BTC: Everyman


The strategy is to cast Harper as the guy next door running against “Professor Dion” whose ideas are theoretical and out-of-step with average Canadians.

“On the one side you have a minivan-driving hockey dad from the suburbs — the most middle-class prime minister Canada’s ever had,” said one Conservative official. “On the other side, you have an elitist professor whose leadership is marked by indecision and dogmatic adherence to ideological theories that he has pulled together.”

As Mr. Coyne notes, so-called ‘ballot questions’ are a bit simplistic. But let’s take a moment to consider the profound simplicity of this one.

A rough sketch of Stephen Harper’s adult life.

He graduated with a Bachelor’s degrees in economics from the University of Calgary. After school he worked for Tory MP Jim Hawkes, then ran himself as a Reform candidate in 1988. He then worked for Reform MP Deborah Grey, before returning to school to get a Master’s degree.

From 1993 to 1997, he was MP for Calgary Southwest. He left Parliament to work for the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative lobby group, until he won leadership of the Canadian Alliance and was elected for the riding of Calgary West in 2002. In 2006, he was elected Prime Minister.

According to Parliament’s online database, MPs earned an annual of $64,000 between 1993 and 1997. As an MP and the leader of the opposition from 2002 to 2006, Harper would have earned between $199,800 and $213,500 per year. The Prime Minister’s salary for 2006 was $295,400, rising to $301,600 in 2007 and $310,800 in 2008.

As leader of the opposition and Prime Minister he has lived in Stornoway and 24 Sussex respectively, each residence coming with its own chef. As Prime Minister he has use of a palatial cottage at Harrington Lake. His children attend Rockcliffe Park Public School, alongside the progeny of diplomats and politicians. If the Conservatives are defeated in the next election and Harper leaves politics he could be entitled to a sizable pension.

This is not to say that our national leaders shouldn’t be handsomely rewarded. Indeed, what a Prime Minister makes and how he got to be making it does not inherently matter. Unless, of course, he’s done something untoward. Or, as is happening now, the Prime Minister makes it matter by asking you to consider his socio-economic status and occupational history.

At which point, most any Prime Minister’s claim to being a minivan-driving, middle-class suburbanite is laughable at best, insulting at worst. And, in this case, it becomes fair to note that the closest Stephen Harper will ever get to being a minivan-driving, middle-class suburbanite is when he commandeers a family’s kitchen table for a photo op.


BTC: Everyman

  1. i”The strategy is to cast Harper as the guy next door”

    How many people really like the guy next door?

  2. He’s certainly as middle class as Jean Chretien, le p’tit gars de Shawanigan was. He’s from humble roots like he was. And he’s become a similarly as effective as a politician.

  3. The Conservatives trying to sell Harper as a “middle-class PM” is indeed hilarious. What is more odious though, is their use of the phrase “elitist professor” to describe Dion. It sounds like the type of simplistic, Republican-style smears that should be kept south of the 49th.

    Frankly, I want my PM to be smart. A professor in political science, like Dion? Great. Leaders should be intelligent and preferably not manipulative ideologues. Ask Harper about gun control, abortion, the Insite drug treatment program, climate change, government funded childcare, the Kelowna Accord,…. Who’s really the ideologue? The Conservatives are fooling no one.

  4. And why is “Professor” a smear anyways? Don’t most parents hope that their kids will go to University and be taught by (gasp) Professors?

  5. Asked why they would adopt this inane strategy during a federal election campaign, Tory strategists replied in true Moulin Rouge style, “Because we CON CON CON!!!”

  6. Harper’s first career was as a computer programmer for Shell.

  7. Cool Blue

    You are on a liberal blog facts are not welcome.

  8. You forgot to mention that HArper worked for Jim Hawkes then ran against him. Twice. Losing the first time and winning the second. What a backstabbing arse.

  9. Are people really that dumb not to see trough this lying self righteous egotist.

    This man will take us all trough a very bad time, if getting a majority.

    His blatant abuse of our population, his disregard for how the needy live in this country.

    The untruth he is telling about his apponents is just appalling.

  10. Harper’s income as an MP was nearly exactly the average wage for a one-earner family with children: http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/famil22a.htm

    Even the narrowest definition of middle class should include the average income…Aaron, this suggests the Harper family has been, at most, outside of the middle class for the last six years. And I’m not conivinced they’re that far out of the middle class even as PM.

    Somewhere really obvious on the Statistics Canada website, you would find income by quintile that would give an idea of whether a family income of $200K is outside the middle class. But me, I can’t find it this morning.

