His former chief of staff, Tom Flanagan, writes in his new book: “There’s a dark, almost Nixonian, side to the man. He can be suspicious, secretive and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia.”
The list of officials who have felt the sting of Harper’s white-hot rage is long: Remy Beauregard, Marty Cheliak, Richard Colvin, Sheila Fraser, Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy, Marc Mayrand, Adrian Measner, Kevin Page, Munir Sheikh and Nigel Wright.
Then there are the political opponents. Harper has systematically bombarded Stephane Dion, Michael Ignatieff and Justin Trudeau with simple-minded attack ads.
Politics is a nasty business, since a key part of convincing people to vote for you is convincing them that your opponents are bad news. But Harper has brought it to a new level, bringing to Canada a style that appears to have been inspired by Lee Atwater’s brutal dismantling of Michael Dukakis for George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election.
Conservatives can take pride in many things Harper has done — steering the country through the recession, cutting taxes, cutting spending with less suffering than the Liberals did in the 1990s — but it was all accompanied by Machiavellian machinations and ugly denunciations of perceived foes.
The prime minister has built a fearsome team, promoting remorseless MPs like Dean Del Mastro, Pierre Poilievre and Paul Calandra, and overlooking gentler characters like Ted Menzies and James Rajotte.
Harper gains advantage from his authoritarian attacks, because everyone in Ottawa is afraid of crossing him, but it has all made our national discourse unnecessarily unpleasant.
You ought to be able to say that you don’t agree with Sheila Fraser’s criticism of the elections act without implying that she is making her comments for money, as Poilievre did.
It feels like all of this nastiness has started to catch up to the prime minister, and he is in trouble in Ontario, the key to the next election. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is attacking him daily on the campaign trail, which can only be because he is less popular than Tim Hudak. Eve Adams didn’t move from Mississauga to Oakville for the scenery.