How do you make a political endorsement without making a political endorsement?
Canada’s former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper has offered us a lesson!
Yesterday, Alberta’s United Conservative Party cracked open the political crypt and rolled out a video of the éminence grise of the Conservative Party of Canada, who now toils in the metaphorical dark for the neoliberal Internationale, otherwise misleadingly known as the International Democrat Union.
Mr. Harper’s simple job was to persuade Albertans to hold their noses and vote for Premier Danielle Smith’s so-called United Conservative Party.
The former PM did not appear to be enjoying himself in the video that was posted on social media and texted to UCP supporters. He was particularly scary when he tried to crack a smile, an expression that could have curdled milk on nearby doorsteps if dairy products were still sold that way.
“A’berta’s been through some tough years since 2015,” Mr. Harper, looking faintly vampiric, began his message. “But the economy is finally hitting its stride again and employment is booming.”
“Yet that could all be derailed if the Notley NDP wins. We see what they’ve done before, job killing, tax hiking, anti-energy policies leading to mass layoffs, business closures, and recession,” he yammered on.
“It took years to recover from the last NDP government. We can’t risk going backwards again. Vote for Alberta. Vote Conservative.”
Notice anything about this? Other than the fact he spoke only 73 words in 32 seconds and that it’s mostly tendentious pish-posh unworthy of a guy that used to have some gravitas, that is.
Who is he asking you to vote for? Someone named Alberta. Alberta Who?
What political party does he want voters to support? Ummmm … Conservatives!
Yes, we have no Danielle Smith! We have no United Conservative Party today!
And this from a guy who even had kind words, by name, for Viktor (Hungary for the Hungarians) Orban!
This is not, dear readers, a statement that can be called a ringing endorsement of Danielle Smith and United Conservative Party.
Indeed, the only person Mr. Harper mentions is Opposition Leader Rachel Notley, and his attack on her is strangely bloodless.
Readers may recall that Mr. Harper’s endorsement of his former Cabinet Minister Jason Kenney 2019 was considerably more enthusiastic.
“It’s not just that Jason Kenney performed well in every job I gave him,” he said at the time. “It’s that he got better and better and better at every one.” Alas, that was then and this is now. Mr. Kenney rose to the level of his incompetence, perhaps as a result of Mr. Harper’s last endorsement, and has since moved on.
His replacement, Ms. Smith, appears to have reached her level of incompetence long before she fluked into her present job – possibly on or about Dec. 17, 2014 – and now as a result she is an accidental premier who presents the danger of destroying Mr. Kenney’s creation and delivering a grave setback to Alberta conservatism in the longer run.
This may account for Mr. Harper’s pretty obvious lack of enthusiasm in his endorsement, if his statement qualifies even for that description.
Nevertheless, Ms. Smith and her most ardent supporters treated the video clip as manna from heaven.
“Thank you Stephen Harper,” the premier gushed on Twitter. “You are an exceptional leader with an unwavering commitment …” Yadda-yadda.
“Thanks @stephenharper for the endorsement of @ABDanielleSmith,” rhapsodized Ms. Smith’s office manager, Rob Anderson, nowadays apparently known as Free Alberta Rob – which sounds from here like a slightly premature bumper sticker, but whatever.
Since there was no endorsement whatsoever of Ms. Smith in Mr. Harper’s words, this sounds a little like whistling past the political graveyard – which is not to say the UCP couldn’t pull off a victory with its widespread support in rural Alberta and the province’s many habitual Conservative voters, at whom Mr. Harper’s message was clearly aimed.
“Endorsements like this are pre-recorded for the last few days of a campaign,” observed former Progressive Conservative deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who lately has been out door-knocking for the NDP. “But times are desperate for the UCP. They’re deploying lifeboats before the Writ is dropped.”
This could very well be, although yesterday’s low-production-value Harper statement looked too hastily put together to be something put in the can days or weeks ago.
But as Mr. Lukaszuk suggested, desperate times call for desperate measures, and as lame as his message was, intentionally or not, Mr. Harper’s name still carries a lot of clout in this province.