Canada's Stephen Harper: My Part In His 2011 Election Triumph
Print Friendly and PDF

I had no idea I was so influential. Two of Canada's leading political reporters recently claimed that an essay I wrote for a Western Canadian magazine nine years ago, A self-hating nation, Report Magazine, March 4, 2002, so "badly rattled" Conservative leader Stephen Harper and his staff that they were forced to "carve out" an entirely new "patriotic vocabulary".  [What you don't know about Stephen Harper, by Paul Wells and John Geddes Maclean's Magazine, on Monday, January 31, 2011]

My article was a heartfelt and rather despairing examination of whether a genuine Canadian patriotism was possible in view of the alienation of the political right. I quoted's Jamie ("Canada's destiny—being absorbed into the American empire—is much closer than we think. As a Canadian, I can hardly wait. I must admit: the supremacy of globalization and free trade fills me with an intoxicating sense of glee") Glazov, brought to Canada with his Soviet dissident father in 1975. (He hosted a colloquy with's Peter Brimelow here). I quoted Brimelow:

"When [then] Forbes senior editor Peter Brimelow ( is asked whether the Right hates Canada, he replies, 'I think they hate the Trudeauvian state. It would be hard to exaggerate just how much damage Trudeau did to Canada.' But have Canadian right-wingers succumbed to the temptation to conflate hatred of the government with hatred of the homeland? 'I'd have to think about that," he says. Mr. Brimelow, a native of Britain, wrote The Patriot Game: National Dreams and Political Realities, a landmark study of Canadian nationalism, before leaving Canada and settling permanently in the United States. He argues that the implosion of Canada's British connection left the Canadian Right 'dispossessed.'"

According to W and Geddes, "Th[e] business of changing the culture of the country obsesses the group around Harper." The anonymous strategist who tipped them to my essay (probably Ken Boessenkool, my anonymous Conservative source at the time) complained:

"We had gotten to a point in Canada where the conservative side of politics had been marginalized—where we weren't even recognized as legitimately Canadian… Nobody believes that the Democratic Party in the U.S. is not an American party. In Australia, both of the major parties are recognized as legitimate parts of the debate."

"So almost from the beginning," Wells and Geddes argued, "Harper started building a distinct right-of-centre, patriotic new vocabulary. 'It's the Arctic,' this strategist said. 'It's the military. It's the RCMP. It's the embrace of hockey and lacrosse and curling.'"

Lacrosse? Seriously? It was disappearing here when I was a child in the 1960s. How very PC of you, Mr. Anonymous. Lacrosse is a Native Indian invention, and remains to a dwindling band of pedants the "official" national pastime. That's why "this strategist" mentioned it.

What Harper apparently took from my critique was, paradoxically, an audacious idea cribbed from Karl Rove—who cribbed it from Samuel Johnson's assessment of Lord Bolingbroke: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". Just shout the loudest about hockey and Tim Horton's coffee—the two sacraments of the new Canadian religion.

Well, Harper rolled out the final version of that new "vocabulary" this year, and on May 2 he finally won a majority, on his fourth attempt. Accept this victory as a gift, Stephen. To quote The Godfather: someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me.

The numbers:

  • Conservatives 167 (of 308 seats), up 24; popular vote 39.6%, up 2.3%

  • New Democratic Party (socialist) 102, up 65; 33.1%, up 14.9%

  • Liberals 34, down 42; 18.9%, down 7.3%

  • Bloc Québécois (Quebec-only and "sovereigntist" a.k.a. camouflaged separatists) 4 (of 75), down 45; 6.0%, down 4%

  • Green Party 1, up 1; same; 3.9%, down 2.9%

  • Independents 0, down 2

These results contain many surprises and some genuine shocks.

  • The big surprise: Harper got his majority. The polls predicted another Harper minority, and almost all the pundits agreed.

  • Shock #1: for the first time in Canadian history, the federal Liberal Party—the party of Pierre Trudeau—did not finish either first or second. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff resigned the day after the vote.

