rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

The Harper government shares its namesake's drive, temper and mean streak

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Image: Flickr/pmwebphotos

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Stephen Harper is a driven man, all agree, consumed by searing resentment and anger against Eastern Canada. So everyone knows what he is. But no one knows why he is that.

Maybe it doesn't matter. In his new book, called definitively Stephen Harper, journalist John Ibbitson writes: "The government is autocratic and secretive because it reflects the personality and world view of the Prime Minister." And again: "The government is autocratic and secretive because it reflects the personality and world view of the Prime Minister."

So it's perfectly reasonable to say that what drives our Prime Minister is much less important than the fact that he is driven, and in a direction that's largely bad for the country. When you read the recent memoirs of Messrs. Mulcair and Trudeau, as I've reported in recent weeks, one learns disappointingly little about Justin Trudeau and quite a bit about Tom Mulcair. From Mr. Ibbitson's book, you learn that even conservative-minded writers find much that is either mystifying or unpalatable about our Prime Minister, or both. And that includes both his personality and his works.

Still, curious people inevitably like to know why people believe and act as they do. We believe in cause and effect. As everyone knows who's read any of the many books written about the Prime Minister, he was raised in placid, privileged suburban Toronto by doting comfortable parents. How he emerged as a mean-spirited, paranoid Albertan, deeply angry at the elites of Eastern Canada but yet perfectly at home with their powerful Albertan tar-sands counterparts, still remains inexplicable.

But those who expected that Mr. Ibbitson would present a much-needed tribute to Stephen Harper, there will be serious disappointment. In fact, Mr. Harper's opponents could spend millions in their advertising just repeating the harsh assessments of close former Harper colleagues like Tom Flanagan and conservative writers like Mr. Ibbitson.

Here's Mr. Flanagan on working with Mr. Harper:

"He can be suspicious, secretive and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia....I feared, as I still do, that he might some day bring himself down Nixon-style by pushing too hard against the network of rules constraining authority in a constitutional government....[Like Richard Nixon, he] believes in playing politics right up to the edge of the rules, which inevitably means some team members will step across ethical or legal lines in their desire to win for the Boss."

To which Mr. Ibbitson adds:

"There are disagreeable aspects to Stephen Harper's personality…He can fly off the handle....He is suspicious of others....this closed, repressed personality is capable of lashing out from time to time....his legendary temper. He can descend into rages, sometimes over trivial things....His personality also comes out in the tactics that the Conservative Party uses against enemies -- which are, in a word, ruthless."

There is, of course, a debate among the political class about whether Mr. Harper has seriously dismantled the architecture and institutions of Canadian democracy. A considerable amount of literature -- from many books to several well-documented reports from civil society groups -- documents what seems to me a very strong case for the affirmative. No, Canada is not Mussolini's Italy. But our democracy has taken many strong hits by the Harper government in the past decade.

The "no" side concedes that there have been some dubious actions by the government but that it's a vast partisan exaggeration to claim democracy itself has been undermined.

Mr. Ibbitson works awfully hard to be judicious on the subject. He insists the anti-democratic claims are "nonsense." But if I were on the hustings in the next few weeks, I'd have great fun hoisting Mr. Harper with John ibbitson's petard. After all, he cites many (though by no means all) of the reasons Mr. Harper's critics claim that he has undermined Canadian democracy. Indeed, Mr. Ibbitson himself questions whether the Harper government has been "autocratic, secretive and cruel," and answers: "Yes, sometimes," giving as an example that "The omnibus bills were bad bills. They abused the parliamentary process."

Then I'd share with my audience Mr. Ibbitson's outrage at Mr. Harper for: one, his government's decision to deep-six the long-form census, a decision he attributes to the Prime Minister alone; and two, the PM's gratuitous attack on the integrity of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Any opposition audience would be on their feet cheering when hearing Mr. Ibbitson's conclusion that in his criticism of Beverley McLachlin "the Prime Minister had set a dangerous precedent, undermining the separation of executive and judiciary powers on which the whole democratic system of government is based."

So this latest election-time book may well end up finding a more prominent place in the actual campaign than either of the memoirs of the leaders of the opposition. With his legendary terrible temper, Mr. Harper will not be amused.


Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Image: Flickr/pmwebphotos

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.