  11. I’ve been watching this election closely. I don’t underestand WHY or HOW Harper could possibly win? Dion is a much better candidate and absolutely should be Prime Minister. What am I missing?

    I also don’t understand WHY the NDP and greens don’t rally around Dion, in order to defeat Harper?

    I sure hope Dion and the Liberals win and will be flummoxed if Canadians give a vote of confidence to that corrupt immoral frightening Harper.

  12. What am I missing? WHY and HOW could it be possible that Harper would win? Dion is by far the superior candidate. The Liberals have a winning platform this time around. Harper is frightening and his policies are bad for Canada. He is also most decidedly NOT middle class and does not have middle class interests at heart.

    My hope is that Canadians will come to their senses and vote for the Liberals this time. I also hope that NDP members and Greens will support Dion, who is an ethical thoughtful insightful potential Prime Minister. I’ll be distraught if Harper wins again.

  13. Rich: What you’ve been missing is many Canadians will not be watching the election closely. Mr. Harper, and to a lesser extent, Mr. Dion, both rely on this.

    Instead, they choose by relying on a particular sound bite or sometimes just a general feeling toward the parties. Hence the point of the sweater vest ads that don’t really say anything of substance, but that doesn’t matter, since they’re not trying to create substance, they’re trying to create impression.

    Now, while people like you and me think it’s important that Canadians examine their politicians, most Canadians are simply too busy. So long as things don’t get intolerable, they’d rather not be bothered — that’s why we have these politicians in the first place, after all, to deal with all these things that we don’t want to be bothered with.

  14. “Even the narrowest definition of middle class should include the average income…Aaron, this suggests the Harper family has been, at most, outside of the middle class for the last six years. And I’m not conivinced they’re that far out of the middle class even as PM.”

    Isn’t MP salary tax free. Harper, as PM, also received many government perquisites. You can’t perform a straight-up comparison to income statistics.

  15. You could look at average after-tax income at Stats Canada though – the after-tax average income for one-earner families is about $56K (compared to about $61K before taz). His MP salasry seems solidly middle class.

    Aaron’s point becomes that Harper can’t claim to be middle class because he is PM. I should look up the Stats Can income quintile tables, but I’m not sure this point (such as it is) is true.

  16. You’re still ignoring perquisites.

  17. With all the usual caveats about my lack of an economics degree…

    According to StatsCan’s 1998 report on Income in Canada, the median total income for a two-parent family with children and one earner (since we don’t know Mrs. Harper’s income at the time) for the years noted above was as follows.

    1993. 40,927
    1994. 42,611
    1995. 40,797
    1996. 41,068
    1997. 40,576

    Then, skipping to the latest report on Income in Canada, same figures for the other years noted above.

    2002. 69,500
    2003. 71,300
    2004. 68,900
    2005. 65,500
    2006. 66,300

  18. Fact is Harper grew up “upper middle class”. Look at the neighbourhoods he grew up in in Toronto and, he grew up when a lot of mother’s had to work so that the combined income of wife and hubby made them middle class. Harper, I believe is one of 4 boys, his mother didn’t have to work and they lived in nice neighbourhoods.

    How many middle class fathers have gotten by without a real job, except when he worked for Imperial Oil (not Shell) where his father worked as an Accountant, not as a bookkeeper as Harper claims and his father would make very good money. I know, my niece has worked for Imperial Oil for all of her adult life and she make big money and wasn’t at the level Harper’s dad was.

    The Cons try to portray Dion as having grown up in a rich, elistist family…well, duh, he grew up poor.

  19. Aaron, the middle class is not the median income – although it is striking that Harper’s MP income is so close to that. The middle class is the middle income quintile – or the middle three maybe. Using a Stats Can definition, the mddle class in 1993 would have been between $30K and $60K, in 2002 the range would be $54K to $100K. MP Harper stays middle class, on a narrow definition of middle class.

    I doubt MP perqs change this story but would welcome any analysis. MP Harper seems fairly middle class to me. As I note above, his PM income is about the same as a family of public servant managers.

    I still can’t find what I want at Stats Can so this is the definition I used:
    “middle-class families were those who had after-tax income within a given range of the median — 75% of the median on the low side and 150% of the median on the high side.

  20. Average total income (all family units) in the third quintile was $44,600 in 1997, rising to $51,300 in 2006.

    Average total income (economic families) in the third quintile, went from $59,400 to $68,100.

