Paul Wells on The Harper Decade -

Paul Wells on The Harper Decade

Q & A with Paul Wells about The Harper Decade, an e-book released by Maclean’s


On this day ten years ago, Stephen Harper was elected to head the Canadian Alliance. In the decade since, he has methodically made his way to the forefront of Canadian politics, uniting the Conservative Party of Canada, becoming Prime Minister, and winning a majority government in the last election.

On the anniversary of what it’s now clear was a portentous day in Canadian history, Maclean’s is releasing a special e-book: The Harper Decade, in PDF, iBook and Kindle format and The Maclean’s iPad app by the magazine’s Political Editor, Paul Wells. We asked Wells to share his insight about Prime Minister Harper and this crucial period in the Canadian political scene.

Q: Why “The Harper Decade?” What does that mean? When did it begin?

A: Tuesday, March 20 is the 10th anniversary of Stephen Harper’s election as leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. Of course he’d been in politics before, but starting in 2002 we get the beginning of a sustained effort by Harper to dominate Canadian politics. So far it’s worked. This e-book is an attempt to take stock of the man, his political style and policies, and his effect on the country.

Q: What makes this Prime Minister unique? Has there been another PM like him?

A: Every successful prime minister is different from the others. What’s most striking about Harper is the long ascent. With his predecessors, especially the Progressive Conservatives — Mulroney and Diefenbaker — the first flush of overwhelming popularity was never matched afterward. With Harper it’s been a crescendo: every time he goes back to the voters, he wins a slightly larger share of the vote. There was never any such thing as Harpermania. Instead, so far, there has been Harper solidity.

Q: How does Stephen Harper measure up to Canada’s great Prime Ministers?

A: Stephen Harper can’t yet compare to, say, Macdonald, Laurier or Trudeau for the impact he’s had on the country. He hasn’t even matched the grand failures (Meech) and bold successes (GST) of Brian Mulroney. The times are different and he was defending a weak hand. But he has survived until now he can hope to compete with the really significant prime ministers. He’s conscious of the comparison, too: before Christmas he gave an interview to CTV where he sought to minimize the accomplishments of previous majority PMs, because now he’s competing in their league. I believe he is already a significant prime minister, for the way he’s changed federalism, foreign policy and the behaviour of the electorate. And at least three years still lie ahead.

Q: Who is Stephen Harper, the man? Do we even know him at all, on the basis of his public persona?

A: Face to face, with people like me whom he knows but not well, he is unfailingly pleasant to chat with, engaged, curious about everything the other person brings to a conversation. I’ve heard stories about personal generosity that would surprise his detractors and maybe even some fans. But the private Harper is pretty close to the public Harper: focussed on results, unsentimental, willing to abandon an associate at the moment they cease to be an asset. Alone.

Q: When did Stephen Harper become a game-changing Canadian politician?

A: I think the coalition crisis after the 2008 election was the most important week in Canadian politics since the 1995 Quebec referendum. On both sides you had people who would do everything for power, although neither side would admit to such a stark framing of things because they all told themselves they had the higher interests of the nation at heart. It was a brutal collision of competing camps. And Harper, who started from a position of weakness, won big. When public support was everything, more Canadians backed him than the other guys. He has pushed the advantage he won that week ever since.

Q: Will the Harper Decade become a Harper Era?

A: Beats me. In June of 2005 — seven months before the Conservatives defeated the Liberals — William Johnson published a book called “Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada.” I remember people making fun of the title, because what could Harper ever be the future of? Politics is full of surprise. I’ve tried to ensure my writing reflects that. But here’s one thing I like to remind people: On the day of the next federal election, assuming the government follows the fixed election-date law, Harper will still be three years younger than Jean Chrétien was when Chrétien won the first of his three majorities.

Q: What kind of insight do you think Canadians really need to hear about Stephen Harper?

A: How eerily patient he is. Just about everything he has accomplished was a long shot when he set out to do it. He didn’t let that stop him. A lot gets written about the ideological tension between Harper and the press gallery, and there’s something to that. But to me the real mismatch is one of tempo: we’re all on Twitter and we forget Monday by the time Thursday rolls around, and we’re trying to cover this guy who just keeps plugging away, long after attention spans have been exhausted, if he thinks the result will be worth it.

