Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rallied 3000 of the "party faithful" at the Conservative Party convention on Friday evening, Nov. 1, 2013 in Calgary with all eyes towards the 2015 Federal election. The 45-minute, 3,900-word address was filled snappy, sharp rhetoric mixed with Canadian pop culture references and jabs at his opponents meant to excite the Conservative delegates. Harper also went on the offensive in his address, where he lashed out at the three elements standing in his way for reelection in 2015; the Senate expense scandal, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, and the "elites." The majority of the speech, considered the "most important" of Harper's "political career" and his last convention speech before the election focused on his party's accomplishments primarily with the economy and job creation while in power in Ottawa.
The convention lasted for three days from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, with the main even being Harper's keynote address on Friday night, and the passing of party resolutions on Saturday. The conservative delegates gather for a convention every two years, this year it was held at the BMO Centre on the Calgary Stampede grounds. Originally scheduled for the end of June, the convention was postponed because of the mass flooding the city and province of Alberta experienced just a week before the convention. The party wanted to keep their promise to hold the convention in Calgary, which is also Harper's hometown, and therefore rescheduled it to begin way after the city would be cleaned up and back to normal.
The convention not only was a rally towards energizing the base for the 2015 election, but was also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the merger between the Progressive Conservatives and Alliance, as the event's co-chair Michelle Rempel, MP for Calgary Centre-North noted; "A political party is a living, breathing, changing thing. So we're celebrating 10 years since the party merger this year. It's been interesting to watch the delegate base grow and change through that."
The Prime Minister in his keynote address tried to appeal to the grassroots factions, that the party has stayed true to itself and that he is still an outsider, an average Canadian not part of the "elite." Harper gave his address while photos of himself and his family flashed on the centre's screens, emphasizing the values conservative members cherish most. Harper expressed in his speech; "Ours is not the party of entitlement, not guided by power or privilege and we never should be…. In our party, public service must mean private sacrifice. That's why Laureen and I first left our home here in Calgary. We didn't go to Ottawa to join private clubs or become part of some elite. That's not who you are. It's not who we are."
Harper needs to appeal to the core conservative base to win in 2015 and was playing towards that in his speech, where he emphasized that Conservative Party is the party of the average Canadian that fights for the "unsung heroes" and is still the best party to lead the country. Harper rallied the delegates, saying; "So, friends, work hard on the things that matter … deal with problems as they arise. And Canadians will understand in the next election that … the only choice to keep our country on the right track is the Conservative Party of Canada."
Harper offered little that was new about the Senate expense scandal. He had hoped the scandal would be a distant memory by the time the convention was rescheduled; instead it is at its most heated point, mixing the Prime Minister further into it, with his story continually changing in an attempt to further himself from the hot button issue. Despite calls for a more complete explanation, Harper decided it would be better to go on the offensive, attacking critics, the senators involved in the scandal, the courts, and the opposition parties standing in the way of reform, especially the Liberal Party, who prevented reform when they were the opposition, and because they still represent a large chunk of the Senate.
Harper went on the attack saying; "This is the only party that has tried to reform the Senate…. It is time for the Senate to show it can reform itself. The vast majority of Conservative senators want to do this…. Our opponents then immediately accuse us of being unfair, nasty and ruthless…. Friends, in terms of such opponents, I couldn't care less what they say. We will do the right thing!"
Harper emphasized the party's main legislative successes since coming into power in 2006, which included among others; cutting taxes, particularly the GST, creating the child-tax benefit, Federal Accountability Act, tougher law-and-order agendas, ending the gun registry and Wheat Board monopoly, and recent signing of a free-trade deal with the European Union.
While the Prime Minister boasted of his party's successes, he criticized his various opponents; Liberals, the NDP and "elites" in the same breath. When discussing lowering taxes, Harper chided; "Now, friends, I could go through all the taxes the Liberals and NDP have proposed raising, but we've only got this hall until tomorrow!"
Harper also continued on his theme separating the Conservatives and himself from and also deriding the "elites," stating; "When we say 'vision,' we don't mean some ivory tower theory. That's what passes for vision among elites in Ottawa. Continuing on his cry against the "elites" he recalled an early Conservative achievement, creating the child tax benefit; "We took the money out of the hands of the lobbyists, academics and bureaucrats and we gave it to the real childcare experts: their names are Mom and Dad."
Speaking of being tough on crime and ending the gun registry, Harper expressed; "Let's not ever forget that only this party knows you don't prevent gun crimes in our cities by cracking down on duck hunters. The NDP and the Liberals fought desperately to keep it, but it was this party, and only this party, that finally ended - and will never bring back - the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry."
The Prime Minister also echoed elements from the recent Speech from the Throne when discussing Canada's current economic state. Harper emphasized Canada's economy was able to rebound faster because they do not have the debt problems other countries developed during the recession which allowed for more job creation, and boasted about his most shining recent victory the free trade deal with the European Union. Harper bragged; "In a world that is struggling, Canada is rising, being steadily lifted by a rising tide…. Our sound finances, our stable politics, our expanding network for trade relationships, our natural wealth and the growing demand for it worldwide."