    But that probably doesn’t get you anywhere, because what you really need to do is divide income earners into three equal groups – low, middle and high. A Google search shows that, in 2005, StatsCan defined the middle class as ranging between 35,000 and 69,900 per year.

    By 2002, Harper was well beyond the middle class. Whether he was within it between 1993 and 1997 requires knowing what that range was at the time.

  21. Thanks Aaron,
    I’m angered and sometimes sad, and in disbelief to have to sit here and watch Harper be such a hypocrite.. liar, really.
    Your comments gave me a much needed break from my stress over his misrepresentations about Dion, who I am trying to get to know, and I really do not appreciate smear & lies campaigns.
    To read your calm and truthful challenge to Harper’s false image campaign really gave me a lift, a little bit of stress relief.

  22. Mr. Harper came west at the same time as I did. The co. he worked for and in that job, paid well.
    Laureen ran a business so successful her husband enjoyed calling himself a “kept man.”
    I am a Albertan, I’m familiar with families in their areas, and I can tell you that Alberta ‘middle class’ is a very wealthy upper class, despite the countrified, western twig furniture chic of rural and city households here.

  23. Aaron, as PM he is earning as much as a family of public servants living in the Ottawa suburbs. As MP, he was earning much less than them. These people drive minivans and take their kids to hockey and consider themselves middle-class (of course, everybody considers themselves middle-class).

    In the absence of Stats Can quintile ranges, what’s wrong with using the numbers I derived from their definition? The mddle class in 1993 would have been between $30K and $60K, in 2002 the range would be $54K to $100K. MP Harper stays middle class.

    Your point that it is impossible for a sitting PM to be middle-class is arguably true…but a far way from sustaining the claim that Harper is misleading Canadians about his middle class experience. As I said, there are many suburban mini-van drivers with incomes on par with his.

    If you want to get really into this, we can start pulling out income numbers for people by census area so we can look at what the middle class in the suburbs actually earns. But that woudl cost money so I’ll wait for you to pull the numbers from Stats Can and post your analysis.

  24. “Of course, everybody considers themselves middle-class.”

    That’s about as close to an unimpeachable conclusion as this discussion is going to achieve.

    The idea of 75% to 150% of median income means approximately 50% of the population is middle class. The idea of dividing the population into thirds is another definition. And then there’s the matter of quintiles.

    You cite the first definition in terms of after-tax income, while the numbers I’ve cited are total income. If we apply the same definition to total income and compare it to Stephen Harper’s total income-and if my calculations are vaguely correct-we get the following.

    From 1993 to 1997, the high point of middle class ranges from $60,864 to $63,916. From 2002 to 2006, the high point of middle class ranges from $98,250 to $106,950.

    From 1993 to 1997, Stephen Harper’s income was $64,000 per year. From 2002 to 2006, his basic income as an MP ranges from $135,000 to $147,000.

    Feel free to correct me.

  25. The numbers you cite make more sense to me than saying two parents earning $35K are wealthy rather than middle class. Having half the population in the middle class also seems reasonable (it’s slightly less than the 60% you get using the middle three quintiles).

    Now, let’s look at your argument that Harper has no credible claim to be middle class. He earned less than $4K (7%) more than the middle class bracket from 1993-97. Do you really think these numbers support your claim?

    From 2002 to 2006, he’s much further out (over 40% higher). After looking at the parliamentary database, it looks like the perqs argument has some merit – from 2000, expenses etc. seem to have been incorporated into a single compensation number. I think your post gives people the impression that Harper is making an incredible claim about his middle class credentials. I don’t think the numbers sustain that. I also think he probably has a kitchen table in 24 Sussex, for what it’s worth.

  26. I have to point out, that if MPs’ salaries are tax free, for comparison purposes you have to multiply them by something like 4/3… so the 64.4K becomes more like 85.9K.
    OR, you can look at stats-can after-tax numbers, but I bet those are both harder to come by and harder to relate to.
    MP salary history is available here:

    although there’s no indication of tax status that I can see. Also, there is a tax-free allowance that is not included in the 64.4K number, of 21+K tax-free, or 32K for comparison purposes.

    In any case, if Mrs Teskey had an income as well, it’s not unreasonable to say that the Harpers were above middle class for the period. As, it should be noted, are many senior civil servants in the capital.

  27. Two Hats,

    The tax-free question came up earlier and this is what I suggested as a solution: we could look at average after-tax income at Stats Canada though – the after-tax average income for one-earner families is about $56K (compared to about $61K before taz). His MP salasry seems solidly middle class.

    The 4/3 adjustment doesn’t fit these numbers.

