Give Ben Harper’s old man his due: he got his son a better first job in Alberta than the elder Harper’s pop got him.
Readers with functioning short-term memories will recall that not so long ago much was made of the fact Stephen Harper’s father got the former Conservative prime minister his first job in Alberta, working in the mailroom of Imperial Oil’s offices in Edmonton.
And it was in Edmonton, one of Harper’s unauthorized biographers asserted, that the future prime minister learned to be so angry, “having quickly grafted Alberta’s sense of grievance to his own restless search for identity.” That was Michael Harris in Party of One.
And, verily, a young man can learn a lot from a job in the mailroom. Presumably the elder Harper learned that he really didn’t like what many of us would call “real work.” At any rate, as far as anyone seems to have noted, he never really had a normal job after that.
Thereafter, Stephen Harper opted for the comfortable life of a career politician — even when he was out of politics, studying at ideologically compatible corners of academia like the University of Calgary’s political science department or working for well-funded right-wing political organizations like the secretive National Citizens Coalition.
Ben Harper, it seems, will be able to skip that unpleasant first step in the mailroom.
Word leaked out last week through obsequious media stories that Ben, the former Conservative prime minister’s 24-year-old son, had somehow landed a plum job as a “junior policy advisor” in the office of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for a cool $100,000 or so a year. His precise salary is unknown, conveniently hidden just below the threshold required to appear on the province’s Sunshine List.
But the younger Harper has been hanging around the legislature in Edmonton since last June, it’s been noted, doing work of an advisory nature for the finance and economic development departments.
Ben Harper is now supposedly the junior of two policy advisors in the premier’s office, which only puts him a step away from the senior role, one supposes. That would assume, however, that the place runs on union seniority rules.
Predictably, there was some mockery about the new hire’s thin resumé — seeing as papa Harper appears to be the United Conservative Party’s eminence gris and present puppet master of his former lieutenant, Kenney — especially since Ben doesn’t actually seem to be in Edmonton right now.
But powerful men have always done favours for their friends’ offspring and always will. Like the poor, as Someone said, well-heeled juniors with influential daddies shall always be with us. Those of us who are not so well connected learn to live with it, and sometimes even come to like the recipients of such convenient largesse when we’re required to work with them.
Moreover, as with the Laytons and the Trudeaus, it is an indisputable fact political talent does sometimes run in families — a reality Alberta’s Conservative elite deeply resents only when the bloodline runs Laurentian red instead of Cordilleran blue.
What was more interesting last week was the sycophantic passion with which Kenney’s online screech machine defended the ex-prime-ministerial offspring’s qualifications in the face of a few jabs about the obvious nepotism.
Before you knew it, UCP supporters were acting like Senator Lindsey Graham at a White House garden party, heaping praise on the new policy advisor and his sterling academic credentials, not to mention the wisdom of the boss for hiring him.
“Ben Harper has both a BA (economics) & BComm from Queen’s, and is doing his Masters in economics at Columbia University — one of the world’s top institutions of higher learning,” harrumphed the premier’s chief troll and issues manager, Matt Wolf, inadvertently highlighting the possibility Ben Harper may be collecting his generous salary as he studies in the Big Apple. Nice work if you can get it, as they say.
Can you imagine what Wolf and his colleagues would have been saying if the Prime Minister’s Office had found a job for some scion of the fictional “Laurentian elite” while enrolled at a university in another country?
The old Progressive Conservatives, whose sense of entitlement seems positively quaint nowadays, always had the dignity to ignore such jibes from the hoi polloi. That, however, was mostly before social media was a thing that, as has been discovered, could be used to elect people with questionable qualifications like Donald Trump and Jason Kenney to high office.
Certainly, the younger Harper is already better qualified than his boss from an academic perspective, although he seems from his past commentary on social media to lack some of the social graces.
Well, perhaps his dad has sent him here to polish him up, to teach him a little faux bonhomie like that of Kenney — who may be no Ralph Klein in the charm department, but can at least fake a nice smile and crack a joke when he’s not putting on his angry Albertan act for the cameras. But then, they say Stephen Harper can be charming too when he’s among his friends and not people inclined to talk back to him.
So maybe it’s just that Ben needed a little spending money while he’s at Columbia. New York can be expensive, after all, especially in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights.
And when term ends, he can come back to Alberta and learn some of the things he’ll need if he decides to take over the family business — which seems, to paraphrase his father, to be making sure you won’t recognize Canada when the Harpers are through with it.
There was no mention in this brouhaha of Stephen and Laureen Harper’s daughter, Ben’s 20-year-old sister, who is also a university student. She, presumably, will need a summer job soon as well.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image: Stephen Harper/Facebook