Stephen Harper in Calgary: Let’s never let 2007 end

‘ Campaign in poetry, govern in fantasy’ — Paul Wells on the PM’s convention speech


(Canadian Press)

In its quest to provide ever-more-rudimentary service to the Media Party, the Prime Minister’s Office has for some time now been distributing texts of Stephen Harper’s speeches in the format in which they are fed into the big guy’s teleprompter. The sentences are broken up, the lines never more than a few syllables long, the complex words sometimes spelled phonetically and broken into syllables.

The effect is often pleasant, as though we were being given scraps of found poetry. Here’s how Harper’s speech to the Conservative Party convention read in the version we received early, under embargo:

Chers amis,

c’est un véritable plaisir

de me retrouver

parmi vous

ici ce soir.

My friends,

it’s wonderful to be

with the Conservative family,

here in Calgary,…

Canada’s great city

on the Bow!

We all know what happened,

to Calgary

and to much

of southern Alberta,

this past June. [1]

I have no idea what the [1] signifies, though I suspect it’s a timing cue. I’d admit a preference for the more daring metaphors of  E.J. Pratt, writing here about the Canadian Shield…

This folded reptile was asleep or dead:

So motionless, she seemed stone dead — just seemed:

She was too old for death, too old for life,

For as if jealous of all living forms

She had lain there before bivalves began

To catacomb their shells on western mountains.

… but then I really would be part of the Laurentian consensus. Let us instead concentrate on the sample at hand. Here’s a prime minister reciting blank verse in public! Shouldn’t somebody tell Yann Martel? Another excerpt:

In a world that is struggling,

Canada is rising,

Being steadily lifted

by a rising tide.

Our sound finances,

our stable politics,

our expanding network

of trade relationships,

our natural wealth, …

and the growing demand for it

worldwide, …

and above all,

the ingenuity

of our people … [7]

So the first news out of the BMO Centre is that the Prime Minister still has faith in the ingenuity of our people. Or at least of [7] of our people. It’s not entirely clear. The next news is that the impression of poetry in the distributed text was entirely misleading, because even by this Prime Minister’s standards, this was a really prosaic speech.

At the same party’s 2008 convention in Winnipeg, Harper pressed a sweeping claim for the Conservatives as the proper guardians of a certain idea of Canada. “the Conservative story is Canada’s story,” he said then. “It is a story about people from all walks of life joining together to work toward common goals … about building together what we could never have built alone.” In 2011 in Ottawa he resuscitated the notion in similarly sweeping language.

But in both those earlier convention speeches, victory was recent and the wolves were nowhere near the door. (Or so it seemed: in 2008, the coalition crisis that nearly unseated Harper was only a few weeks in the future.) Back then, Harper felt he could permit himself the occasional rhetorical flourish. Now he is in deep a bit, and there is no time for fancy. Assorted commentators were heard to say ahead of the event that he had to give the speech of his life. I’ll show them, he said to himself as he bent over early drafts. I’ll give a speech that drives the memory of other people’s good speeches out of their skulls.

“Day in, and day out, we are facing tough choices. And we are making the right decisions for Canada, for the right reasons. And, my friends, the results are clear.” And what results are those? “A rare, a unique moment of national opportunity.”

How did this happen? Tell us! Tell us! “We started, as we promised, by cutting the GST from 7, to 6, to 5 per cent!” And it’s true. He did. While George W. Bush was still the U.S. President. “We took money out of the hands of the lobbyists, academics and bureaucrats, and we gave it to the real childcare experts. Their names are Mom and Dad!” Also true. Also not newly true. From the Universal Child Benefit to the seat for Quebec at UNESCO, to the recognition of the Québécois nation, he spent a fair amount of time rehearsing for the 2008 election.

