By PAUL GESSELL
It’s all about “the base,” that 30 per cent or so of voters who are on the right-leaning flank of the electorate, the people who can be counted on to support Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, as long as the prime minister continues to give them what they want. With that 30 per cent locked up, Harper only has to woo another 10 per cent of voters. In our multi-party, first-past-the-post system, winning 40 per cent of the vote at election time can be enough to form a majority.
The Mike Duffy Senate scandal was supposedly all about “the base,” according to the man at the centre of the expense controversy. Duffy told the Senate that he had a meeting with Harper and his then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright, soon after news reports surfaced alleging the senator had fudged his expense accounts.
“I said that despite the smear in the papers I had not broken the rules,” Duffy claims he told Harper and Wright. “But the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.”
In other words, the Conservative “base” would disapprove of Duffy living high on the hog at taxpayers’ expense, even if the senator had broken no rules. The verdict: Duffy had to go.
Now Duffy is hardly an unbiased person in this story. But his version of events plays into widespread attitudes about Stephen Harper — namely that, right or wrong, his main concern is to nurture that 30 per cent of the electorate.
Such sentiments are at the heart of Mark Bourrie’s tough, new book, Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. The book paints Harper as ruthlessly attacking and even silencing journalists, scientists, judges, environmentalists, and intellectuals in a drive to remake Canada, rewrite our history, and keep the Conservatives in power. It is one of the most damning books ever written about a sitting prime minister.
“Harper is intent on changing the way Canadians see their own country,” Bourrie writes. “He once said Canadians would not recognize the country after he was finished with it, and he’s done a lot to make sure that they do see it in a different light: as an energy and resource superpower instead of a country of factories and businesses, as a ‘warrior nation’ instead of a peacekeeper, as an Arctic nation instead of clusters of cities along the America border, as a country of self-reliant entrepreneurs instead of a nation that shares among its people and its regions.”
Bourrie is an Ottawa-based journalist, historian, and contributing editor at Ottawa Magazine. Earlier books include The Fog of War: Censorship of Canada’s Media in World War II and Fighting Words: Canada’s Best War Reporting.Mark Bourrie is an Ottawa-based journalist, historian, and contributing editor at Ottawa Magazine
Messengers sizzles and crackles with indignation. Most of the anecdotes he uses to buttress his criticisms of Harper are familiar to anyone who religiously follows the news. But putting them altogether in one harsh wallop will undoubtedly cause many readers, even the news junkies, to feel shocked and angry over what is happening to their country.
The book is unabashedly one-sided, this being an exercise in criticizing, not praising, Harper. But doth the author protest too much? Has Harper done nothing good since becoming prime minister in 2006?
Harper is also not the first prime minister to rile huge segments of the population for trying to remake Canada. Pierre Trudeau was reviled by many, especially in the West, for bilingualism, the metric system, the National Energy Program, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brian Mulroney was attacked for trying to force free trade, the Meech Lake constitutional accord, and the GST onto Canada. Both these prime ministers may have remade Canada more extensively than has Harper. It’s just that Harper’s tactics have angered different demographics, including members of the Ottawa-centric parliamentary press gallery who have to work harder these days to cover the government.
The Conservative base will not be alarmed by this book. These voters may love Harper even more. Bourrie quotes Ian Brodie, a former Harper chief of staff, as telling a Montreal conference that Conservatives applaud when the prime minister is attacked by intellectuals.
“Every time we proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, sociologists, criminologists, defence lawyers, and liberals attacked us for proposing measures that the evidence apparently showed did not work,” Brodie is quoted as saying. “That was a good thing for us politically, in that sociologists, criminologists, and defence lawyers were and are held in lower repute than Conservative politicians by the voting public. Politically it helped us tremendously to be attacked by this coalition of university types.”
Harper has even personally attacked the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, despite the office of the country’s top judge being one of the Canada’s most sacred cows. The “university types” were appalled. The base was undoubtedly pleased.