Stephen Harper seems to be a lot happier and freewheeling in retirement than he ever was in power. That’s good news for Stephen Harper and probably bad news for the guy that replaced him.
Having finally emerged from his post-politics cocoon like a beautiful vampire moth, our 22nd prime minister is now a free agent in the world of transnational right-wing geopolitics. He’s been spotted in the wild as a Friend Of Israel and has been working as a political lobbyist and consultant to private third-party interests. (It was in this capacity that he visited the White House on July 2.)
He’s also doing a little lecture circuit, and someone gave CTV a partial recording of a talk he gave on July 11 to a luncheon hosted by the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum. This is great for those of us who want to hear the great Conservative strategist convey a frank thought instead of something foaming from Pierre Poilievre’s mouth, but who are too poor to afford whatever ticket price is charged to cover Harper’s $50,000+ USD speaker’s fee.
Harper’s read on the NAFTA negotiations is certainly at odds with the party line from the Trudeau government. While Team Canada has always claimed to be giving the trade renegotiations a full court press, Harper instead surmises that both the US and Canadian governments are stalling on a deal to score political points with their respective, reflexively patriotic voters. For the Liberals in particular, Harper argues that they are stalling because Donald Trump is a very valuable domestic bogeyman for Justin Trudeau:
"The reality is that the Government of Canada believes today that it is doing very well, the fight with Trump is good for it politically, it is winning," Harper says in the audio recording obtained by CTV News. "So if it can take that fight and continue it, and more importantly paint conservatives as linked to Donald Trump, this is great for them. And so right now that is the strategy they are on."
Harper may or may not be right that blocking a new trade agreement is purposeful on Canada’s part—though admittedly I find it more plausible that the chaotic environment in Washington is frustrating a deal more than the idea that the Trudeau government is scheming to sabotage NAFTA and thus, our own economy. But he is right that Trump is Trudeau’s best foil. The prime minister’s flagging poll numbers from early spring have been buoyed by his recent spats with the US president everyone loves to hate.
He’s also right that Trudeau and friends have an obvious tactical interest in associating “conservatives” with the worst excesses of Trumpism. This would explain why you see prominent Liberals throwing the words “alt-right” around lately, oblivious to the fact that stripping down a real concept and weaponizing its emptied husk of a label is an ineffective and potentially disastrous strategy for centrists. Presumably Harper can foresee a post-Trump future for Euro-American neoconservatism and he wants in on the ground floor ahead of the next imperial war.
We also got Harper’s side of the story about his rogue July 2 mission to the White House. He says he was there meeting with senior government officials in “some client context,” but that the Trudeau Liberals got wind of it and put him on full partisan blast. Allegedly, this all came out of a phone call from Trudeau asking for Harper’s help on the Team Canada negotiations. (Harper claims they solicited his help and wanted to “use” him; the PMO denies this characterization of events.) We’re left to imagine how that phone call went, but I suppose I could write some fanfic in the future.
At first it seems weird that the man who devoted most of his political career to global market liberalization would go the mercenary route rather than throw in with the nation-state he commanded for a decade. But it makes more sense if you consider his new role in the vanguard of a global network of hardline conservative interests. He’s not the first great sportsman to find a second life as a General Manager.
Anyway, that’s it for this week’s Stephen Harper Update. Stay safe out there kids, and always remember:
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