Which is not quite the same as saying he was wasting his or his audience’s time. For as he kept repeating, a Conservative government did these things, and no Liberal government had, and no NDP government, on most of these files, would. “The NDP and the Liberals opposed us at every turn,” he said. (His prepared text did not mention the Bloc Québécois at any point, even in the parts where he was speaking in French on Quebec topics.) Yesterday one wag suggested Harper didn’t actually need to deliver a speech-of-his-life, and that his ambition should be more modest: “He needs to make the generic case he would make to any audience — economy and trade — and the narrower case that works best with Conservatives — Wheat Board, long-gun registry, resource exports, crime,” this fellow wrote.  It didn’t take nuclear-strength prescience, but Harper wound up ringing every one of those bells. “Ours is the party that stood up for the right of prairie grain farmers to sell their own products.” Etcetera. Etcetera.

There were a few bits about elites (he’s against) and fancy clubs (not a member) as well as a reminder that he’s on track to finish the Dempster Highway. And what of all those elite pundits from the fancy clubs who didn’t say a word about how Harper had to mention the Dempster Highway? You can’t trust them, is what I’m saying. Because he did. And who’s the prime minister? Exactly.

But of course what everyone was waiting for was the bit about the Senate. Here, Harper’s delivery was so galvanizing — “I couldn’t care less what they say; we will do the right thing!” he said, to roars from the receptive crowd — that many might have missed how radically he has redefined “the right thing” downward.

Related stories from Paul Wells: 

This speech appeared to be an abandonment of Harper’s Senate reform agenda, disguised as defiance and wrapped in shopping lists.

“This is the only party that has tried to reform the Senate,” he said. “We were blocked by the other parties in the minority parliaments. And now we are being blocked in the courts. So, friends, it is time for the Senate to show it can reform itself.”

And what was the sum total of this Senate self-reform agenda? “Suspend those Senators without pay!”

Let’s replay that in slow motion. He “has tried” to reform the Senate, he said. But his plans were blocked by the bad guys and now they are “blocked in the courts.” Come again? The only court cases dealing with Senate reform are the Quebec Appeals Court reference, brought by the former Quebec government of Jean Charest. That court has already found that consultative Senate elections and term limits — the Harper agenda until now — would require the consent of seven provincial governments representing half the country’s population. Senate abolition, with which Harper has flirted, would require unanimous provincial consent.

The other case is Harper’s own reference to the Supreme Court of Canada, which will hear arguments in the second week of November. It’ll be surprising if the Supremes don’t reach conclusions similar to those of the Quebec Appeals Court. I’ll let you know when it happens.

So the courts haven’t blocked Senate reform. One has explained how it might happen; another will follow suit presently. It would seem to require some intergovernmentalism and a dash of good luck. On the evidence of his remarks tonight, Harper doesn’t want to give it a try. I’m not sure he’s wrong. It would be messy and the outcome uncertain. But the bit where he blames the courts is a bonus bit of fiction. Campaign in poetry, govern in fantasy.

But there’s more. When Harper says “it is time for the Senate to show it can reform itself,” he appears to be collapsing his ambitions for Senate reform down to a single desideratum: dock the pay of Sens. Duffy, Brazeau and Wallin. The Senate cannot reform its method of election or the length of time its members will serve by itself, nor can it abolish itself.

To describe this speech as prosaic is not to say it is a failure. The goals set for it by some backseat drivers were ahistorically lofty: as a test of the crucial importance of convention speeches in Canadian politics, please feel free to quote any convention speech ever delivered by anyone ever. Nor is it to say this one was devoid of audacity. Perhaps only Stephen Harper could stand in front of 2000 Conservatives in the middle of the Calgary Stampede Fairgrounds, bury the dream of Senate reform, and get a foot-stomping ovation from all present. I tell you, this man is something better than a poet. He’s an escape artist.




Stephen Harper in Calgary: Let’s never let 2007 end

  1. Victims. They’re victims, I tell ya.
    The whole Conservative party.
    It’s what right wingers in the US do, too.

  2. Any pictures where bubble boy isn’t pointing with his chubby little index finger? The guy’s a total boor!

    • Why did you watch?

      • To see if he quit by mistake silly.

    • Ironically you feel entitled to make fat jokes because you’re so convinced it’s him that’s a boor. Fascism in the name of anti-fascism, fat jokes in the name of anti-boorishness.