  • Shock #2: the francophone nationalist Bloc Québécois, which had won a majority of Quebec seats in every election since 1993, was annihilated. BQ leader Gilles Duceppe resigned election night.

  • Shock #3: the heavily-nationalist Francophone vote in Quebec fell swooning into the arms of Jack Layton, leader of the NDP, an English Canadian party with neither history nor organization in the province. The NDP is now the Official Opposition,

Most of the victorious NDP candidates in Quebec are still stunned. Appropriate to their status as the fourth party, the NDP nominated a slate of weirdoes, no-hopers and several who couldn't be bothered to campaign. But fifty-eight (of 75) won anyway, including the 19 year old, the 20 year old and Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the Ottawa barmaid who doesn't speak French and who thought so little of her chances that she didn't cancel the Las Vegas vacation she'd booked in the middle of a 35-day race.

Who said Canadian politics are boring?

French Quebec's sudden embrace of an Anglophone federal party is being interpreted as evidence that Quebec separatism is dead—a death that has been proclaimed regularly in Canada over the last fifty years.

But in fact Quebec's lurch is not unprecedented. The province voted equally unexpectedly for John Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservatives in 1958, and for the same party under Brian Mulroney in 1984. On closer inspection, these spasms usually have something to do with the internal workings of Francophone politics. Thus the NDP's breakthrough followed Layton's hint that Canada's Constitution could be reopened for discussion, which inevitably raises the issue of Quebec's status. When Mulroney tried this and failed in 1987, Quebec came within 50,000 votes of leaving in the 1995 referendum. Having put the issue on the table again, how can the NDP, avoid the demands of a caucus that is now dominated by Quebec?

And, little noticed in the U.S., the Quebec provincial government of Premier Jean Charest—nominally a Liberal, although the provincial and federal parties are actually very different entities—is in deep trouble. It is generally agreed in Canada that only a miracle will save him from a massive defeat by the separatist Parti Québécois in the next provincial election, which must be held by 2013. And you can be certain that a PQ government will be quick to claim Jack Layton's tease as yet another "betrayal".

Quebec separatism never disappears; it just reappears in different guises.

Nevertheless, this election did disprove former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney's alleged iron law: you can't win a federal majority in Canada when you start 75 seats behind—i.e. you need Quebec support.

This was the direct equivalent of Karl Rove's claim that the GOP needs minority support to win, and was equally innumerate. As the National Post's Tasha Kheiriddin predicted recently, the Conservative win came from English Canada alone—the Canadian equivalent of what calls the Sailer Strategy, and (by an amazing coincidence) an option that Editor Peter Brimelow noted in his much-denounced 1995 book on Canadian politics, The Patriot Game.  The Conservatives fell to 16.5% in Quebec (from 21.7% in 2008) and dropped four seats to six. Their Francophone support is now nominal. But it didn't matter.

On the other hand, the Liberal collapse in Francophone Quebec certainly sealed their doom. Before the arrival of the BQ, the Liberals with only a couple of exceptions dominated Quebec since Canada's founding in 1867. Indeed, their historical role was that of a broker—the party of Permanent Government, balancing Quebec against English Canada like a circus acrobat riding two horses at once.

The Liberals have now lost their raison d'être. It is hard to imagine how they will survive. Even before the election there was talk of a merger with the NDP. Now, there is no reason to believe Jack Layton will care to hitch his wagon to their falling star.

Keep in mind, however, that the Progressive Conservative party was given up for dead in 1993, after they were reduced to two seats. A decade later, it had pulled off a reverse takeover of the Canadian Alliance—the Western-based insurrectionary party that held the knife to its throat. In my opinion as a Western Canadian, it was the Alliance that vanished.

Who is Jack Layton? A former Toronto city councilor, he is a hack of the lowest order. Politics have been a lucrative occupation for him and his second wife, Olivia Chow, a Chinese immigrant and also an NDP MP.