Q: Why an e-book?

A: At Maclean’s everyone tries to think past the day we’re writing, past the week we’ll be on the newsstands, to say something that will last about the subjects we cover. So it’s just handy, after a while, to gather up all of our writing on a given subject and present it in a way that encourages further reflection. Technology makes that easier than it used to be, and I hope e-books in various formats will become a regular part of the work we do.

Click the link to order your PDF copy of The Harper Decade, or the Kindle version, via the Maclean’s iPad app featuring ten years of coverage and commentary from Paul Wells.

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Paul Wells on The Harper Decade

  1. Thx for all the hard work Paul. Although I enjoyed L. Martin’s Harperland but it’s always interesting to come back to your balanced, less partisan, nuanced coverage. It doesn’t pay to only see your idealogical enemy (which he is for me) in muted tones all the while.

    Harper’s a real odd ball for me. At times inspired operator, at other times near parody – a clown.
    Is he a near political and marketing genius, or is he grossly incompetent and amost completely lacking in ethical boundaries ; or is all three at once?

    • You are totally nuts kcm2.
      Maybe a little crazy too……
      Are you as confused as your comment?.

      • is that semple or simple ernest?

  2. Great article. Thanks for the insight to our PM of Canada!

  3. Good article Paul. I’ve missed you since I stopped watching Power and Politics and  that CTV show on 5pm.

  4. sure sounds like a Harper fan to me. I think Harperland  might be a more rerealistic read

    • Harperland was bizarre.  After looking for dirt on Harper and finding little, Martin never-the-less spews this litany of complaints about Harper in the final chapter — culling a whole slew of inconsequential bits . . . so long as they were negative.  You would have thought that Martin had not read his own book. 

      • That book is written almost entirely with attributable CPC quotes…you were saying?

        •  I was saying that the book seems accurate and balanced in the early chapters, but for some reason, Martin just selects out anything even slightly negative to include in the final chapter — where you would expect more of a big picture summary.  Martin’s “conclusions” just destroy the balance he seemed to strive for in the rest of the book.  I personally was taken aback by what seemed to be a complete about face so he could get this anti-Harper diatribe in at the end. (I now realize that is characteristic of Martin, but I did not at the time.)  I am not quibbling with the book’s factual information — just with Martin’s “conclusions.”

          • i’d need to read it again to have an opinion on that. But it is customary to have your conclusions support your premise is it not?

    • It had a heluva of a good title ; )

  5. ” But the private Harper is pretty close to the public Harper: focussed on results, unsentimental, willing to abandon an associate at the moment they cease to be an asset. Alone.”

    ALONE.   That one word pretty well describes how I think of this current PM (legitimate or otherwise)

    •  You are entitled to your sentiments, but they do not necessarily reflect reality.  Harper has family, friends and many supporters.

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      • The word ‘alone’ simply refers to fact that Harper is a loner. The man’s an introvert, a thinker and not a people person. Preston Manning himself has admited to this. There’s nothing in itself negative about it. Many successful politicians and business people tend to be introverts and loners, and with a very small circle of friends.

      • ALONE refers to his systematic isolation and ostracism of the offending associate.  First, he chips away at the target’s support and supply lines (first making sure his own such lines are fully protected) until there are no tools available for rebuilding.  Once the trail has become frozen solid and everyone else’s memory has become stale, he springs the trap.  The associate in question is disposed of quietly, without a trace, and without the worry of recourse or a counterattack.

        This is why Peter MacKay is not on the outs any time soon.

  6. One could argue that Mr. Wells’ title The Haper Decade” is wrong, as it could just as easily have been entitled “The Harper Debacle”.

  7. If you wanted this read to be taken seriously, instead of being viewed as the cheerleading it is, you might have started it like this; In 2002 Stephen Harper came to power in the CPC, he acheived this feat as an underdog in a full slate, his leadership campaign was bolstered by monetary contributions from…………………………..

    Then you would have answered that question which hasn’t been answered in the last decade, it would likely answer many more questions than anything else you have written. 

    •  I don’t get your problem.  I don’t think he is cheerleading.  Your version is boring.

      • Who paid for Harper’s campaign? Why won’t he release the information? If you have nothing to hide….

