazeera’s home page – “trending” for a while longer than the usual lifespan of my weekly contributions.

So, thank you, readers.

Still, like all columns, some readers enjoyed my cheeky, if uncharitable, insights, while others did not.

The latter flocked, I’m sure, like a pack of crazed hyenas online to find my Twitter handle, eager to vent their incoherent, phantom grievance-laden displeasure.

Disappointed, no doubt, to learn that I don’t – like most wise people who prefer to read, write or go for a walk rather than tweet – have a Twitter account, the pack migrated en agitated masse to a not-so-secret email address where I can be reached and, happily, block irritating pests.

There, the pack confirmed that they share every juvenile aspect of Poilievre’s inconsequential temperament and intellect in an assembly line of anaemic messages that their authors confused with being cutting or pithy.

Sadly, I suspect the hot tub-wading, wannabe insurrectionists will descend upon me again and insist that I “get out” of the country – with or without various parts of my anatomy – after reading this missive.

Note to crazed hyenas and other easily triggered Poilievre fan-boys and girls: I’m staying put in this lovely, B-movie country I call home.

Apparently, Harper was also moved to come to his protégé’s defence just days after my original column appeared.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

True to Borg-like form, Harper posted a dour one-minute-and-47-second video on his Twitter page – shot in what resembles a funeral parlour foyer – to endorse Poilievre as the next Conservative Party leader.

Looking as welcoming and charismatic as the exhausted director of the aforementioned funeral parlour on the cusp of retirement, Harper droned on for one minute and 47 seconds too long. More on his sad, perfunctory performance in a moment.

Like many of his predecessors, Harper promptly leveraged his tenure as a poorly-paid, but oh-so-well-connected prime minister to make oodles of money as an “international consultant” and a high-priced “director” of a slew of real estate and investment companies.

That Harper took less than two minutes from his lucrative, post-PM pursuits to back Poilievre’s candidacy with the energy of a dead battery is a measure not only of how irrelevant he has become, but of how cashing in is now the all-consuming priority.

Harper began his eulogy – I’m sorry, rousing endorsement – by telling Conservative supporters who were able to stay awake for a little more than 90 seconds that Poilievre has “garnered disproportionate attention” during the leadership campaign.

Stirring stuff.

I’m obliged to remind Harper and Conservatives touched by his touching rhetoric, that Donald Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have “garnered disproportionate attention” for years. No one outside what constitutes the seething, fanatical far-right cauldron of today’s Republican Party would deem any of these – to borrow a phrase – “bull**** artists” even remotely worthy of praise, let alone qualified for public service.

I concede, however, that, long ago, standards for high office have slipped. Stephen Harper is proof of that.

Not done rousting fellow Conservatives from their midday naps with take-a-memo-like language, Harper described his effervescent mini-me as a “strong minister” who for the “past several years has been our party’s most vocal and effective critic of the Trudeau Liberals”.

Translation: Pierre was a junior cabinet minister because I didn’t trust him to be anywhere near the Prime Minister’s Office, finance, or foreign affairs. Instead, I named the leader of the anti-science, anti-reason, anti-immigrant [Pestilent] People’s Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, foreign minister. OK. I and my many admirers in Canada’s dominant Conservative-hugging press want to forget about that. Meanwhile, I had to quit in 2015 after an on-life-support Liberal Party led by a kid who beat up one of my hand-picked senators in a boxing ring walloped me too at the polls. Since then, the party has been reduced to shouting and performing click-bait-driven antics in political purgatory – otherwise known as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – with Pierre earning the distinction as Canada’s loudest and most obnoxious member of parliament. Winning!

Building to a stalled crescendo, Harper said that Poilievre’s habit of “talking” about the “issues” set him apart from the other banal Conservative leadership candidates, one of whom has bailed from the final debate since the party refuses to “talk” about abortion or entertain Alex Jones-like conspiracy theories involving the World Economic Forum.

The talkative Poilievre is – irony alert – skipping the last all-candidates debates, as well. Poilievre prefers to do his talking these days in a log cabin where, in a fireside chat without the fire, he tried and failed to convince confused viewers that reclaimed wood is a metaphor for lost “freedoms”.

More gripping stuff.

Poilievre doesn’t “talk” about how and when those “freedoms” went missing or who “lost” them, but, God and Conservative members willing, he’s determined to find them – somewhere and somehow.

While he’s out searching like an eager-to-please Boy Scout with a broken compass, most enlightened Canadians are preoccupied with the existential threat that the unfolding climate calamity poses to Canada today and tomorrow.

They understand that every decision made by a responsible prime minister with a scintilla of foresight and appreciation for why the urgent imperative to prevent – if still possible – the earth from burning up should inform every decision a responsible prime minister makes to address “pocketbook issues”.

Harper and his reckless progeny refuse, of course, to “talk” about that. They’re too busy digesting the trite lessons of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life to bother with British climate scientist Bill McGuire’s Hothouse Earth, which makes the persuasive case that by virtue of our denial, greed and complacency, we have passed the tipping point into catastrophe.

In the absence of a tangible solution, Harper recycled this hackneyed drivel in response to the seminal test of these perilous times. “[Poilievre] is proposing answers rooted in sound Conservative ideas but ones adapted for today’s realities.”

My goodness.

The Conservative Party is the home of cliché. Devoid of imagination or ideas, it is left to traffic in vacuous slogans and posturing, including standing with scientifically illiterate buffoons who are convinced that a life-saving, plague-blunting vaccine is the devil’s brew.

And yet there is hope.

If Poilievre becomes leader, he will be the third ex Darth Harper cabinet minister to have challenged the synonymous-for-smug Liberals in a federal election.

The two others lost and soon disappeared into obscurity.

Conservatives are either calculating that the third time will be the elusive charm or it may finally register that Harper and his clawing acolytes are a spent, anachronistic force.

Simply put for the simple-minded: Stephen Harper may have picked the wrong horse – again.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.