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Let’s talk about the Boss

John Bell

January 5, 2024

On the occasion of Henry Kissinger’s descent into hell, no one should have been surprised by the fulsome praise heaped on the old war criminal from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper tweeted: “Henry Kissinger combined the theory and practice of international affairs on an unparalleled level that we may never see again. An influential advisor to many, including myself, Dr. Kissinger’s legacy of diplomacy and thoughtful contribution to geopolitics will be sorely missed.” 

Kissinger was a life-long enemy of democracy, and his “contribution” to geopolitics was a rabid defence of capitalist exploitation up to and including using fascist butchery to get it done. Now the job is open, and it comes clear that Stephen Harper is applying.


For more than a decade of political life in Canada there was only one undisputed “Boss”, Stephen Harper. He cut his fangs, along with a cohort of young, creepy conservatives like Jason Kenney, Ezra Levant and Stockwell Day. He apprenticed under far-right Christian zealot Preston Manning, and hung around big oil and gas money. They absorbed the ultra-capitalist teachings of Ayn Rand and her disciples like Margaret Thatcher, denying that there was anything called “society”.

There was only greed, power and control. And that control must be kept in the right hands. 

Without question Harper was the greatest “talent” from this mob – relentless, ruthless and obsessed with erasing the “liberal” tradition that had dominated the 60s and 70s. and the social reforms we all fought for and partially won. 

His greatest talent, I think, was a real-politik philosophy that convinced him Canada could not be dragged to the right through direct confrontation. It would be a generational project, done crab-wise, a little cut here, a boost to privatization there, a corporate tax break on days that end in ‘Y’.

A big part of the strategy was capturing and holding a “fortress” from which to attack and vilify the federal government – Alberta was the castle, and unbridled fossil fuel industry was the power.

(I have no illusions in “Canadian Federalism” and its barbaric history of racism, genocide and colonialism, but as we are witnessing, a neutered federal state is an invitation for far-right provincial governments to ride rough-shod over the people’s hard-won reforms, like healthcare and quality public education.)

Soon after his election in 2006 the Boss wasted no time bragging there was a new Thatcherite sheriff in town. He took the stage at a British trade conference to announce that Canada was to be the new “energy superpower” of the 21st century, thanks to massive amounts of the dirtiest, most expensive to extract energy imaginable: the tar sands. The nation would be criss-crossed with shiny new pipes carrying liquified bitumen east, south, north, and especially to the energy hungry Asian markets, like China.

So eager was the Boss to nail down the deals that he rushed to sign trade agreements with China that even brought fear to industry economists – it gave new powers to fossil fuel corporations, national and international, and left Canadians holding the financial and environmental liabilities. 

Not only was the deal hasty and short-sighted economically, it opened the door for incursions from Chinese capitalism that inevitably included security and intelligence issues. There is plenty of blame to go around (Trudeau was almost as bad on the China file). But resulting attempts at political and electoral interference are hardly limited to China. Does anyone doubt that USA, India, the EU, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and as should be obvious these tragic days even Israel hold inordinate sway in interfering with Canadian policy and trade.

Remember that the Boss came on the scene just as his political idols, Thatcher, Reagan and to a lesser degree Lyin’ Brian Mulroney, were putting all their eggs into international trade deals and organizations, to tip the balance back to “free markets” and erode the important reforms we won during the 1960s and 70s.


Politics is also a realm of subjectives, not just power, policy and markets, which were the Boss’s forte.

Harper was creepy. He was blessed with dead-fish, soulless eyes. His hair stubbornly resembled a military helmet. Rumours abounded that he was taking smiling lessons, without much success. It wasn’t just the country that he tried to make-over. These might seem small things, but I believe they held him back from ever achieving the huge popular mandates he craved.

But it meant that if the Boss wasn’t a showman, or comfortable on display, he was a master of operating in the shadows, ruling his party – his new Reform/Conservative movement – with an iron fist. He forced the social conservative wing-nuts to sit next to the merely venal backroom boys, and all keep their mouths shut while he ran the show.

There followed a decade long assault on democracy, public service, the right to know what government was up to, and accountability became a cheap joke. The Boss’s PMO became a sort of bunker; with advisors adhering to Harper’s dictates. Enemies lists were drawn. He surrounded himself loyalists like far-right economist Jack Mintz, Jenni Byrne, and anti-Indigenous, climate change denying “academic” Tom Flanagan. 

A war against science was a necessary parallel to Harper’s fossil-fuel obsession. (How the decades–long attack on climate change science connects to vaccine denial would be a revealing study.) The Boss passed new rules that government researchers and scientists could not speak to journalists or media unless his minions crafted the messages. He became a blatant denier of the genocidal history that is bred in Canada’s bone. At a 2009 trade meeting the Boss insisted that "We also have no history of colonialism. We cannot remain silent when such false statements are made.”

So his creepiness was rightly magnified by his increasingly twitchy war against environmentalists, Indigenous land defenders and assorted “radical socialists”, you know – crackpots who like public health and affordable housing. He began to wear out his welcome, and even his motley Reform party backbenchers were starting to question and grumble.  

The Tory machine he built, ruled and meant to transform political discourse worked to a frightening extent – witness today’s dangerous rise in far-right and white-supremacist influence and organizing, with all roads leading back to the Boss’s Alberta bastion.