      • TV Tropes has a name for something like that: Boring But Practical.

    • ‘If you wanted this read to be taken seriously, instead of being viewed as the cheerleading it is, you might have started it like this; In 2002 Stephen Harper came to power in the CPC, he acheived this feat as an underdog in a full slate, his leadership campaign was bolstered by monetary contributions from…………………………..’–So what if it received a lot of monetary contributions. All the money in the world won’t help someone get elected if they come across as incompetent or unlikeable. Harper might come across as a cold hard man. But at least he potrayed competence and decisiveness. Which is more than I can say for the three men he ran against. Martin, Dion and Ignatieff. Who came across as wimpy and wishy washy and alarmist. That’s not leadership. The sad thing is that they (and posters like you) instead of trying to demonstrate how their ideas surpass Harpers or how he is failing.  They just come up the same tired trope that Harper is agent of the devil. When he has shown no such inclination. The majority of Canadians have seen that and it is why he keeps on getting elected.

  8. I have several qualms, but the most noteworthy is your suggestion that you know the “private” Harper, and then describe him as cold and merciless, willing to drop an associate if it suits his purposes.

    As a beltway journalist, you are among the last group of people Harper would consider himself close enough to bring into his personal life.

    As such, it should not be a surprise that your description of the “private” Harper just happens to perfectly align with the meme the beltway journos have ascribed to him.  It also just happens to be a default trait that those on the left ascribe to conservatives generally.

    • Er…actions speak louder than words Biff/Chet/kody.

  9. Let’s have another Harper decade.

    • You mean two years of majority Liberal government, followed by 7 years of minority government, and a final year of Conservative majority government?

      While not ideal.. I could probably live with that.

      •  2006-2015.  Pretty close to a decade if you ask me and not a single year of a Liberal government. 

        • That’s nice. Except it’s not what Paul was referring to.

  10. Boo, why can’t we expats buy your e-book, Paul?

  11. I can’t wait for part two, the second decade.

  12. The book must be a good read because the True Believers™ on both the pro and anti Harper sides are disagreeing with it. Presumably without having had read it. I’ll make sure to give it read myself.

  13. “With Harper it’s been a crescendo: every time he goes back to the voters, he wins a slightly larger share of the vote. There was never any such thing as Harpermania.”

    Erasmus ~ In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

  14. There’s still no substitute for print media.  Or plain yelow Post-It notes.

  15. Harper is dismantling Canada’s social safety network using his FALSE-majority, in order to make Canada a FEUDAL STATE, owned by the  foreign investors.  In Davos, he announced he is putting an end to medicare and OAS and GIS PENSIONS are next.  Then EI and CPP will be next when he will allow employers to opt out of CPP contributions.  Canadians will have to fend for themselves in the new dog-eat-dog  Harperland Canada,—just like in the present third-world.  Guaranteed profits for the INVESTOR will be the ONLY priority.  That is NOT the kind of Canada I would like to live in.  Harper has to be dethroned.  He is a menace to a modern society.

    •  Oh go wear your tin hat, he did no such thing.  He stopped an unsustainable funding formula for medicare and substituted it with a still generous formula.  He has tweaked OAS, not killed it and he has yet to even touch GIS.  Everyone knows the whole Robo-call scandal didn’t involve CPC leadership and it certainly did not affect the outcome of the election. 

      • Harper may have not yet destroyed Canada’s social safety-network, but give him enough time, he will ! !   Harper is a fascist.  Del Mastro lies  SO masterfully.  First he says they did not circumvent the Elections Act in the “in and out” scandal but were found guilty of corruption—but nobody is supposed to mention that ! !  Somebody tried to corrupt the last election—NON-Conservative supporters were the ones targeted.  Del Mastro said in parliament first, Conservatives did not use ROBO-CALLS,  but later in the day had to change his tune—they DID ! !  Canada needs a goverment that does NOT lie and deceive its citizens just to be in power and then act like spoiled brats when caught breaking the laws.

        • and then he’ll eat your babies.

          wow,I think you’re a loon

  16. I was thinking of ordering the book – how up-to-date of Ole Macleans then found out you don’t take PayPal – how 20th century folks!!

