Reviews & Previews

Book review: Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover

As the New Year was approaching, a Nanos Research opinion survey indicated that Stephen Harper was regaining support due to perceived foreign policy successes and tax cuts.

But if the poll respondents were compelled to read this devastating review of Harper’s legacy, assessments of his leadership would surely plummet.

Journalist Michael Harris first describes Harper’s political evolution, from Reform Party stalwart and MP, to head of the anti-government, anti-union, pro big-business National Citizens Coalition, to his takeover of the Conservative Party of Canada – the October, 2003 merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance.

Basking in the glow of no-nonsense, business like stewardship of the ship of state, and for many Jews as Israel’s best friend among foreign leaders, two seminal scandals of his rule have revealed another, seamier side to his administration.

The robocalls affair in Guelph, Ontario and attempts to cover up the shenanigans of Senator Mike Duffy are described in breathtaking detail, as well as Harper’s other shortcomings. They indicate that under Harper’s reign, abuses have been committed that make the Liberal Sponsorship Scandal, which contributed to the party’s demise under Paul Martin, pale in comparison.

The book is briskly written and exhaustively researched. On the robocalls scandal, the only person convicted, Michael Sona, asked the writer rhetorically how a “22-year-old guy managed to coordinate this entire massive scheme when he didn’t even have access to the data?”

Potentially more withering is Harris’s elaborate dissection of the in’s and out’s of Duffygate – the various efforts by operatives in the Prime Minister’s Office, including disgraced chief of staff Nigel Wright, to deal with what began as “Old Duff’s” money issues.

After investigation, it quickly ballooned, with questions on claims for per diems and travel expenses when Duffy was the Conservative’s star bagman, crisscrossing the country on fund-raising expeditions.

Senator Irving Gerstein, the party’s chief bagman in charge of the Conservative Fund, first agreed to pay off Duffy’s $32,000 in debt to the Senate if he agreed to not talk to the media, then balked when the amount became $90,000. Was it a matter of principle or the amount?

Then came the now-famous emails from Wright to Harper’s personal lawyer in the PMO, Benjamin Perrin, when Wright says: “We are good to go from the PM…”

On March 23, 2014, the day after Wright paid off Duffy’s $90,000 debt, Perrin left his job in the PMO. Harper says he had no knowledge of this transaction, but as Harris demonstrates in this intricate account of the scandal, questions remain.

Wright returned to work for Onex Corp. where he recently masterminded two massive deals totaling more than $5 billion from his base in London.

Duffy was charged with 31 counts related to fraud, bribery, and breach of trust, prompting Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, to ask: “How what was not a crime or bribe when Nigel Wright paid it on his own initiative, became however mysteriously a crime or bribe when received by Senator Duffy.”

Duffy is scheduled to appear in court April 7 and the trial is expected to last 41 days. Will promised disclosures erode Harper’s standing in the polls?

Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover, by Michael Harris, Viking, 534 pages, $33.95

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