In January 2001, Stephen Harper and five others published an open letter in the National Post urging Alberta to beef up its fight with Ottawa by building a “firewall” around itself and take greater control over its own affairs.

Complaining that tax revenues from Alberta were subsidizing other Canadians, the “firewall letter” sounded downright hostile to the rest of the country.

Its attitude is typical of a group of right wingers, centred around U.S-born academic Tom Flanagan of the University of Calgary. This “Calgary school,” with which Harper is very closely allied, peddles a Canadian version of Paul Wolfowitz-style neo-conservatism, and it likes the idea of using oil-rich Alberta as a right-wing battering ram against the more socially democratic vision of Canada that prevails in much of the rest of the country.

Certainly, the authors of the “firewall letter” don’t sound much concerned about fostering national unity — presumably something we’d expect in a prime minister.

If the “firewall letter” had been published during this campaign, Harper would almost certainly be heading for a crushing defeat, instead of perhaps poised to become prime minister.

I bet most Canadians don’t know about the letter, or have forgotten what’s in it. After all, people don’t have time to go looking up what Harper wrote years ago.

The media have time, but little interest. Instead, the media treat the campaign as a horse race, fixating on polls, offering voters little more than their own reflection in the mirror.

So, despite the “firewall letter,” the Conservative campaign has largely got away with spinning Harper as a strong defender of Canada and Canadian sovereignty — and independent of Washington.

Carefully out of sight is Harper’s attack on Ottawa two years ago for not joining the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Harper even stirred the waters of anti-Canadian feeling south of the border by denouncing Ottawa’s decision in an interview with U.S. TV channel Fox News, and also in The Wall Street Journal.

No wonder Harper was recently lauded in the Washington Times as “pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative … the most pro-American leader in the western world.”

Also gone from sight is Harper’s suggestion three years ago that Canada was becoming a “second-tier socialistic country.” Now, according to Harper, this is a “great country.”

Is Harper showing a willingness to compromise?

Not likely.

As fellow right-wing Albertan Ted Byfield once noted in an interview with the Walrus magazine: “I don’t think (Harper) knows how to compromise. It’s not in his genes. The issue now is: How do we fool the world into thinking we’re moving left when we’re not?”

No problem.

With a co-operative media, Harper has managed to render largely invisible his links to a cabal of right wingers determined to transform Canada in the way their American counterparts transformed the U.S. — despite widespread Canadian revulsion for George W. Bush’s America.

But, enough of that. Back at the horse race; it’s neck and neck …

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Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...