  17. The universe is no doubt unfolding as it should (to quote another PM).

  18. Excellent interview.   Too many lefties sneer at or underestimate the capacities of Harper.   One thing the really great prime ministers of Canada knew: if you want to do good you have to have power. I am sure Harper’s definition of ‘good’ is neither the Liberals nor the NDP’s but it is in the interest of the country and its citizens.  He understands that you do not cripple the real creators of national wealth.  On the other hand the NDP knows how to spend but haven’t a clue how wealth is created.  The Liberals once had a better understanding (under MacKenzie King and his most important minister, CD Howe) but dissipated it under Trudeau and Chretien.  Looks to me like the ebook is a must read..  Now if you would make it downloadable to Kindle???

    • If Harper is looking after the good of the country and its citizens, then why has the Federal Debt risen by $130 BILLION in just 2 years of his reign ? ?  The DEBT is now $582 BILLION and growing,  that is about $35 BILLION a year just to cover the interest,  taken out of the  pockets of Canadians and the social safety-netowrk.    Harper cut the GST and Corporate taxes but has indebted future Canadians even deeper to those same shysters and gamblers that have brought the USA to bankruptcy and many European countries.  The CEOs stuffed their own pockets with the BAILOUT and are now trying to rape and pillage Canada even more.  Great PMs do NOT give the country’s wealth to those crooked Bankers,  they look after the citizens—do NOT undermine health, pensions, education, infrastructure,etc. just so the foreign investors can maximize their profits.  I am sure the corporate world will look after Harper very well for his generosity ! !

      • Most of which was to avert a near financial catastrophe. Do you not call that in the aid of the country and it’s citizens. None to bankers . Loans to  GM and Chrysler. What I agree is/was a fruitless Afghanistan tour; upgrading Canada’s armed services after being starved by Trudeau and Chretien. Significant assists to seniors and veterans. 

        Finally, you obviously have the same leftist goals – tax and spend.

    •  You’re crazy is showing……time for you’re meds.

  19. I doubt very much what Paul Wells has to say about Harper included some of the gems that I unearthed:

  20. I believe that taxes paid by Canadians should be used exclusively to look after the welfare of Canadians NOT the rest of the world.  Afghanistan is a total collossal waste.  NATO should be disbanded—the EVIL EMPIRE–the Soviet Union–has not existed for 20 years.  Canada had no business bombing Libya–$60 Million ? waste !   Baird looks awfully eager to bomb Syria–again none of our business.  Canadians  do not owe the rest of the world anything.  How many billions have been sent to Haiti—NOTHING much of anything done there to show for the taxes paid by Canadians.  We do NOT owe Haiti anything.  The debt keeps rising and Canadians are expected to ignore the wasted billions and only expect less medicare, higher education costs, cuts to pensions and so many other services and waste 100s of billions so the military can play war games with their buddies with the fanciest war toys.  There are NO  foreign armies threatening our borders Harper has a huge EGO and Canadian taxpayers are paying dearly for it.

    •  You really ARE one aren’t you? Read Paul’s epistle to the heathen crickets again. 

  21. Let us not forget Harper went into politics for one reason and one reason only. And that was to advance the ultra right wing dogma that absolutely dominates him. Nothing else. 

    I guess to put it another way, you could sayt he entered politics to change Canada to mirror his dogma.

    Funny, here I thought Canada was a pretty good country, before he came along to drastically change it.

    How does he compare to some of our better Prime Ministers? Let’s don’t waste our time. He doesn’t.

    • Wow, with all this great inside information you should be doing the writing for this magazine.

      Soldiers on the streets with guns….in Canada. Right?
      I haven’t seem them, but then again how could I be any more informed than you.

  22. Canada is now gripped in election fraud, debt and division. But were all gonna have a prison. 

    Yeah, Harper is the best thing to come along since apple pie, the hoola hoop and even possibly, the very first sexually transmitted disease. I think Harper is a thug.

    But hell, I could be wrong, he was spawned in that great pool of moderate and reasonable thought, the National Citizens Coalition.

    Where in the hell has Wells been for the last 10 years? Warsaw?


