Op-ed

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Harper, Trudeau, a study in contrasts

by Candice Malcolm

Toronto Sun
May 27, 2016

Oh, how the leadership in this country has changed over the past six months.

Conservative Party faithful were reminded of this as former prime minister Stephen Harper addressed the crowd of 2,500 party delegates at their convention Thursday evening in Vancouver.

It was Harper’s first big public speech since the election and may have been his last as a Member of Parliament.

Harper touched on the major accomplishments of his near decade as prime minister, and about what he saw as Canada’s biggest accomplishments during his time in the country’s top job.

Healthy finances, free trade deals, principled foreign policy, the lowest taxes in 50 years, the wealthiest middle class in the world. Plus the retreat of Quebec separatism and Western alienation.

Not too shabby.

Harper reminded us not just of his accomplishments, but of the stark contrast in style between Canada’s 22nd prime minister and his successor, Justin Trudeau.

Where Harper is humble, wonky and focused on using policy to help improve the lives of hard-working Canadians, Trudeau is glamorous, flashy and on a personal mission to rebuild Canada’s public image as young, hip and progressive.

Harper was never quite comfortable in the spotlight, while Trudeau never met a camera that didn’t love him.

As Harper touched on some of the greatest challenges he overcame – reuniting the right under one party, guiding Canada through the 2008 recession and redirecting money from the federal bureaucracy towards Canadian families – Trudeau demonstrated the stark contrast between the two leaders.

He was in Japan, urging other G7 nations to indulge in deficit spending.

Trudeau was able to convince only Japan, the most indebted country in modern history, to follow his lead and embark on more debt-financed government growth.

Japan owes around $11 trillion US debt. Its debt-to-GDP ratio is about 240%, meaning it owes two-and-a-half times more in debt than its economy produces in a year.

Japan’s ratio is about 100% higher than the world’s next most indebted country, Greece.

But according to Canada’s PM, Japan should continue to rack up debt. Interest rates are low, so goes Trudeau’s thinking, that now is the time to load up on more debt.

Meanwhile, Harper reminded the crowd in Vancouver of his leadership on the world stage.

“This country, this bastion of freedom and human dignity, must stand for something in the world, even if that means you can’t be all things to all people.”

Canadians voted for a change in the 2015 election.

Harper governed the country with a steady hand and a quiet approach, but Canadians grew tired of his government’s negative tone.

They opted for the party with a totally opposite approach.

It’s clear after nearly 10 years as prime minister, and after serving as party leader since its inception 12 years ago, Harper’s exit from politics will leave a considerable void in the Conservative party.

With no apparent successor as party leader, it was obvious on Thursday that most Conservatives still look to Harper as the de facto leader of their party and movement.

While he remains an incredibly polarizing public figure, Harper served all Canadians well. History will be kind to the Harper years.

As a final testament to his character, Harper is gracefully stepping aside. It’s time for his party to move on, and for the Conservatives to find a new leader to guide the party and the country into its next chapter.

Image: Darryl Dyck/CP

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