Stephen Harper

Election Post-Mortem: The Conservatives

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

Previously: NDP, Bloc, Liberals, Greens

A lot has been written over the past two weeks about the election that was, but nearly all of it has been about Jack Layton’s victory. This may be a bit unfair to the election’s actual winner, so let’s pause for a moment to reflect on what Stephen Harper accomplished on May 2nd.

He became just the 7th man to win three elections in Canada’s 144 year history. If he serves out his current term, he will sit 6th on the all-time list of longest-serving Prime Ministers, and second only to Sir John A among Conservatives. It’s a safe bet there will one day be a Stephen Harper Calgary International Airport, and the man just turned 52 during the campaign, so the sky’s the limit in terms of what he can accomplish.

Even more impressive is that Harper very much created his own “winning conditions”. When he was elected Canadian Alliance leader under a decade ago, the Liberals were comfortably in power, facing a divided opposition. Harper’s own party had just cannibalized Stockwell Day, with a dozen MPs breaking off to form a rebel faction in the House.

The prospect of a 200 seat Paul Martin majority lay on the horizon and there was no one out there who thought a dull reformer from Calgary with fractured French and a fairly “un-Ontarian” view of confederation would ever become Prime Minister.

Yet, here we are. Fewer than 10 years later, and Harper now leads a majority government, with the left divided and the Liberal Party decimated. Sure, there were breaks along the way, but from merger to minority to majority, Harper was largely the author of his own destiny.

So how did he take that final step, to get over the 154 seat hump?

In some respects, the election was won long before the writ was dropped. I know many will jump over me for saying it, but Harper has governed as a moderate. Maybe he’s been forced into it, but whatever the reason, he hasn’t done anything during his time in power to rock the boat or worry centrists. This left the ground ripe for a Tory majority, helped no doubt by a little fertilizer in the form of a 5 million dollar Just Visiting ad campaign.

Once the campaign hit, Harper did what he’s always done. He found a simple message and stuck to it. Voters were offered more of the same, or an unstable jumble of opposition parties who would raise their taxes. This message was repeated over and over again, and it paid off at the ballot box.

As for the road ahead, I don’t expect things to change much under majority rule. Yes, the gun registry will go and some “lefty” programs will be cut, but we’re not going to see abortion legislation, two tier Health Care, or a blue flag. Harper’s largest objective in politics seems to be turning the Conservatives into Canada’s natural governing party and he won’t achieve that by jerking the country sharply to the right.

The largest obstacle for Harper in the next four years may very well be his lack of obstacles. The opposition cannot be blamed for holding him back, and the Senate cannot be blamed for killing his crime legislation. Sure, the CBC might be good for a few fundraising letters, but Harper will need a new adversary to rile up the grass roots. A Quebec-dominated socialist opposition party may do the trick there.

The larger challenge will be explaining to his base why he can’t go as far as they’d like him to. But in terms of problems Harper could be facing, that’s a nice one to have.

This is sure to end well

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

If you think this all ends on May 2nd, think again:

Harper mum on post-election governing scenario

Stephen Harper is refusing to say whether he would accept a decision by the Governor General to hand power to the opposition parties in wake of the May 2 election.

Conservative supporters booed a CBC journalist at a Greater Toronto Area campaign stop Saturday morning after he challenged the Tory Leader on the matter.

You know, if Harper is going to spend the entire election fear mongering about what the opposition will do after E-Day, it’s not asking too much for him to spell out what he’d do. Especially if the question is whether he’d, you know, respect the constitution.

Why Stephen Harper should be afraid of Jack Layton

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

No, not because of the latest poll that has people somewhat prematurely speculating about Layton as Prime Minister.

Rather, Harper should be worried, because it turns out Jack is a better piano player than him. Now all we need is for Iggy to beat him in a hockey trivia contest, and the man’s spirit will be absolutely crushed beyond repair.

Before They Were Stars

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

From vintage voter, comes pictures of our current leaders in their youth. Their hair and glasses were all bigger, though some things never change – even a young Steve Harper had issues with “reality”.

Stephen Harper: Afraid of Teenage Girls

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

Ad Watch: My name is Steve and I AM CANADIAN

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2011 Federal Election, Ads, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

The Conservatives roll out positive ads that tout, among other things, the role Stephen Harper played in winning World War 2 and the Summit Series.