  23. Propaganda comes in all shapes and sizes. Now it’s in the form of and E- book

  24. Actually nevrwrong, it goes a bit further than the NCC. Harper was one of the founders of the Northern Foundation, a white supremacist Neo-Nazi, anti-aparthied group that also included Conrad Black who was able to suppress this story. Although I’m no fan of Bob Rae, I find his new attack ad’s towards him really hypocritical.

  25. The Conservative Criminal Organization (CCO) – that is exactly how the ‘Harper Government’ will be remembered in Canadian history.  Harper has already snagged the title of ‘Worst PM’ in Canadian history you could also add the dumbest, most embarrassing, most corrupt, backward international disgrace, etc.  Stevie Bush Jr. is a failure in every sense of the word, the only thing he has ever mastered is the ability to be wrong about absolutely everything.  I can’t even give him credit for being a good criminal because he was caught so many times in his lies and criminal schemes but that didn’t stop this arrogant idiot from committing more.  His legacy (if you want to call it that) can be summed up in three words – CORRUPT EPIC FAILURE!!!!

    •  FRO

    • or maybe 3 election winner…………so far
      holy sour grapes Batman.

  26. It’s next to impossible not to envy the guy’s way of doing things.  The man knows exactly what he’s doing every single waking moment.

    You know the old saying tat “revenge is a dish best served cold”?  He likes his frozen solid!  How else to explain the reverence in which he holds information only he has over information everyone has?

  27. The Harper years have been a blight on our country. I look around and see a bunch of incompetent buffoons led by a paranoid sociopathic megalomaniac and am both alarmed and ashamed. As a country we have failed to embrace democratic principles in our electoral arenas and instead accept fraud, character assassination, debate closure and  repeated prorogues. The Canadian media has been complliant with this man and his government and have allowed his incremental chipping away af the democratic process by refusing to incorporate any investigative journalism,, by thoroughly lacking integrity, and failing to be responsible to the Canadian people., A disgusting fawning piece of writing. What will your children and grandchildren say about how you and those others in the media allowed such a malignant creature  to nfect our land. You will be ashamed.

    • I suspect most Canadians will be proud.

  28. During the 2008 crisis Harper did win big, but he did it with paid advertising. All the other times he has won elections has been through fraud.

    Harper and his party form the most deceitful and incompetent government his country has ever known.

    Who would have imagined a prime minister of this country would have been caught trying to bribe an MP. Who would have thought a political party in this country would have to admit to election fraud in the in and out scandal. Who would have thought the prime minister would reward the perpetrators with senate seats.

  29. Harper spent $2 million to become leader of the Conservative Pary. Where did the money come from? Why does he not release the information?

    The Conservative Party was formed after a back room deal with the remnants of the other electorally failed parties (the Progressive Conservatives). And now his party calls the NDP opportunistic? I think not. Rotten to the foundations is more like it.

  30. Wouldn’t even conider buying a magazine that spouts this garbage.

  31. You have to be kidding!! You say harper has slowly rose to where he is today because he is smart and strategic!!!! I say he did it by being sneaky and corrupt!!!! Not one word on what a sneaky bastards he is! There is nothing he won’t do in order to win!!!!! WTF how much did harper pay you??he is a control freak, he produced a handbook on dirty tricks to teach the rest of the  conservative how to be corrupt!!!

  32. harper is patient!!!!  LOL    what a joke!!

  33. I’m always amazed at the sour pusses who make their “anti” statements in reaction to anything written in Macleans that is the least bit measured or accepting of a wider range of views. It seems to me that your assessment of Stephen Harper as Prime Minister is measured and cautious, and that is as it should be. While the term “alone” does have a certain impact I find the acknowledgement of  Harper’s patience and determination to see things through to be a more interesting observation. It seems to me that he has amply demonstrated these characteristics along with a high level of skill and competence in his role as Prime Minister. Although the comments to Macleans may not reflect this, I also believe many Canadians are pleased and appreciative of Harper’s accomplishments and efforts and further, that they look forward to the future with him as P.M.

  34. “Paul Wells is one of the best reporters in Canada”.
    That was the opinion of my Mother, a schoolteacher who died in 1993 at the age of ninety.
    That is also my opinion today.
    Good work Paul.

    Ernest Semple

  35. Just wish he would look into issues of obstructing justice for the last 20 years.