It was a depressingly small performance, even for a Twitter thumbnail.
Last weekend, social media exhumed clips from a 2018 Stephen Harper interview with Dennis Prager, in which he bemoaned the absence of a Fox News network in Canada and blamed his 2015 defeat on leftist media outlets that coordinated their election coverage to censor his party’s message.
Ever since Canada’s Sun News Network went belly up, he said, all our remaining news networks are the equivalent of MSNBC.
Behold Stephen Harper, the powerhouse victor of three back-to-back elections, all won with the self-same news outlets and journalists. Here’s a man who dominated this country for almost a decade, strode the world stage with Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and other historic figures, now reduced to fabricating bitter recriminations against the media on a second-rate YouTube channel.
Who knew Stephen Harper’s shadow across Canadian history would be so short?
And quite a way to reward his endorsement by almost every print newspaper in the country.
The whole video is worth a watch, especially from the vantage point of 2020. While mercifully eschewing America’s extreme right wing, Harper misread almost every world leader, and ultimately his own country.
Merkel, he said, would never recover public confidence after opening Germany’s borders during the refugee crisis. Today she sits at almost 80 per cent support, having successfully led Germany and Europe through Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.
"Did Harper really carve out an inspiring new vision for 21st century Canadian Conservatism, or did he simply dominate through fear?"
Harper expressed luke-warm support for Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in Europe, Viktor Orban, who last month granted himself indefinite authoritarian rule over Hungary.
He praised Benjamin Netanyahu, who advised him that censorship is “the only way the left can win (is to) shout you down, drown you out… You lose when they edit you entirely out. When they make sure you don’t get a share of voice at all.”
Today, Netanyahu is on trial for bribery and corruption, stemming in part from his alleged attempts to manipulate media coverage.
And incredibly about Donald Trump, Harper said: “You can’t find an anti-black or anti-Jewish statement Donald Trump has ever made in his life.” This, after Charlottesville, birtherism, the Central Park Five, Elijah Cummings, Colin Kaepernick, “s**thole countries” and countless other examples.
The strongman theme is impossible to ignore.
The question of legacy
What comes into sharper relief, after the passage of time, is the question of legacy.
Did Harper really carve out an inspiring new vision for 21st century Canadian Conservatism, or did he simply dominate through fear?
Did he just enforce enough party unity to score an electoral fluke during a period of national political flux?
A generation of former cabinet ministers has come and gone since Harper governed. In that time, the right’s energy and narrative has been seized by Trumpian ideologues schooled by Roger Stone and Breitbart.
Harper is wise enough to understand that brand doesn’t translate in Canada, but now that the fear is gone, what remains of his own? The CPC, virtually shut out of Quebec and the 905, is largely reduced to a regional Prairie party.
From the wings, Stephen Harper may still control his chastened party, but Canadians have moved on.
Power may be enigmatic and mercurial, but you know it's finally over when the laughter is following you out the door.