    Aaron suggests that Harper is misleading Canadians about somthing when he isn’t. At worst, he’s playing with the ambiguity of “middle class”. But, no matter, political discourse can only be debased by politicians, not journalists…

  28. Actually, he is misleading.
    It may be that he was middle class (but when we also remember to take into account the perks, expense budgets, and generous pension plan, I’d suggest not) back before he became leader of the opposition.

    To attempt to claim he is middle class now, however, is preposterous. And you know what, it should be preposterous, I don’t *want* my Prime Minister to be living a middle class lifestyle. I want my Prime Minister to be living a lifestyle where he doesn’t have to worry about the mortgage, how the kids are getting to school, or how to balance his utility bill with his credit card bills. I want a Prime Minister who can be fully devoted to leading the government.

    For *any* Prime Minister to try to claim they’re a middle class person is not only disingenuous, it’s insulting. Insulting to Canadians, and insulting to the office.

  29. The point is not which class you may belong to according to income, it is what class you want to be described as belonging to. You can be a very rich person and still count yourself as blue-collar, middle-class or whatever. The Republicans in the States have long known this.

    I think Harper is right on the money to campaign on this basis. It doesn’t matter if Dion’s family were coal-miners in eastern Ukraine – he is still open to being painted an elitist intellectual by dint of his current standing on certain issues, the way he projects himself etc.

    This is the best chance Harper has to appeal to the suburban voters and to keep his grip on the rural western vote.

  30. ” I want my Prime Minister to be living a lifestyle where he doesn’t have to worry about the mortgage, how the kids are getting to school, or how to balance his utility bill with his credit card bills.”

    If this is the definition of middle class, I’m confident MPs fit it. And I’d be surprised if the Harpers didn’t have these worries – $300K is a very good income, but it’s far from lifting you above mortgage worries, career changes and bill payments. Bureaucrats probably have these worries.

  31. Bill, I find it an interesting philosophy though. The conservative economics are based on the notion that people get rich only because they deserve to. Because they’re harder working and smarter, and so we should ensure that these people are given every advantage once they get there to benefit the rest of us. (ie, the trickle down theory, where you give the most to he who has the most, in hopes that the scraps he leaves for the rest of us get bigger.)

    Then come election they turn around and say “But I’m not one of them, no sir. You wouldn’t catch me hanging around those rich folks”.

    Is it too much to expect a conservative politician with a consistent philosophy? I mean, besides the whole notion of running for a government position when the argument is that government is incapable of doing anything right. I’ve always wondered, does this mean every conservative politician is running because they don’t think they can do anything right, so they might as well get into government, where nobody will notice?

  32. Style, I find it difficult to believe that a family making 61K pays only 5/51 = 8.1% income tax. I pay ~25% on less than that (total; about 3/5 is the federal part). I don’t have the resources to challenge the Statscan numbers, but that just looks fishy.

    I haven’t seen justification in this thread for assuming the Harpers are (or at least, were, in the 90s) single income.

    And to imply that 300K/yr is remotely close to middle class is absurd beyond comprehension. Honestly. Sure, no matter what your income you’ll might buy more house than you can afford, but you can live very well debt-free on even half that.

  33. T.Thwim,
    I see no inconsistency. The core value has always been personal wealth and property and get the government the heck away from what’s mine.

    The suburban mindset is not related to income bracket, and there are lots of people who aspire only to a bigger and better version of what they have. People that like RVs will just buy bigger ones when they get more money – they will not be trading them in for Georgian style mansions in Rosedale and hybrid Volvo’s.

    Harper can paint Dion as an elitist intellectual who lives on the public purse and who wants to take more of people’s money for wasteful government programs. The perception is not that far from reality as far as Dion goes, so there are some legs on this.

    Whether or not Harper currently qualifies as middle-class is irrelevant.

  34. “And to imply that 300K/yr is remotely close to middle class is absurd beyond comprehension. Honestly. Sure, no matter what your income you’ll might buy more house than you can afford, but you can live very well debt-free on even half that.”

    You won’t be buying a house, car or university education with cash on that income, you’ll be in debt. And looking for economies to help you manage some of the new things that come along. Not as many as you would at half the income, but enough. This isn’t John McCain territory. The suburbs of Canada have lots of families in this situation, driving their minivans to hockey practice etc.

    “Whether or not Harper currently qualifies as middle-class is irrelevant.”

    It’s a little relevant if Macleans is going to suggest he’s lying about his middle class background.

Sign in to comment.