When it comes to the ongoing fiasco in Ottawa and the copycat incidents it has inspired at border crossings throughout the country, it’s easy to look for someone to blame. Is it the fault of the prime minister and his lack of visibility and presence? Sure. Think it’s on Conservatives and their willingness to give cover and encouragement to anti-democracy radicals? You’re right there, too. And we can’t forget the various police forces and their utterly ineffectual and increasingly indifferent approach to tackling the law-breaking going on.

But there’s one name that doesn’t get as much attention here as it should: Stephen Harper.

This probably sounds like a textbook case of partisan derangement. How, after all, could a prime minister who has been out of office for nearly seven years now be responsible for the outbreak of lawlessness and coup-curious behaviour in our nation’s capital?

The answer lies in the arcane world of political campaign finance strategy and the system of incentives Harper helped create. Ironically, a move that was clearly made in an effort to give his party a strategic advantage may have instead become a crippling albatross.

In 2011, fresh off forming his party’s first majority government since 1988, Harper’s Conservatives passed legislation that phased out the per-vote subsidy brought in by the Liberals in 2004 as part of their own campaign finance reforms. That phaseout began on April 1, 2012, and was completed in 2015.

At the time, the Liberal Party of Canada was in disarray and the Tories were relatively strong in the area of small-dollar donations, which became a much bigger factor after the Chrétien government banned unions and corporations from donating to Canadian political parties in that 2004 package. This seemed like a good way to kick the so-called “natural governing party” while it was down. As York University political scientist Robert MacDermid told the National Post in November 2014, “the removal of it will maintain the Conservatives’ advantage over the other parties. The Conservatives have been very good at adjusting to these changes. They’ve gone after various constituencies (of voters), like gun owners.”

Indeed, they did. But as campaign strategist Kyle Olsen explained in a series of tweets earlier this month, their reliance on hired-gun contractors rather than internal party staff for fundraising effectively created a negative feedback loop that pushed the party further and further outside the political mainstream. And because those fundraisers were motivated more by raising money (and getting their cut of it) than pursuing broader strategic goals, they picked the lowest hanging fruit on the political tree: anger.

As Olsen suggests, this structure effectively created power bases outside the leader’s office and made it more difficult for him (or her) to swim against the ideological tide.

“When a leader needs to lead — to try to redirect the worst nature of their base to a consensus, there is a near immediate feedback loop,” he said. “Not only will fundraising drop and other messages be amplified in communications, the consultants have incentive to be vocal back to caucus.”

As podcaster and political consultant Corey Hogan noted in a recent episode of The Strategists, “The rage has taken over the conversation — which is driving further rage.”

Stephen Harper is to blame for the outbreak of lawlessness and coup-curious behaviour in our nation’s capital, writes @maxfawcett for @natobserver. #cdnpoli #TruckerProtests

This doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming CPC leadership race or the chances of anyone from the more moderate wing of the party to derail Pierre Poilievre’s momentum. Neither does the success of the two crowdfunding campaigns that raised nearly $20 million in combined funds for the insurrection convoy before the money was frozen — first by GoFundMe, and then by the Ontario and Canadian governments.

You can be sure that the CPC fundraising apparatus is going to try to scoop up as much of that as it can, and it won’t happen with calming appeals to reason and order. Instead, they’ll probably call Trudeau a dictator, tell supporters their freedoms are in jeopardy and ask them to give until it hurts.

It’s unlikely, in other words, that the Conservative Party of Canada is going to be able to pull itself out of this self-inflicted nosedive. Ironically, that’s where the Liberal government needs to come in. There’s no sense in negotiating with the terrorists who are occupying Ottawa and want to overthrow the government, but the political culture that produced them needs to be addressed.

The best way to do that is by cracking down on the misinformation that helped create their conspiracies and anger and eliminating the financial feedback loop that fertilizes it. Social media companies like Facebook need to be called to account for the role they’ve played here and the profits they’ve made from it.

