Stephen Harper’s exit: One last thanks to party faithful

Address to Conservative convention included repeated nods to what will surely be Harper’s most lasting legacy: Party unity

Former prime minister Stephen Harper, back, and his wife Laureen Harper walk on stage for his address to delegates during the 2016 Conservative Party Convention in Vancouver, B.C. on Thursday May 26, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Former prime minister Stephen Harper, back, and his wife, Laureen Harper, walk on stage for his address to delegates during the 2016 Conservative Party Convention in Vancouver, B.C. (Darryl Dyck, CP)

A half-year ago, the last time Stephen Harper spoke publicly, the then-outgoing prime minister’s speech was remarkable for what it did not do. And again last night, in what was surely the last speech of his political career, and one explicitly billed as a “farewell,” Harper did the same thing he did on election night last October, offering nothing like a resignation, nor even a hint to an exit plan.

There was just a quick joke about how he’s “come to quite enjoy being off centre-stage,” as he dryly remarked early on; this was also meant to explain why his remarks—which barely hit the 15-minute mark—would be brief.

Instead, his address last night at Vancouver’s Convention Centre in Coal Harbour, where the Conservative party is holding its 2016 convention, served as a thank you, with repeated nods to what will surely be Harper’s most lasting legacy: Party unity.

For the record: Stephen Harper’s lasting legacy

It needs stating that what feels stunningly obvious in 2016 was not always clear: This party will surely outlive the guy who created it. As Harper rightly noted, the CPC remains “strong, even in defeat.”

To that point, Harper pointed to fundraising, noting the Conservatives “remain financially the strongest of all of the parties.” (In fact, they’re in even better shape than that. The Tories, in the first quarter of the year, have raised $5.5 milliom, more than the Liberals and the NDP combined.) And, as Harper went to lengths to explain in one of several nods to “les bleus,” the Conservatives are strong “at the heart of the great Québécois nation,” where the party doubled its seat count last October.

Harper did take a few moments to laud his tax measures, his late-term budget balance, his trade agreements, his bid to add muscle to the country’s military in “a dangerous world.” In fairness, some parts of this record do look good. But others, including his so-called “tough-on-crime” measures, which are tumbling like dominoes before the country’s courts, need all the help they can get.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose gestures while speaking to delegates during the 2016 Conservative Party Convention in Vancouver, B.C. on Thursday May 26, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose speaks to delegates during the 2016 Conservative Party Convention. (Darryl Dyck, CP)

Under the glare of the klieg lights in a hall packed with more than 2,000 party faithful, the former prime minister looked a bit pale, and more than a bit sweaty. Listening from the audience were all three declared candidates to replace him—Michael Chong, Maxime Bernier and Kellie Leitch. But there were some notable absences. Talking head Kevin O’Leary, Canada’s answer to Donald Trump, won’t arrive until tomorrow, former Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day confirmed.

Christy Clark, B.C.’s Liberal premier, who never failed to insert herself into Harper’s B.C. photo ops when he was prime minister, was a no-show. Her deputy, Rich Coleman, the province’s energy and mines minister, delivered the conference welcome instead, thanking Harper for “making Canada great.”

Watch: FYI, the CPC contenders — official and unofficial 

On stage with Harper was his replacement, interim leader Rona Ambrose, who has promised to remain only until the party can elect a new leader next year.

Yet Ambrose, “in a short time,” Harper noted, “has become one of the most effective Opposition leaders this country has ever seen.” This was no empty praise. Ambrose has been formidable in the House, and can lay claim to solid popular and caucus support, something none of the three declared candidates can.

No surprise, then, dozens of Conservative delegates came dressed in blue “Draft Rona” T-shirts. A #DraftRona hashtag recently popped up on Twitter, and a “Draft Rona” hospitality suite was held at the Pan Pacific Hotel on the conference’s opening night; its stated goal is to “amend the party’s constitution to allow her to run.”

Monte Solberg, one of Harper’s former cabinet ministers, lauded Harper’s farewell address for what it did not do: “Map a future for the party. He left it open to Conservatives to define that future for itself.” But nor did the message offer any apology for party’s rout in 2015 (though Harper did acknowledge October’s vote “did not yield the results we hoped for”).

To Day the problem was simply that lightning tends not to strike four times:

“We heard it at the doors almost to the point it was making me crazy: ‘We need a change.’ I would say: ‘A change from what? Low taxes? Low unemployment? A strong place in the world? But it’s a reality. After 10 years, you want a new leader.”

“We have a proud record,” Harper insisted last night, “but the past is no place to linger. Now is the time to look forward. Our party’s journey is only beginning.”

Then he exited the same way he came in, to the tune of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” whose refrain felt oddly fitting for the occasion:

“We’re doing fine / It’s all right / We’re doing fine.”


Stephen Harper’s exit: One last thanks to party faithful

  1. Harpers definition of party unity is with an ‘Iron Fist’, if the author thinks that’s party unity, than your living in the wrong country, I think they call that authoritarian governments in other countries. It’s going to take more than Harper using the back door to exit in order to get the people of this country excited about voting these guys(Cons) back in. This is no longer the Progressive Conservative party, it’s going to continue to be the Alberta right wing party, Harper changed the PCs as Canadians no it today. If the Grits finish and continue hollowing out the left, while holding on to the progressive side of the old PCs,(oh yes, stay clear of scandal and complacency) Conservatives may be sitting in opposition for many years to come. Canadians know what the conservatives are capable of, DIVISION, and they have learned from the master, Steve J Harper himself. I say to the Grits, keep a close eye on the Conservative policies, and try to outflank them like they did with the Dippers in the 2015 election, and keep a closer eye on that flank(the Dippers), because that may end up be your ‘bread and butter’ votes in the next election. I always learned one thing in business never rely on your regular clientele to make a success, because that only keeps your door open for business, to profit, you need a steady flow of new customers.

    • What about Justin Trudeau’s constitutional power grab at the Winnipeg convention, turning the Liberal Party into a leadership cult, and the stifling of dissent, shutting the media out of previously always open policy meetings, and preventing a debate on an emergency motion.

      The silver spoon Justin Trudeau was born has morphed into Thor’s hammer to pound any grassroots Liberal dissent against his rule into smithereens.

      The bossy walk across the aisle to impose his will is symbolic and metaphoric of who Justin Trudeau really is…a boy tyrant.

      • Harper was a class act-bright, articulate, thoughtful and on the right path to decrease the Federal Government and let the provinces manage what they have the right to under our constitution. The
        current man child, narcissist is a major embarrassment.
        I gag when I hear the Libs boasting about all the committees he has and is planning to have. They are all constituted with a majority of Liberals and are nothing but window dressing!

        • First PM since Borden to have a policy for deporting Canadian citizens.

          • Why should someone be allowed to come to Canada, become a citizen and then commit terrorism be allowed to stay. Harper had that one right too!!

          • It grates me when we read that someone in trouble overseas or a tragedy is termed “a Canadian Citizen’ and then we find that this “citizen” has a name normally considered foreign and has been in the country a short time but still regards the place from which they came, with all its hates and other loyalties as home, or has only been long enough to get the paper and then goes back to where he came from to make more money while leaving his dependents here, oft very well off but just as often living under our social safety umbrella. And when they perform criminal or disloyal acts the press still refer to them as “citizens”. Good for the Harp to create legislation to deal with them, i.e get rid of them by deporting them. .

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