      • Harper is fat. It’s a fact. Pointing out that his finger is chubby isn’t a joke — it’s an observation.

    • Unlike you eh?

  3. SH
    : blame the courts…check
    : blame the opposition…check
    [ when his prorogues cut off most of his senate bills]
    :blame the senate for not reforming itself after his pmo sucker punched it…check
    : blames Canada, the liberal press and the liberal universe for not seeing it his way. Thus wrapping himself and his party up in a nice, cozy, comfy, security blankie of the hard done by, the misunderstood, the ever forlorn outsider…check
    : Am i your man again?…check

    Message to other Canadians not delegates in Calgary or Conservative

    :The rules don’t apply to me…check [ classic Harper fall back]

    Why is self pity almost a job requirement for so many hard core Cons?

  4. Headline:

    ” Putin Clone Addresses Drones”

    • Update:
      Drones adore Putin clone.

  5. All it takes is some gisgruntled backbenchers.

    They’re not a part of Government, so conceivably if a group who are just sick of this could band together and put the ultimatum out there – get back to conservative (small c) basics or we introduce a motion of no confidence. Now is the only time the grassroots really have a chance to make a move like this. The conference could be a good place to talk it out and pressure MP’s into acting and realize they can do more than clap and fear the whip if they had a dozen like-minded, ethically oriented backbenchers cooperating.

    Imagine – Conservatives holding Conservatives to account. The backbenchers just need to realize it.

    • It’s funny that you think there are a dozen spines to go around in Parliament.

      • Ouch! Are you sure you don’t have Coyne in there?

    • Sorry I can’t imagine it, given the current lot.

  6. Somebody should rewrite the speech in haiku form. It’s pretty close already, tbh

  7. Does he get it that way off the prompter – vertically formatted?

    How does he do that? When i try it i feel like a slam poet who’s caught in a time delay and taken one toke too many. It aint natural at all.

    • The teleprompter moves the text up, and so only a few words per line — and the teleprompter also goes faster or slower, depending on how the words are delivered. Even for speaking notes printed on paper, they are often set in very far-right margins and huge text, double spaced, so that the reader can hold it, if necessary, without blocking words, and the large font means they don’t lose track of where they are. Speaking well with a teleprompter takes practice!

  8. For a party with a majority government, the Cons certainly have a lot of enemies blocking their path to Nirvana or Valhalla or whatever the Con Promised Land is called.

    Let’s see – there’s the official opposition, the senate, the academics, the urban elites, the socialists, the separatists, and now…the courts.

    Soon, the people themselves will be on the list.

    • Boxing shadows means the judges let you fight more rounds.

      • Best , and most succinct comment so far.

    • the people are on the list….. he is shredding the public service, attacking pensions, science… we are all on the list.

    • Hope so!!!

    • He’s a sick little psychotic. And he’s about to get very dangerous as he backs himself into a corner. He can’t do anything but continue to stonewall, hide in his bunker, and send out the character assassins. To do anything honourable he’d have to admit to being the liar he is.

  9. Great references to super achievements and at least 6 yrs to go. Much yet to overcome in nanny state.

    • Add another one to the list of enemies shall we. What ya got against nannies then?

  10. “Perhaps only Stephen Harper could stand in front of 2000 Conservatives
    in the middle of the Calgary Stampede Fairgrounds, bury the dream of
    Senate reform, and get a foot-stomping ovation from all present. I tell
    you, this man is something better than a poet. He’s an escape artist”

    Perhaps only SH *would* want to stand…

    It isn’t that hard to escape when your audience forever insists anything you do is a choice that’s forced upon you my uncooperative and biased courts, institutions, Academics, lawyers, media, constitutional conventions, inconvenient rules of all kinds, Parliament, opposition parties, members named Trudeau [ past and present] radical environmentalists in the pay of foreigners and their silly obstructionist regulations, stroppy adversarial natives , ungrateful EI recipients, welfare bums of all descriptions and apparently nannies are now on the list…and last but not least, inconvenient facts.[ did i miss much?]