That’s a longer-term project that all western democracies have to deal with. Cleaning up the mess Harper made in Canada when he eliminated the per-vote subsidy is much easier. By restoring that subsidy and reasserting the link between popular support and political funding, the Liberals can help guide the Conservative Party of Canada away from the darkness it’s increasingly courting.

Yes, this might help the CPC win an election sooner than it otherwise might. But it's going to win one eventually, and Canada will be in a better place if the party is not in thrall to far-right politics and the money that feeds it when it does.

Keep reading

Demonizing someone is not informative; to me it seems cheap reporting.

You have no idea what you are talking about. Stephen Harper never left the building. He has been constantly working behind the scenes of the party he created, the Conservative Party of Canada. Having used Peter Mackay to betray David Orchard (last 'official' head of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada) and sell the party out to Harper's new Alliance Party, then renaming it the Conservative Party of Canada, do you truly think he would have gone away after losing the 2015 election? Not by a long shot. He's been running behind the scenes since day one. His acolytes and minions have been hard at work maintaining his status quo of NO progressive in any discussion, forum or mandate and anyone who backtracks (O'Toole, Scheer) to move moderate to win votes during an election, will get the boot, asap. Why do you think the right of centre is constantly pushing for the next leader to be Pierre Poilivere? He's Harper's finest product. He too thinks democracy is a farce that social assistance in all forms should be dismantled and abortion regulations brought back. It's what the Alliance church preaches and what his membership in the International Democratic Union dictates. If you truly believe that this article is about demonizing someone, then you have not done your research nor kept up with the actions of Harper.

I don't doubt that Harpo is doing all sorts of nefarious things behind the scenes. But I'd like more info on what, for example, he's doing at the International Democratic Union. Where can such info be found?

Here is their 'false front' website for the International Democrat Union formed in 1983 under the auspices of the triumvirate of the day, PM Margaret Thatcher, President Ronald Reagan, PM Brian Mulroney. https://idu.org/

Some recent news on the group: https://twitter.com/idualliance showing Harper with friends, Mike Pence (left pic) Mike Pompeo (right pic). As one time director of the CIA, we all know Pompeo's war history. That history speaks loud and clear. Harper has never had a problem with American leaders or ideals. In fact, remember he even called Chretien a coward for not joining in on the Iraq war. ( Here's a recent CNN report on Pompeo and Trump: https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/09/politics/pompeo-trump-iran-soleimani/inde... )

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Democrat_Union

https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2019/08/06/Harper-Heads-Global-Org-Help-Elec...

https://dbpedia.org/page/International_Democrat_Union

Here's Jake West's response on the FB page:https://www.facebook.com/InternationalDemocratUnion/reviews

You've made some good connections. For me the most important being the connection between right wing libertarianism...ie: dismantle all forms of social assistance, and bring back regulations against abortion.

Now how could be possibly demonize right wing Christians who want that??? No help for the poor and women forced to give birth in a nation that disavows any responsibility to help raise the child.

Sounds like sound old Testament vindictiveness to me....but for sure, let's not 'demonize' it. It's what many old patriarchs want.

Very well put, and thank you for the courage to say it.

as if information about the piwer dynamic at play with money isnt information? I would like dollar figures and number of donors. ie. more info

It telling the political truths about what Harper's removal of the per voter subsidy did to Canadian politics....particularly in how it led to the use of outside consultants to raise money in any way possible..........is demonizing, well so be it.

Because when we have to pretend that there's no devil in the details of how conservative fund raising operates now....we fall easy victim to the misinformation that has fueled anti vaccer activism, and the libertarian none sense that has commandeered the streets of our national capital.

Remember.....its the fund raising machinery Harper set in motion that is being criticized...machinery can't be demonized, any more than it can be ethical.

Since you don't actually say just what demonization you're talking about, it leaves the impression you didn't read the article. If you did, you might notice that Fawcett isn't even calling out Harper's ideology--to the contrary, he's pointing at the counterintuitive impact of an almost purely TACTICAL decision Harper made while in government.