If you want to delve into the Harper decade further I recommend 2 books: Mark Bourrie’s insightful Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s War on Your Right to Know, on the deliberate destruction of what little transparency remained in government, and Michael Harris’s Party of One, describing how Harper rose to hold virtual one-man sway over a new and far more dangerous reinvention of “conservatism” in Canada. Both persuasively argue that the core of Harper’s ideology, economics and politics is a deep, profound contempt for democracy, for real people and their suffering.

So Harper’s time in public office came and went. He wrote a book. Someone may have read it. He took a job with a nebulous title for an international legal firm giving strategic investment advice to other big business creeps. And that should have been that.

But the Boss had other plans. The prize was not just dragging domestic politics to the right. Harper decided he was the ideal candidate to lead a great crusade against “communism” and “socialism”. And like Kissinger before him, if he had to hob-nob with fascists to get it done, well that was OK by him.

Flirting with fascism - IDU

The first order of business as always is to hold on to a position of power on the national scene. Although his grasp has weakened, there is still no question he remains Boss of the Tories. All three of the Tory leaders since his demotion – Scheer, O’Toole and now Poilievre were chosen with Harper’s endorsement. That 2 of the 3 failed utterly to provide credible imitations of the Boss – the jury is out on Poilievre – and Canadians held enough worry about the homophobia, misogyny, climate denial, Indigenous racism and downright nastiness bubbling just below the Tory surface to bring in 2 Trudeau minorities. That had to sting.

But the Boss had his nose to the international breezes, and sensed a shift to the right- happening all over the world, beginning with Trump and the undisguised rise of white-supremacism in the US and Europe.

“The Donald Trumps of the world, the Nigel Farages of the world — one can disagree with them, especially a conservative like myself,” Harper told an interviewer in the wake of the notorious Charlottesville fascist march in 2017. “But they are at least trying to fix what they see ails democratic, capitalist, market-oriented societies and my fear is if they don’t have success or if conservatives do not adapt to the political pressures that are driving these movements, my concern is we will have the left-wing version of that, which will be anti-market, which will be socialist or Marxist economics, which I believe would turn us in an irreversible, downturn direction.”

His flirtation with fascism is deliberate, genuine, and entirely consistent with his life-long project. His assessment is far more dangerous than Trump’s “good people on both sides” bullshit.

Fascist organizations gained influence in France, in Eastern European countries like Hungary and Ukraine, and perhaps most worrying, in the massively growing Indian economy, ruled by his old buddy Narendra Modi. Modi’s BJP government has been quick and brutal using Hindu-nationalism and Islamophobia to divide and conquer, sexual violence to intimidate women, drive down wages and drag India in the direction of fascism.

The Boss always subscribed to the idea that leverage to power required a base, a citadel, a vehicle, and a focused, tightly controlled organization. Just at the time young Harper and his Reform Party cohort set out to reorganize and reunite Canadian Conservatism on new, more dangerous ground, a group of international conservative parties and functionaries was attempting the same goal on the international stage: the International Democracy Union.

For someone with a life-long hatred of both democracy and unions, that name must have tickled the Boss no end – pure Orwellian double-speak. 

Of course Harper signed his party up for membership. With his defeat as PM Harper wasted little time seeking and winning the Chairmanship of the IDU. It gave him a certain gravitas as a leader and visionary of a world conservatism movement. Doors opened at Congress and the White House, at 10 Downing, and wherever oligarchs gathered.

His relationship Modi was important in building the IDU influence. Harper’s embrace helped Modi sweep his long history of racist violence under the rug. And India’s growing economic, political and sub-imperial power became a useful check on China’s ambitions.

China has always been the stone in Harper’s shoe, a love/hate thing he and his party can’t figure out. They love to booming industry. They like the billionaires. They admire the forced labour discipline and lack of real democracy. But they hate the red flag symbolism, and the fact that China’s state-capitalist reality doesn’t fit with their simple-minded ideology – that “free markets” are the perfect refection of their twisted imagination of human nature.

The Boss’s latest foray with his far-right IDU is more in his wheel-house – a bout of mutual admiration PR with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban. Orban’s Fidezs is a far-right government that has used homophobia and anti-immigrant racism, especially Islamophobia, to mobilize his base. He is accused of human rights abuses, and using force to overturn courts and intimidate journalists.  

In July the two met and clearly hit it off. Orban tweeted: “Had a great meeting today with @IDUAlliance Chairman @stephenharper. International cooperation between right-wing, conservative parties is more important than ever. Chairman Harper is a great ally in this respect. Thank you for your support, Mr. Chairman!”

Harper’s visit came just after Orban had received criticism from Washington (and by extension Ottawa) for not exhibiting enough enthusiasm for war in Ukraine, and a bit too much admiration for Russia’s Putin.

Less publicized but equally worrying was Harper’s visit with newly elected Italian fascist PM Giorgia Meloni. He dropped by just weeks after Justin Trudeau had criticized her new government’s anti-LGBTQ reforms.

The capitalist system is groaning under the pressures of war, climate catastrophe and economic crisis. It is evident that organizations of the far-right are on the move – and sadly Canada is at the centre of that thanks to the anti-science Truckers movement. Euro-fascists regularly show up to tour and have lunch with Tory MPs. And when they do all roads lead to the Boss’s Alberta stronghold.

Harper is a not half the right-wing philosopher prince he thinks he is, but he has energy and is a true believer, willing to turn a blind eye to fascist brutality and doesn’t care who knows it. He and his IDU bear a close watch. We aren’t rid of the Boss yet.



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