    These guys have a problem with reality itself.[wait until they find out God isn’t a Conservative. He aint likely to be a liberal either. So i guess there’s gonna be a lot of disappointed people on that score]

  11. Bash the poor, the infirm, the fat cats, the government workers, anyone from any alternative (read; not me) lifestyle….and as soon as the tables turn, scream victim in the shrillest possible tone.

    This is what happens when you enable bullies and give them power. In Ford’s case, it’s all he’s ever known.

    In Harper’s, I suspect he was bullied severely in school, and figured if you can’t beat them, join them. Those are the worst, since they should know better.

    • Harper may be a bully but that is just a scratch on the surface of Harper’s problems.. That little puppy is hanging off the edge of sanity. They (his handlers) keep telling us he’s an introvert.. yeah an introvert with a bad temper who likes to lock himself in bathrooms when he doesn’t get his way. The guy can’t keep a friend for anything longer than the life of a nat. People find out what a sociopath he is and step back. Obama can’t stand him and I can understand why.

      • Herr Harper is a very sick psychopath and he could be very dangerous. After all, the rat has backed himself into a very small corner with his lying and cheating. Watch out, Canada.

  12. And afterwards he went next door to sing at a cowboys bar. And he makes cracks about Trudeau winning Canadian Idol?

  13. Oh well, this fun for a while. But when you do the counter factual, really what else could Harper have done? He wasn’t going to really come clean( that’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming out of him one day when it no longer matters – if then) And he wasn’t going to quit. So, what’s left but to get down with the folks and serve up some olde fashioned( but never out of style) home cooking – Tory style. A king sized helping of poor old we, accompanied by a heaping serving of look see whut we dun together, what no one else has ever done afore. Followed by a fine old vintage case of lets all whine about them librul courts and how they is blocking us all the time. He isn’t the first politician to go there and he won’t be the last either. One day though hope for better is going to tire of hanging out waiting for Canadian politics to care enough to give a damn or change.
    Seriously did any non Conservative expect any more from the guy really? Did any Conservative truth be told? He’s clearly got nothing better to give; it is isnt in him. He’s in until someone digs up a video, breaks down and confesses to some kind of naughtiness even he can’t spin away among friends.
    Or the electorate simply gets heartily sick and tired of him altogether.

  14. I just can’t agree that contemplating the abolition of the Senate is an abandonment of some kind of reform agenda. Perhaps the Senate can’t be reformed, maybe we have to get to whats next…maybe thats the true reform. But whichever it is, no old Reformers are weeping for the Senate that might have been…

    • He said not a single word about abolishing the Senate.

      • Agreed, Seemed to me he even ruled out taking any Senate action…in anticipation the the court (with Quebec’s existing ruling) would put up pragmatically impenetrable barriers.

        Senate reform itself….well at least that’s one new idea. Kinda hard to see that get anywhere.

        • How is that a new idea? He campaigned on it more than once, but only started acting on it (by asking question of the Supremes) this year — right around the time he knew about his duplicitous senators.

          • The Tories did also put together a Senate reform bill and introduce it in Parliament. It’s just been sitting there for two years while their majority government complains that everyone’s stopping them from doing anything on the file, even though the only people stopping the Tories are the Tories.

            That said, I do so love the Tory fantasy about how all of their enemies have been conspiring to stop them from reforming the Senate, long enough for Stephen Harper to appoint 59 Senators, and create a 57% Conservative majority in the upper chamber.

          • I love how the base eats out of his hand, no matter what the reality — political groupies. Heady stuff, dancing to the pm’s dulcet tones.

        • If he truly believed in Senate reform or abolition, he would at least try a PR campaign to get support behind a constitutional change. He’s conceding the fight before it’s even really begun.

      • He doesn’t have to. Let’s find out what the courts will say. Let’s find out how many more senators have a long history of over spending and then let’s see how the mood of the country comes into play.

      • I think Chantal Hebert may be on to something vis a vis Senate referendum but the timing might be more workable AFTER 2015.

  15. Conservative Party Uber Alles

    I am PM Stephen Harper
    My aura smiles
    And never frowns
    Soon I will be el presidente …

    I will be Fuhrer one day
    I will command all of you
    Your kids will meditate in school
    Your kids will meditate in school!

