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Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo by Art Babych

Where’s Stephen Harper?

The former PM may want to avoid being a distraction to Conservatives

By Dennis Gruending

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vanished from sight in the past six months, but his Where’s Waldo status may soon change. Recently, Harper spoke to Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other wealthy Republican donors about how fractured political parties can unite. And in late May, he will address the Conservative convention in Vancouver.

Harper last spoke publicly in this country on Oct. 19, when he conceded defeat in the 2015 federal election. He resigned almost immediately as Conservative leader but remains an MP for the riding of Calgary Heritage. Meanwhile, he has not spoken in the House of Commons for almost a year. These days, his seat on the Conservative front benches is usually empty although he does slip into the House for a majority of the votes.

Harper maintains a tiny constituency office in Calgary, but there are few signs of activity at the location. Of course, he has attended luncheons at both the Ranchmen’s Club and the Calgary Petroleum Club, so his Alberta establishment credentials appear to be solid. And while wearing an untucked shirt and sporting a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead, he was still recognized by a fellow Canadian vacationer in Las Vegas this winter. They had an amiable chat about hockey.

So why is he keeping such a low profile? He could be in a funk, but more charitably, he may want to avoid being a distraction to the interim leader Rona Ambrose and the Conservative caucus. Who can forget John Diefenbaker’s decision to hang around and torment his successors for 16 years after being forced out as Conservative leader? Harper, of course, had a frenetic job for almost 10 years as prime minister, and he became unemployed in a most public way. It’s not surprising that he might take some months to unwind and contemplate his future. What might that future be? Well, he has a Master’s degree in economics from the University of Calgary, where he shared with his peers a passion for neo-conservativism. Still, classroom teaching and faculty meetings may not appeal to him. 

Harper could follow the example of Brian Mulroney, who sits on a number of well-compensated corporate boards, or of Jean Chretien, who is a high-income earner as counsel for a big law firm. But those who know Harper well say that money is not a big motivator for him. Does he, then, have a passion that he wants to follow? Former Prime Minister Paul Martin has devoted much of his recent time and energy toward improving education for Indigenous children. In another jurisdiction, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter spent his post-presidential years writing elucidating books, working as a negotiator to resolve conflicts and helping Habitat for Humanity build houses. Surely, Mr. Harper has a more noble passion than offering advice to Republicans in the U.S.   

Author's photo
Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based author, blogger and a former Member of Parliament. His work will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. His Pulpit and Politics blog can be found at www.dennisgruending.ca.
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