Layton had the misfortune of being struck by prostate cancer a couple of years ago. Rumors abound that he is dying and there was considerable doubt as to his fitness to campaign. No one took him seriously before this spring. But in the absence of likable rivals, his popularity soared, even above Steven Harper's.

Such is the newfound love for Layton that he was not wounded when it was revealed—three days before the election—that he narrowly escaped being arrested in 1996 after being found naked and discomfited in a massage parlor, shortly after an anonymous Chinese immigrant comfort woman had given him his happy ending.

No one paid any attention to his platform, which consisted of handouts on a scale that would have bankrupted the country within months. But it didn't matter. Canadian politics is now all about personality. Layton has it. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff doesn't.

Ignatieff bore the curious distinction of being better known, as an academic, author and TV pundit, in England than in the country of his birth. In fairly obvious hindsight, especially given Harper's new "vocabulary", it was inexplicable that the Liberals chose a leader who spent the better part of three decades abroad—a man neither of whose two wives have been Canadian, whose father was a Russian count and whose grandfather was a Tsarist cabinet minister.

Harper's official campaign slogan was "Here for Canada."His unofficial slogan was "I'm Canadian, and Ignatieff isn't". Harper made sure to appear behind podiums emblazoned CANADA. His campaign apparel was invariably an Olympic jacket with CANADA printed across the torso. Geddit?

Harper has an unmistakable streak of Dubya-style arrogant authoritarianism. The election was precipitated after Harper's government was cited for contempt by the Speaker of the House of Commons because it concealed documents and because Minister Bev Oda, a professional ethnic, had altered a document then lied about it to the House. These citations were a first in Canadian history. But Harper dismissed them as partisan "bickering". In the end they did not figure in the election, because attacking a professional ethnic is Politically Incorrect. (For details, read this indictment of Harper by Lawrence Martin, a journalist whose attacks on former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien were so fierce that Chretien's office got him fired from the Ottawa Citizen.)

In the end, Canadians decided they preferred a bully to a weakling. Harper kicked sand in Ignatieff's face for two years, questioning his patriotism without respite, while Ignatieff, unlike the 98-pound weakling in the Charles Atlas ads, lacked the courage (and the campaign funds) to fight back.

Harper's campaign platform was the same as Charlie Sheen's: Duh! Winning! He had something for everyone.

Unless you were an English Canadian patriot. In that area, Harper went unreservedly for Rovean minority outreach. He actually boasted during the English-language debate that he was the first Prime Minister to boost immigration during a recession.

Harper's Immigration Minister, the odious Jason Kenney, actually boasted of the temporary workers flooding into Canada to take lowing-paying jobs from Canadians. Kenney enlisted the radical gay-rights group EGALE to crow in a press release that foreign drag queens now had refugee priority. And the famous Canadian?-American? Conservative? David Frum weighed in to insinuate that the Liberals were anti-Israel. [Ignatieff signals a return to duplicity on Israel, By David Frum, National Post,  April 16, 2011]

And the Conservative War on Terror? Inoperative during election time because of Conservative pandering to minority bloc votes. The Conservative candidate in Vancouver South (who won), was linked to Sikh terrorists. A Conservative candidate in Metro Toronto (who finished second) called the Tamil Tiger terrorists "heroes".

The Canadian left has long claimed that Stephen Harper has a secret agenda, to be unveiled now that he has a majority. But it's actually no secret. He merely wants to replace the Liberals as the natural governing party by imitating the Liberals in almost every particular (except in, perforce, its Quebec obsession) and insisting that only the Conservatives are legitimately Canadian.

Let's give Harper credit for the historic feat of winning a majority with minimal Quebec support. It may be the beginning of the end of Canada's first "National Question"—Can the Canadian Nation Include Quebec? (Answer: no).

But under Harper, the Conservative Party, the natural party of the Canadian majority, has now become explicitly and aggressively minoritarian. Canada's second National Question—can it survive as a nation in the face of massive, non-traditional, government-initiated immigration?—must now inevitably move to center stage.

Kevin Michael Grace (send him email) lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Print Friendly and PDF