Postmedia columnist Anthony Furey penned a column entitled “Harper stalwarts missing in Tory leadership poll, and that says something”. The conclusions he makes are based on a Mainstreet Technologies poll about the relative popularity of the contestants in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race. His conclusion about the three most popular leadership candidates? “All three are on the progressive end of the spectrum. And none of them are overly associated with the Harper brand.”
OK, let’s analyze Furey’s argument. The three most popular candidates among likely Conservative supporters are Interim Leader of the Conservative Party, Rona Ambrose (the first choice for 26% of the respondents), TV personality Kevin O’Leary (with 20% support), and Peter MacKay (16%). While it is true O’Leary has had nothing to do with the Harper government – he has never been elected to anything, is Furey really saying that Ambrose and MacKay are not associated with Stephen Harper’s government? Really?
Let’s look at Rona Ambrose first. First elected to office in Edmonton – Spruce Grove in 2004, Harper has given her the following appointments to his cabinet: Minster of the Environment (Feb 6 2006 to Jan 3, 2007), President of the Privy Council (Jan 4, 2007 to Oct 30, 2008), Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs (Jan 4, 2007 to Oct 30, 2008), Minister of Labour (Oct 30, 2008 to Jan 19, 2010), Minister of Western Economic Diversification (Nov 5, 2010 to May 18, 2011), Minister of Public Works and Government Services (Jan 19, 2010 to July 15, 2013), and Minister of Health (July 15, 2013 to Nov 4, 2015). Given the fact that she was in Stephen Harper’s cabinet from the moment he formed government until the moment he was defeated, often holding important portfolios, sometimes holding multiple portfolios, in what way exactly is Rona Ambrose not “overly associated with the Harper brand”? She’s also apparently a family friend of the Harpers.
I suppose the argument could be made that Peter MacKay is not a Harperite because he came from the Progressive Conservative wing of the Conservative Party while Harper represented its Reform Party roots. Such a conclusion however must overlook the fact that when Stephen Harper merged the Canadian Alliance Party (which he headed) in 2003 with the Progressive Conservative Party (which MacKay headed), he needed a friend on the other side. That friend – and co-architect - was Peter MacKay. We forget today that MacKay had to overcome stiff resistance in the PC ranks to prevail. As a result of his efforts, Harper was forever grateful, sticking by MacKay through thick and thin. His cabinet appointments (all made by Harper) include: Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (Feb 6, 2006 to Jan 19, 2010), Minister of Foreign Affairs (Feb 6, 2006 to Aug 14, 2007), Minister of National Defence (Aug 14, 2007 to July 15, 2013), and Minister of Justice/Attorney General of Canada (July 15, 2013 to Nov 4, 2015). In addition to holding these top cabinet posts, he was the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party for Stephen Harper’s entire reign as party leader! Yep, another outsider to the Conservative Party.
However Furey bases his conclusion also on those who appear at the bottom of the poll. They are: “Tony Clement (7%), Jason Kenney (6%), Michael Chong (3%), Kellie Leitch (2%), and Lisa Raitt (1%).” As Furey points out, “the biggest takeaway is just as much of an also-ran Kenney appears.” This is true. Jason Kenney was one of Stephen Harper’s rising stars and one of his chief lieutenants (spearheading the Conservative Party’s largely successful outreach efforts in Canada’s ethnic communities). The fact that long-time, high profile Harper ministers like Clement, Kenney, and Raitt are doing poorly does support Furey’s conclusion. On the other hand, undercutting Furey’s thesis is the fact that Michael Chong is polling 3%. He was placed in the doghouse by Stephen Harper in 2006 because Chong publicly contradicted Harper over Quebec. Harper, being a man with a long memory, kept him there. Unfortunately, his long stint in purgatory doesn’t seem to have helped him catch the anti-Harper vibe that is allegedly out there.
Furthermore, the fact that Kellie Leitch is at 2% undercuts Furey’s message that progressivism is the new black in the Conservative Party. Before being elected federally she was closely associated with Ontario PC MPP Christine Elliott as well as that quintessential Red Tory, John Tory. Also undercutting his conclusion is that Stephen Harper was known as somebody who steadfastly steered his party away from stereotypical social conservative issues like opposition to gay marriage and abortion. If there were tensions in Harper’s government over social issues, it was by socially conservative backbenchers who felt stifled and ignored (though Harper kept the lid on this discontent by being good on guns).
Ladies and gentlemen, does this article sound like it was honestly written?
The data in the public opinion polls certainly doesn’t support its conclusion. Rather, it seems Harper is not a factor at all in the race to succeed him. Some of his lieutenants are doing well, some aren’t. Some people not associated with Harper are doing well, some aren’t.
One reason I like The Toronto Sun is the attitude that one of its founders, Peter Worthington, inculcated in the paper. He said in his obituary (which he wrote himself before he died):
“As editor, I had strong views on what editorials should be — one handed (no on this, that or the other hand), a strong point of view, marshal your arguments, and let others challenge them.
If, later, you change your mind, acknowledge it and inform the reader. I liked irreverence, eccentricity, controversy, cheerfulness, mischief and independent thinking.”
I agree. Too bad this article falls short of Worthington’s standard.