The Prime Minister also boasted more at length about his most recent crowning achievement signing the free trade agreement with the European Union an achievement 10 years in the making and signed just two days after the Throne Speech was delivered on Oct. 18. Harper listed the main economic benefits, saying; "It is an agreement that will mean more choice and lower prices for hard-working families - an agreement that stands to create tens of thousands of new jobs for Canadians!" Continuing he injected a pop culture reference to highlight the deal; "As I said two weeks ago, friends, this is a very big, deal. Or, as the Canadian Association of Manufacturers and Exporters put it, "the Wayne Gretzky of trade deals!"
When bragging of the recent free trade deal with the European Union, Harper asked the party; "Would the NDP have ever made a trade deal with Europe?" Just to answer; "The NDP can't even figure out whether it supports free trade With the United States."
The Prime Minister was far more critical however, of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau, than the leader of the official opposition, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. Harper mocked Trudeau, questioning; "Could Justin Trudeau run the economy? In 2015, we're not choosing the winner of Canadian Idol. We're choosing someone to lead our economy…. The only trade policy Justin Trudeau's been working on is the marijuana trade." The comment resulted in audience cheers. Harper was referring to Trudeau's only major policy call this past summer to legalize marijuana.
Although the Prime Minister did not have a hard time mocking Trudeau's attempts at being cool and hip in the public eyes, he partook in his own attempt to show he is Canadian Idol worthy. After his speech, Harper treated the delegates to an exclusive 30-minute set at the "Cowboys" nightclub, where played the keyboard and was the lead vocals to the band Herringbone that backed his set. Harper emulated the man-in-black, Johnny Cash in his tribute set, where all the musicians including the Prime Minister wore black. Harper's six-song set was mostly Canadian based, he opened with Stompin Tom Connors' "The Hockey Song," included Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, but he also played Dwight Yoakam's Fast as You, Old Crow Medicine Show's Rock You Like a Wagon Wheel, and Lucille Star's "Quand Le Soleil Dit Bonjour Aux Montagnes" ("The French Song"), concluding with an "encore performance" of BTO's Taking Care of Business.
The Prime Minister might have received high marks from party delegates for his speech, but it expectedly panned by his critics. At the same time the Canadian public is giving his job performance low marks, mostly because of the Senate expense scandal, which is eclipsing even the handling of the economy in the public's eyes. The new Nanos Research poll stated that 51 percent of Canadians found Harper's handling of the scandal more important than job creation, with only 37 percent saying the opposite.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party moved even more to the right in the policy motions proposals passed at the convention; the proposals serve as some of the party's platform during elections. NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen called the move in line with the American Tea Party arm of the Republican Party, the most conservative faction of the party, snipping; "The Tea Party couldn't be happier…. A desperate prime minister needing to at least shore up his base goes to the lowest common denominator he can find. And this is all the Tea Party North Stuff."
The move rightward still indicated that there some issues that still were divisive among delegates. Among the motions that passed, opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide passed by a close vote, as did the motion over funding CBC's TV and radio divisions. While the party supported conservative red button issues; opposition to "sex-selective abortions" and a motion that states churches and "faith-based beliefs" are not the subject of discriminations calls. In terms of law and order motions passed they included tougher sentences for "violent and sexual offenders" tougher stances on prostitution, and support for the proposed victim's charter."
Among the economic related policy motions that passed included attacks on labor unions, both allowing Canadian workers the right to not join a union and calling on unions to define funding for political donations or activism, as well calling for defined pension plans for civil servants equivalent to those in the private sector. Additionally, delegates attempted to sway American support in favor of the Keystone XL Pipeline by passing a motion calling for an "efficient pipeline network." However, the party failed to pass a motion supporting "the right to own firearms" an issue that usually receives wide support south of the border among rank and file American conservatives.
Prime Minister Harper's Conservative Party convention speech was part of his tripartite plan to rally the party, reinvigorate his base and the Canadian public going into the second half of his term and gearing up towards the 2015 Federal Election. Earlier in July, the Prime Minister shuffled his cabinet, then he changed around his staff, after proroguing Parliament, the new session began on Oct. 16 with a Speech from the Throne that highlighted the Harper Government's legislative and economic successes, all of which had one goal in mind; victory in 2015.
Unfortunately unanswered questions about the Prime Minister's involvement in the recent Senate expense scandal are leaving a bad taste in Canadians' mouths. Harper needs to move past it quickly, and get the public to refocus on the economy and the success of the free trade agreement with the European Union, points where the Prime Minister shines, or else no matter how much he mocks Justin Trudeau, Harper might just see Trudeau sail past him to win the political Canadian Idol contest, and become the next Prime Minister of Canada.