    Die on organic poison gas
    Serpent’s egg’s already hatched
    You will croak, you little clown
    When you mess with el presidente Harper
    When you mess with el president Harper


    • You can’t just replace “Jerry Brown” with “Stephen Harper” and expect it to make any sense. (And don’t try swapping it out for the Reagan version, either.) Lazy work, D-. You may have to repeat the class next term.

      • Tough but fair however you are grading the PM, not me. In my hastiness to write down what I heard, I forgot to mention I had my ear pressed up against the door while PM and his band were rehearsing yesterday afternoon and they did Dead Kennedys unplugged.

        Aaron Ramsey – he score’s when he wants!

        • There’s always room for Jello.

  16. Not changing is an impressive conservative accomplishment. In 2008 the global economy had its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Financial crises often expand the role of government (e.g. the New Deal coming out of the Depression). Often programs that were intended to be temporary become entrenched – defended by their stakeholders, by the civil servants new departments employ, etc.

    Harper did engage in a fiscal response to the recession, of course, but he did so in ways that did not permanently expand government (the Chretien Liberals already reduced the size of government to levels conservatives can be pretty happy about). For instance, infrastructure spending is more “one and done” than say, creating some new entitlement program.

    And ultimately that’s why I think the “longer I’m Prime Minister” mentality makes strategic sense. Unexpected events happen, giving governments the power to change – or not change. Dubya had 9/11, for instance. King had part of the Depression, WWII and the postwar era.

    • When did it become conventional Conservative wisdom to not pay down accumulated debt? An option which the GST cut effectively eliminated. Are we always to now carry a mortgage?

      • Well lets see…
        1. You don’t need to run surpluses to shrink the debt as a % of GDP. In fact you could run deficits (smaller than nominal economic growth) and the debt would shrink relative to the economy.
        2. Interest rates are at historic lows.
        3. Virtually every country in the world has some debt load.
        4. Evidence is mixed that [sustained] high debt loads actually have a negative impact on economic growth. Insofar as there are red lines, they are pretty high (Britain had a debt load of over 200% of GDP after the Napoleonic wars).
        5. Tax cuts, followed by spending restraint to balance the budget (which is happening), would result in a situation where Liberals would have to raise taxes in order to raise spending as a % of GDP.

        So sure, Conservatives probably like debt repayment. But they also like tax cuts and military spending. And given the circumstances there was plenty of room to opt for the latter (income or corporate tax cuts would probably be better).

        • 1. That’s one way to measure it – pct GDP. The basis of Dick Cheney’s claim that Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.
          2. Meaning that debt repayment/refinancing is HIGHLY sensitive to interest rate hikes, which are inevitable beyond historic lows.
          3. Irrelevant

          All other points are, to some extent, philosophical, or variants of above.

          There is a school of conservative thought that suggests you get your best leverage on *future*budgets by paying down/retiring debt now when you have the financial capacity to do so.

          The default that balanced budget legislation (an announced new Harper initiative) is accepted wisdom is premature, IMO. Why I wondered when /how we got here.

        • They like military spending but just not on injured soldiers?

  17. My friends ,we have met the enemy and he is us ! Li’l steve’s circle of friends keeps getting smaller , the story keeps changing , more newspeak!

  18. When it comes to the Media Opposition Party (MOP) ‘I couldn’t care less!’

    • lol, the MOP was wanting to see a broken humbled man, dragged down by them. Instead he flipped them the bird!.

      • And Sharon didn’t you just love watching them moaning and groaning in their beers that the PM won’t talk to them and Tories for the most part ignored them on the week-end. Bob Fife almost looked like he was going to cry on QP Sunday.