You are sharp and you are right, I did not read the article. When I see such depiction, I don't trust the journalism. I assume that it must be blindly biased. I appreciate information which leads to dialogue. This screaming about others drains the energy of society.

Ursula

Anyone who was here in the before-times, before the Progressive Conservative Party was hijacked by the uber- religious Preston Manning's Reform Party, and then devolved or deteriorated into "cons" can testify to the sharp changes that Harper enacted as P.M.. The very first nasty American style attack ad directed against Chretien, Robocalls, the "Fair Elections Act," Fox style "Rebel News" and he was also the first Canadian PM to say "God Bless Canada." Possibly the most revealing change that was a harbinger of the ongoing deterioration of a former civility in our politics was the utter gracelessness of the cons even in "victory." The party of NO, as Jon Stewart called the GOP since a similar incursion by the Tea Party, they continued to avidly try to insist that a predominantly progressive country was really NOT. Attack-dog Poilievre was around from the start; for anyone who's been paying attention, him and Maxime Bernier are the true face of this party. I read a perfect description of Harper once: that he resem bled a "satiated badger." Commenting on personal appearance is not normally polite enough for Canadians but therein lies the problem. That first attack ad made fun of Chretien's facial tic, apparently caused by a stroke he had at birth, was well received because it seemed fresh and had never been done before. So the bar dropped, and has been dropping ever since, with considerable help from the algorithms of social media. Few recognize that as a deliberate right wing strategy (perfected by Trump) that attracted a certain group of guys formerly indifferent to politics, while alienating a whole swath of others who started to see it as an entertainment like any other rough, elbows-out competition between men.

Since shortly after he was elected I'd heard the term used to describe Mr. Trump's dancing-bear relationship with Mr. Putin, but it's becoming increasingly clear to me that authoritarians of all sorts seem to enjoy weaponizing "useful idiots".

Just a bit of fact checking: Chrétien was a childhood victim of polio. It was Kim Campbell's campaign team (1993) that posted an unflattering picture of Chrétien. The ad was pulled promptly.

When I read: 'Stephen Harper is to blame for the outbreak of lawlessness and coup-curious behaviour...' I thought the article was going to be about the current state of affairs with the leadership of the CPC. It could have been, Max. Do that one next, Max.

It's good to know the history though. I remember when Harper pulled this one.....penny pinchers across the country thought ending that per vote subsidy was a good thing.......because they don't like to pay taxes.

Anti tax sentiment helped throw us into the arms of the uber rich. They take very good care of us do they not???

Taking good care of the people who matter is a conservative value.

So you all went off chasing the 'demonizing' bitt.
Fund raising for profit is a negative feedback loop driving polarization. Funding grass roots protests by persons with a vested interest in the inequality of the status quo is another negative feedback loop. It is a variation on the destabilization strategies beloved of terrorists - truck blockades instead of exploding mail boxes [see Frantz Fanon]. What's needed are some positive feedback loops, like the per vote subsidy destroyed by Harper. The more people vote for you, the more money you get to support your ideas for how we should be governed.
There could even be a free market version of this: A party can raise funds anyway it wants, but the maximum amount it can raise is proportional to the number of votes it got in the last election, with a low $$ figure per vote - plus full disclosure. Full disclosure is absolutely so that we can see who the large donors are. A low $$ figure per vote is essential so that money can't buy votes.

Absolutely on the mark!
Here's a quick reminder of just how Harper deals with money versus votes 2019:
https://pressprogress.ca/meet-the-powerful-elites-who-control-the-conser...

I particularly enjoyed reading the comment: "Harper, who as recently as last year suggested he could “easily” become leader again if he wanted his old job back, continues to wield influence over the party through the Conservative Fund by controlling the party purse strings."

Absolutely on the mark!
Here's a quick reminder of just how Harper deals with money versus votes 2019:
https://pressprogress.ca/meet-the-powerful-elites-who-control-the-conser...