It is, without a doubt, the most cliche-filled ad to ever grace the airwaves, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work. It will make Canadians feel good about themselves and, by extension, Harper. Having the “courageous warrior and compassionate neighbour” line play as Harper is shown on screen is a nice touch.

How would you rate this ad?
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You Know What’s Cool? Not Caring About the Census.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics | Leave a comment

A CPC campus recruitment poster talks about “how being cool means not trying desperately to be seen as cool”.

Like the Conservatives.

The Comeback Kid?

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics | Leave a comment

The good people at The Mark asked me to pen a short essay on a Canadian historical comeback Michael Ignatieff could learn from. So I took the most recent example, focusing on Stephen Harper circa 2005 – that infamous “Glad as Hell” tour when Harper went coast to coast to try and humanize himself, and ended up a laughing stock. But here’s the take home message from that:

I would argue the real lesson to be learned in Harper’s comeback wasn’t that he rode the wave of scandal to 24 Sussex. It was that he only won after presenting a clear vision that resonated with Canadians. Harper’s “all scandal, all the time” campaign in 2004 didn’t work, so in December 2005 he started to campaign with a policy announcement every morning. He had priorities that showed he stood for something: lower taxes, cleaner government, and getting tough on crime. Suddenly, Stephen Harper didn’t look so scary.

You can read the rest of the article, and the mandatory leather vest jokes here. Also on The Mark are comparisons to Jean Chretien (by Misters Jedras and Silver), Robert Borden, and Pierre Trudeau.

To that list, I’d add one more case study, which I considered writing about – Mike Pearson. Think about it. Before the 1963 election, he’d already lost twice. He certainly wasn’t charismatic. He was an academic who had lived in Europe and the US.

Yet somehow, he won. And he only won after promising “60 days of decision”.

I know I’m beating a dead horse here (hey, it could be worse, this could be another post about the Census) but I’ll make the point yet again – to win, Ignatieff needs to show Canadians what he stands for.

Everything You Always Wanted To Know About The Census (But Were Afraid To Ask)

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Federal Politics | Leave a comment

The Great Census Crisis of 2010 has its first music video. It’s only a matter of time before angry mobs of statisticians take to the streets holding “I’m with Fellegi signs” and chanting “What do we want? Mandatory long form Census! When do we want? Every 5 years!”. Don’t worry, if you can’t make the rallies, you can always show your support symbolically by wearing a Census-themed pocket protector.

Now, I fully recognize that during the summer the only random sampling Canadians are concerned about involves six packs. So for those of you who haven’t been grabbed by the witty “senseless Census” headlines, I present a summary of what the !%@# is going on.


Governments have been conducting censuses for thousands of years – and the good ones are never voluntary. As a Charlie Brown Christmas taught us, Mary and Joseph didn’t have much of a choice when it came to being counted.

In Canada, the Census takes place every 5 years. All Canadians get the short form which asks the basic questions – name, age, gender, marital status, language. One in five houses get the long form which asks you about your sexual history, voting habits, and embarrassing High School nicknames. I’m kidding of course, but that’s what the government would have you believe. In reality, it asks questions about everything from your income to your ethnicity to your daily commute. On average, you’ll have to fill out 2 or 3 long forms in your life.

The debate focuses on the long form. Those trying to axe the Census argue these questions are an invasion of privacy. “Why the hell should the government know what time I leave to go to work?” they shout angrily on their twitter accounts and in Toronto Sun editorials.

Well,” the other side argues “so that cities can build roads and public transit to help you get to work on time. Duh.”

The reality is we live in an information age, and long form Census data is a valuable source of information. Governments use it to help plan communities and programs. Hospitals need it to provide the right kind of services and fight pandemics. Researches use it to track demographic trends over time. Masters students, like Stephen Harper, use it to write thesis papers. Think tanks, like the Fraser Institute, use it to prove their kooky right wing theories. And businesses use it all the time – just think of restaurants and grocery stores that sell ethnic foods or cater to specific client demographics.


As soon as you make a survey self-selecting (i.e. voluntary), certain types of people are more likely to fill it out. That’s why you really don’t want to put too much stock in the web polls on the Globe & Mail’s website.

