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Federal Politics

‘Like Churchill,’ Bring Harper Back to Lead Tories, Urges Riding President

Email to CPC members floats ‘trial balloon’ while shooting down Scheer.

Michael Harris 24 May 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly-awarded journalist and documentary maker. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

Could this note be the roadmap to Stephen Harper’s return to politics?

“Colleagues:

“Many of us were relieved in April when the Conservative Party postponed the leadership ballot until later in the summer.

“It was a smart strategic move when the extent of the pandemic was just beginning to make itself known.

“We should now rethink the process, as well as the timing, of choosing the next leader. Initial fears of mass death are now subsiding, but the challenge of addressing the resulting economic crisis has yet to be appreciated.”

The author of the note is Richard Hofer, CPC riding president in the federal electoral district of Pontiac in Quebec. Pontiac is a bellwether riding currently held by the Liberals. The subject line of Hofer’s May 14, 2020 email reads: “Floating a “trial balloon” with a few people I respect.”

It doesn’t take a Bobby Fischer to figure out how the battle lines on the political chessboard are shaping up for the next federal election. It will be the Great Pandemic Referendum.

The Liberals will justify their response to COVID-19 as a necessary, once-in-a-lifetime rescue mission of epic proportions. The CPC will counter that Justin Trudeau moved with reckless fiscal abandon, which in turn will induce an economic crisis he hasn’t thought through. Back to Hofer’s note:

“Trudeau and the Liberals are shoveling [sic] money out the door apparently without a clue about what comes next.

“The economic collapse of our resource-based economy and the worst depression since the 1930s looms, but the current government seems blind to the ugly reality.”

If that sounds familiar, it should.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Stephen Harper himself made virtually the same point — that Trudeau’s response to COVID-19 was a disaster in Big Government waiting to happen. In other words, a political opportunity for the moribund CPC, and its zombie leadership race, to pop out of the ground and come back to life. Again, Hofer:

“Canada will need a serious government of national unity lead [sic] by an experienced leader strong enough to stop the bleeding and unite the country in the days to come.”

Clearly, Hofer doesn’t believe Andrew Scheer is that leader. So why then wouldn’t he want to hasten the leadership convention, rather than put it off? After all, the sooner the CPC chooses a new leader, the sooner it will be rid of its dead-man-walking, Canada’s most pummelled political punching bag, Scheer.

The problem? No matter how many shots his critics land, Andy won’t go down. And since the Conservative caucus itself voted to allow him to be remain as leader throughout the race to replace him, there is not much they can do about it.

Except this.

They can continue to badger Scheer until he folds like Tony Clement’s “cheap valise,” and slinks away into political oblivion. That’s why so many in the party are trashing the current leader, including powerful Conservative activists, and former Harper minions, Jenni Byrne and Kory Teneycke.

Byrne, Harper’s former campaign manager, bluntly told CBC on May 13, 2020 that the current leader is in the way of the leadership process and doesn’t have the chops for the job.

“Andrew Scheer lacks credibility to be Party spokesperson during the pandemic,” she told Power and Politics.

Teneycke, who worked for Harper in many capacities, including as director of communications, wants Scheer out now for the incompetent fashion he has “stepped on every rake on the lawn” during his leadership. This is what he said in that same interview:

“Scheer has no legitimacy. It was a huge mistake for caucus to keep him in that position... he is hogging the limelight on the way out the door... lurching from one mistake to another.”

Teneycke previously panned the current crop of leadership hopefuls as underwhelming:

“Right now we’re being asked to choose between peanut butter that’s crunchy and peanut butter that’s smooth.”

Faint praise for the peanut butter politicians still seeking the leadership.

And what about the idea of “restarting” this bad case of leadership interruptus plaguing the Conservatives?

“I think it would be great for the party to do that,” Teneycke said.

So who are they all clearing the tracks for? An answer to that otherwise inscrutable question is contained in Hofer’s trial balloon.

“We should postpone the final leadership vote until Oct. 15, immediately appoint Stephen Harper as interim leader and reopen the nomination process on Sept. 1.”

Lest there is any doubt, however, about what the CPC riding president is driving at, consider his final words to the respected people who received his note:

“Churchill was called out of retirement to take control of a desperate Britain in the autumn of 1939. Sometimes the man seeks the position. Sometimes the position seeks the man. Canadians need to draft Stephen Harper into service again.”

Harper redux anyone?

Postscript:

Hofer responded by email to questions sent him by The Tyee after the above piece was written and awaiting publication. Here is the exchange:

How many people received your letter?

I sent my note initially to approximately 50 people, 40 of whom were members of the local Pontiac Conservative Association, another 10 were people whom I know are concerned about politics locally but perhaps not Conservative supporters. I then sent out the same note to approximately 20 people who are public commentators.

What was the general response?

The note I sent out was deliberately provocative and deliberately reflected an extreme point of view. Reasonable people can differ on the economic consequences of the pandemic. My own fears are that the economic consequences of the mitigating effects — total economic disruption — may be disproportionate to the actual health risks involved. The general response was muted, to be polite. I have not ignited a previously dormant ground-swell of Harper-mania.

Is the main reason you are asking for the delay, the disruptive force of the pandemic?

If my worst premonitions are realized and the current government continues to suppress normal economic activity while pouring vast sums of cash into non-productive welfare payments without any apparent thought of who will pay for this profligacy, Canada may be facing a disaster. This may become clearer in the autumn.

Why do Canadians need to draft Stephen Harper into service again?

A desperate England turned to a formerly vilified and unpopular Winston Churchill in 1939 only when England was near collapse. Churchill had been derided as a war-monger and an alarmist and was out of favour. At the moment of crisis people realized that Churchill was right and strong, hitherto unthinkable measures were needed. Trudeau is a charming lightweight and seems warm and sympathetic as he heedlessly shovels money out the door. No one ever suggested that Trudeau understands simple economics. A more serious leader will be called upon to do unpopular things and take bold action. Mr. Harper may be better able to take up that leadership role.

A lot of Conservatives, including Jenni Byrne and Kory Teneycke, say that Andrew Scheer should leave his position and get out of the way of party renewal. Do you think Scheer should go now?

I admire Andrew Scheer and think he has done his best. He has indicated that he will be stepping aside in due course.

What do you think the former PM would bring to the leadership process?

Mr. Harper, if drafted back into the position of leader of the Conservative Party once again, would have the mandate, the intellect and the strength of character to take the drastic economic measures that will be necessary to save Canada from becoming a failed state such as Venezuela.  [Tyee]

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