  19. Well said, Paul.

  20. In a world that is struggling, (Those poor buggers!)

    Canada is rising,

    Being steadily lifted (Certainly, staying afloat!)

    by a rising tide. (That Global Warning stuff is true, then)

    Our sound finances, ( Put in place by previous governments)

    our stable politics, ( A majority! )

    our expanding network

    of trade relationships, (Jobs for everyone! everywhere!)

    our natural wealth, … (OIL! OIL! OIL!)

    and the growing demand for it (And a great price too!)

    worldwide, …

    and above all,

    the ingenuity

    of our people … [7] (How else do you think we got into, and stay in power! That’s ingenuity people!!)

  21. Gotta say, Harper’s message did it for me! Screw you Justin, I am ridin with Steve!

  22. Desperation Mr. Wells, Desperation!

    • I agree wholeheartedly with hollinm. It was desperation from Harper

    • Funny, now that Wallin is under investigation for fraud etc, now the scandal will come to an end (I mean, you don’t think Wells will still defend Wallin over Harper on this???) and so Paul Wells needs to try and get the Harper government on other things.

      Never a positive thing coming out of Wells for this government. As if the people don’t notice! He must really think that most Canadians take only Wells’ view, but I think that is far from true.

      • Well’s isn’t by himself. The presstitudes hate Harper & they will say anything they can to malign him.
        Sent from my iPad

        • has your iPad anything else to say?

      • I know it is hard to stay on topic Francien, but what most Canadians with at least one functional brain cell will remember is that Harper appointed Wallin and Duffy and fudged the residency requirements. Harper did that no one else. All the fraud and cover up began there with Harper’s determination to reward the Conservative media for its loyal service to the party.
        The fraud was all as a result of Harper breaking the law on Senate appointments, but I guess breaking the law is okay if you are a Reform-a-con

      • You complimented me on MY LAST BLOG POST, Francien. If your memory isn’t going to stretch further than 48 hours, I get to make fun of you. Deal?

        UPDATE: Disqus tells me you’ve posted 24 comments on three different websites in the last hour. You’re forgiven for having no idea what you were writing on Thursday.

        • it’s hard to keep track when Francien is the CPC’s top-rated carpet bomber.

          when does she have time to read anything before commenting?

          it’s like non-stop talking without pausing to take a breath.

          • I think you’ve hit on her secret – quick scan of the headline and launch.

        • She wants a shoutout at CPC13. Just like a part of Macleans got last night (“ivory tower theorists”).

  23. The [1], [2], [3], etc. probably indicates [hold here for cheering and applause from legion of unthinking drones].

    He did thank people there for their “unqualified support”, which is the most honest thing he said.

  24. His comment on the environment was frightening. Although it was qualified somewhat to make it palatable, the economic growth and development trumps environment agenda was pretty clear between the lines.

  25. Poor Paul Wells. You have a tough life living off government subsidies and attending posh media party events.

    • I don’t think this event could be described as posh – at least for the media. This one had more of a gulag theme.

  26. “blocked by the courts” is just red meat for the base. Part of the “elites are against us but we’ll fight them” theme.

  27. Two years from election…the senate will be abolished or sent to the penalty box permanently…budget will be balanced and income-splitting will be on tap…Turdface Jr will have said at least 14 or 15 more stupid things on film…

    Easy victory Mr. PM….easy victory…. lol

  28. This article was so good! Except for the bit about childcare. Unless “Mom and Dad” is code for SNC Lavalin?

  29. I’m really looking forward to the LIberals and NDP exploding brains when Harper wins another majority.

    Harper’s attacks on the “elites” seem hokey to the elites he’s attacking. But grain farmers will always respect him for allowing them to market their grain as they see fit, rather than as seen fit by a group of bureaucrats in downtown Toronto who’ve never been to a farm in their lives.

    Rural people will respect him for allowing them to protect their homes, while the LIberals attempted to outlaw their right to protect themselves.

    A $300,00 “scandal” isn’t going to defeat this government. This “scandal” isn’t going to deter small business people, farmers, and families who this government has been working for.

    • The wheat board has only been turned into a public insurance scheme for five years. When that ends, its very likely we’ll see many of the same farmers screaming for another handout. I’m not saying Harper won’t dole out more $ to them, but can it last?

    • Ah yes, the “elites”. The country’smost powerful political and corporate…uh, people who critcize us.

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