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Rex Murphy: The classy Stephen Harper returns to speak truth to the illiberal left

August 5 2021

Re-printed without permission

As with many Canadians, I was delighted to see former prime minister Stephen Harper in the news pages and on video last week, after he did an interview with Joe Lonsdale for the “American Optimist” podcast.

Unlike so many other leaders, foreign and domestic, Harper has exercised commendable restraint since leaving office. He is not on TV every day. When he was in the job of prime minister, he was in it 100 per cent; when he left, he really left. He most emphatically does not loiter on the fringes of politics, taking pot shots at his successor (think former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) or salivating for a return to the spotlight.

Rex Murphy: The classy Stephen Harper returns to speak truth to the illiberal left

His many admirers know this as an element of his character. His persona is distinctly non-theatrical. It highlights the wisdom of knowing that there is more to life than shouting at people on Twitter. I would call this the attitude of a serious, intelligent adult.

Yet for his old opponents, Harper seems to loom larger than life. The Liberals, now five years into their own government, cannot get him out of their heads. He serves as something of a demon figure for them, to be hauled out of the shadows and held up as a warning of how bad things could be, if they — the salvational Liberals — had not done the great work of defeating him.

Whenever they get in trouble — and that’s often, even daily lately — they often find a way to somehow blame it on Harper. When they want to damn one of his successors, Andrew Scheer or Erin O’Toole, they call them “Harper-lite.”

Harper has shown class by largely staying out of the public eye — by not becoming the guy everyone turns to when they want someone to take a shot at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Yet Trudeau’s animosity towards Harper is so obvious and deep, it almost amounts to a character trait.

As for Trudeau himself, from the very moment he stepped into politics, he has sought to portray Harper, not merely as an ordinary political opponent, but as a figure of menace, a sinister individual with a hidden agenda who’s empty of every virtue we hold dear. Trudeau portrays Harper as a northern Donald Trump — what could be more dreadful? — against whom all Canadians must be continually on guard because — shudder — he’s still lurking.

It’s also interesting, and very telling, that Trudeau’s fascination with his former opponent is the precise inverse of Harper’s. Trudeau can’t let go, while Harper said goodbye, and meant it, long ago.

So when Harper decides to break his silence, it’s worth taking notice. The intelligence and judgment he displayed while governing is very much wanted in these anxious times. The insights and experience of a person who led our country for a decade is not a resource, like Alberta oil, to be left in the ground.

Last week, he commented on Canada’s fiscal outlay during COVID. He said it was “overkill,” and warned that it was “bad macroeconomic policy on an enormous scale.” Seems just. The spending of the last year and a half has been wild, largely unaccounted for, rarely debated in Parliament and done without pattern or rationale, except to buy time or votes for the government. “Overkill” seems like the right word for it. Spending on the scale we have seen will inescapably lead to great problems in the future.

I was even more interested in Harper’s remarks on the current scourge of “woke” culture, the second and more insidious pestilence of our day. Woke culture is close-minded, toxic, self-righteous, punitive and merciless to any who dissent from any of its shallow, angry dogmas. And it is, alas, everywhere.

The woke are intolerant to the extreme. Dissent and you must be cancelled. They ban books. They pile on professors. They go after companies when they smell the slightest taint of non-compliance with their warped views. They are on a perpetual hair-trigger for every perceived or — this is important — manufactured grievance.

They are everywhere — in schools, universities, in business and broadcasting (CBC is woke central). And everywhere they are, they seek to undermine the basics tenets of a free society: free speech, free expression and free thought. For heaven’s sake, they even threaten libraries.

And yet people, the powerful and not-so-powerful, frequently give in to them and their cancel campaigns. They bow to the woke’s insolent pressure; they take a knee. Which is why, when Harper spoke last week, it was important that he spoke as he did: in clear and fully justified, yet dismissive, tones.

There was no equivocation or timidity in his words. He described the modern left as “nihilist” and bent on “ripping everything down.” And he was crystal clear about what this new, angry radicalism could mean: “If it plays out, our societies fail … the adolescent egos of the woke university crowd is not an alternative governing philosophy for any society.”

No taking a knee there. We need more leaders, past and present, to speak clearly and with the force of full conviction on the things that count. They are not plentiful these days, but at least we have one.

National Post


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