I particularly enjoyed reading the comment: "Harper, who as recently as last year suggested he could “easily” become leader again if he wanted his old job back, continues to wield influence over the party through the Conservative Fund by controlling the party purse strings."

Sorry for the repeat, my computer shut down then opened up again of it's own accord and I hit 'post' again!

One factor not discussed here yet is the role of private money in the electoral and political processes. It stands to reason that democracy as currently practiced is dirty, given the taint of private donations and the corporate influence over governments at all levels. Most parties have aparatchiks who have become very adept at corralling small donations in great numbers to avoid the rules limiting the size of individual donations.

It also stands to reason that democracy would be purified if private money was eliminated from the political process altogether in favour of public grants to candidates and parties under a well thought out policy structure and strict rules. Throw proportionality into the mix and you've got something great to chew on: a legacy for the people.

I agree with Max regarding the evils of private funding (and how it can back-fire), and am in favor of public funding of party electoral campaigns. However, the per-vote funding has never felt right to me as it tends to favor the popular party at the expense of the less popular party, who may be less popular simply because he has relatively less public voice, and keeps the popular party at the front because of its relatively larger voice (kind of a chicken and egg thing).
I have often thought the answer would be to ban private funding, and limit public funding of electoral campaigns to small but equal public funding for all parties with the basic broad public support required to be on the ballot , coupled with rules and penalties that limit that limited spending towards factual rather than persuasive or attack advertising. I think I would also ban 3rd party advertising during election cycles as well, limiting the public conversation to unpaid individual free speech (ie letters to the editor, talk on social media etc) in order to prevent the powerful from obtaining an money-driven unfairly louder voice. The conversations on social media would have to include various limits to filter out bad actors using bots and similar artificial manipulation to produce unfair vocal multipliers. What does everyone think of that solution?

I can recall Elizabeth May speaking about this when per-vote funding was in the process of being scrapped by Mr. Harper. To say the least Ms. May was unhappy about it. Of particular concern at the time .. the Greens weren't winning seats but still did garner a reasonable % of the popular vote. And so while in existence it provided at least one good reason to vote Green even if you knew your local candidate did not stand a snowball's-chance-in-hell of winning.

I like all those ideas for essential fairness but also because of the emphasis being where it really should be--- on protecting democracy as we all watch what's happened and is still happening in the States in the name of "freedom."
But I do find it hard to imagine how social media can be easily dispatched, just as I can't imagine that what is happening here right now would have happened had it not been for its algorithms.

Yes, social media is a tough nut to crack. Rather than trying to eliminate political discussion on social media during elections, which would be undesirable and impossible, I think a set of rules for fair and polite discussion, as well as rules regarding separating opinion from facts, and requiring original sources for facts quoted would be a good basis for self-moderation of the discussions. By self-moderation, I mean a fast-acting feedback loop that requires the social media provider to provide a convenient complaint channel for any specific post that a complainant believes has not followed the guidelines, with an obligation of the media provider to remove the post if it doesn't conform to the moderation guidelines on a timely basis. Automated methods could be used to identify bots and automatically remove them by identifying large numbers of identical posts, or large numbers of systematically different posts. Your thoughts on this?

A number of good points above, including, "a set of rules for fair and polite discussion, as well as rules regarding separating opinion from facts". But there's the rub, isn't it? When a chunk of the voting public seems to believe that the US and Canada have the same governance structures, when they think the way to get parliament to move on something is to occupy Ottawa?
How do people distinguish between fact and opinion, when ... well ... Ottawa and all???
The thing is, none of the above will make the several groups that flocked to Parliament Hill any less gullible, or any less low-hanging fruit for a ruthless underdog ...
Part of me has long thought people should have to take and pass a course to have kids (I've extended that now to also include dogs) ... and there should probably be one for voting too.
Back when Cambridge Analytica hit the fan, and for a while denials flew thick and fast that there was any connection between that august body and its Victoria BC mini-me, it was clear that Canadian politicians were also using the same approach.
"It" is not "at the door." It's already in the house.