Studies in the past have shown low income Canadians, visible minorities, and aboriginals are less likely to fill out voluntary surveys (I might add, these studies could only show this because we have Census data as a point of comparison). So if you’re trying to ensure government programs to help aboriginals are working…and low income aboriginals aren’t filling out the long form…you have a problem.

That’s why the US quickly scrapped plans to use a voluntary census after experimenting with the idea in 2003. Imagine that! Making sure it works first, instead of making the change because of a few angry e-mails.


Three weeks ago, it was quietly announced that the 2011 long form Census would become voluntary. Instead of being sent to every 5th household, it would be sent to every 3rd household. The cost of this? An extra 30 million dollars.

At first, the government’s response was limited 140 characters – a few tweets exchanged between Tony Clement and angry economists. After all, as Tony has since let it be known, the government that spends millions promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan doesn’t believe government decisions “need to be shouted from every rooftop”.

I’m sure it never occurred to the man who said “only elites care about prorogation” that anyone would care about something as dull as survey methodology. Hell, Tony didn’t understand it himself and he was the Minister of Industry – how could normal non-elite Canadians be expected to understand the issue, much less care about it?

But slowly, people began taking notice and speaking out against the move.

The former head of StatsCan. The Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Association of Business Economists. The Canada West Foundation. Municipal governments. Newspaper editorials (including those pro-government coercion communists at the National Post and Calgary Herald). Alex Himelfarb. Don Drummond (who sits on the StatsCan advisory panel which was…never asked for advice on the change). It’s a long list, and you can view it here. And here.

Oh, and all the provinces except Alberta now oppose the move – but even there, the City of Calgary has been critical saying it would “cripple” their decision making ability. And Edmonton Conservative MP James Rajotte (who is now assured of never getting into a Harper Cabinet) has broken ranks, demanding an explanation from Clement.

Faced with this backlash, the empire struck back this week. After all, the party which sends Happy Hanukkah cards to swing voters feels you have a right to your privacy. First, there was the Star Wars themed press release, and accusations that Census officials would break down your door at 10 pm while you were “trying to read” (reading? That sounds awfully elitist to me). Then, the Toronto Sun wrote an editorial comparing the long form Census to communism (you know who else conducted a Census? Hitler!).

Maxime Bernier has emerged as the government’s point man on this, which is understandable – if there’s anyone who understands how easy it is for confidential information to leak out, it’s Max. Bernier has laid out the government’s position which is, in short, that it’s wrong to “coerce” Canadians into filling out “intrusive” questions, under the threat of imprisonment.


The problem with this argument, is that it’s inconsistent with the government’s actions.

If there are specific questions they feel are intrusive, they can be removed. Personally, I don’t find the Census any less intrusive than an income tax form, and data is only reported in averages and totals – there’s no way anyone anywhere will know what I wrote on my Census form.

If they don’t see any value in the long form, then they should axe it altogether and save the money.

If they feel it’s “coercive” to force Canadians to fill out a form, then why are they still being coerced into completing the short form? And why are farmers being coerced into filling out an equally intrusive agricultural long form? Furthermore, does the “tough on crime” party actually believe that threatening to put people in jail for breaking the law amounts to “coercion”? Oh, and I should add that no one has ever gone to jail in Canada for not filling out their Census form. Just thought I’d mention that.

In short, Clement has come up with a more expensive and less effective alternative.

Now, in fairness, the government has also claimed there’s a groundswell of Canadians who feel the Census is intrusive. And, if voters did feel this way, there might be an argument to make for changing it. I’d argue the benefits of the Census still justify it (I mean, who likes paying taxes or being called for jury duty), but it would be a fair argument.

Maxime Bernier claims “thousands of e-mails” were sent to him complaining about the long form Census in 2006. Perhaps, but we have no proof of this. I guess it’s possible Bernier misplaced them. What we do have proof from is 22 “expressions of concern” sent to StatsCan during the 2006 Census process, and 3 complaints to the privacy commissioner over the past decade. At the same time, the privacy commissioner has raised concerns about other programs which the government shows no interest in scrapping.

Still, the government’s decision appears to have found some support. Tony Clement has personally thanked 10 people by name on Twitter for their words of encouragement. By the way, Tony Clement has 3500 followers on Twitter.


The government appears unlikely to back down and there’s no indication this issue has captivated the hearts and minds of Canadians.

Still, the Industry Committee will look into this. The head of StatsCan has resigned in protest. And groups opposed to the change will continue to raise a little hell.

So like it or not, expect a lot more news on the Census for the rest of this summer.

Fifth Annual Politicians in Cowboy Hats

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Featured Posts, Humour, Politicians in Cowboy Hats | Leave a comment

For a brief history of Stampede fashion, you can read the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 round-ups.

You never quite now what you’ll get at the Stampede. The boy from Calgary became a national laughing stock when he mistook the Stampede for a Village People convention in 2005. And the geeky Liberal pushing the carbon tax was named “best dressed” by both this blog and CP in 2008.

Of course, 6 months later Dion had been pushed out as Liberal leader, and 6 months after leathervestgate, Harper was Prime Minister. So it’s best not to read too much into this (unlike, say, a broken down bus which we all KNOW is directly linked to electoral fortunes).

Federal Politicians

Once again, we have a surprise winner this year in the “best dressed” category. Why, it’s none other than Mr. Ivory Tower Michael Ignatieff. The urban legend in Calgary is that no one had ever been able to find a cowboy hat big enough to fit Ignatieff’s head, but for the first time in five years he has moseyed into town in full gear, hat included, and he doesn’t look the least bit out of place.

Wait, I thought he said he liked the smell of barns! Flip flop!

Layton and Harper have been to enough stampedes that we know what to expect from them. Layton always winds up looking surprisingly at ease for a mustached Toronto socialist. And Harper? Well, since leather vest gate, he always plays it safe and gets a C+/B- grade. The man never looks comfortable, but at least he doesn’t embarrass himself.

You know, despite all the talk of Harper playing chess, I’ve always thought his tactics were more of the “detonator” variety. Kelowna Accord? KABOOM! Census? KABOOM! Promises not to appoint senators? KABOOM!

But if Harper and Layton have become too predictable, let’s all raise a glass of sillabub to toast Elizabeth May. Worst dressed in 2008. Best dressed in 2009. And this year? I’ll reserve judgement until I can find a picture of her before she tumbled into the tie dye trough.

And, in the interests of by partisanship, a special shout out to stampede superstar Jim Prentice – yeah, he’s got a bad record as environment minister, but he rides a horse in the parade every year and looks like he could handle himself in the rodeo.

Prentice has a wide range out outfits and he makes them all work. And the ladies can’t get enough of Jim’s talk of voluntary 40 year emission reduction targets.

Provincial Politicians

Ed Stelmach disappoints every year at the Stampede. In 2007, he had us all smacking our heads on the ground when he called it “the Alberta Stampede“. The last two years, he has celebrated the Alberta Stampede by wearing a suit jacket over top of his cowboy duds. A major no-no.

And this year, it’s more of the same. On the weekend, he went with a rather unflattering vest that Ed’s mom appears to have sewn his name into, and on Tuesday he dusted off the suit for the third straight year.

But despite my criticism of Stelmach, I’m going to give his Finance Minister the title of “Worst Dressed” this year. I’m hesitant to do this based on a profile picture, but I can’t imagine anything going on below the shoulders that could salvage this outfit.

Once again, Ted is just trying to hard. When he ran for leadership, he drafted a catchy little country music jingle. He holds “golf and gun” fundraisers. But, really, he’s just a university professor from the big city trying to pass himself off as a good ‘ol country boy. And, in this case, it shows.

Which brings us to David Swann who is an academic from the big city and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. In fact, he rode his bicycle in the Stampede parade this year.

But you know what? Even though Swann looks completely out of place every year, he puts on the hat, the boots, and the belt buckle. He hosts one of the largest stampede breakfasts in Calgary. And he always looks like he’s having a great time. That’s something Albertans can respect.

Municipal Politicians

This is Dave Bronconnier’s last stampede as mayor and I’ll give the man props, he has always dressed, looked, and acted just like the Mayor of Calgary should during stampede. Hell, the man even rides a horse for crying out loud.

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