On Saturday, the Globe and Mail published an excerpt from John Ibbitson's recently published book, Stephen Harper. The piece begins with a pean to Harper:
He is a lion in autumn, weaker than in his prime, but still a force of nature. He faces his fifth, and perhaps final, test as national leader. But in a way, the result won’t matter. Whether Stephen Harper wins or loses the general election of October 19 is moot. He has already reshaped Canada. And Canada will not easily be changed back.
He has made the federal government smaller, less intrusive, less ambitious. He has made Canada a less Atlantic and a more Pacific nation.
He has brought peace to a fractious federation. Under his leadership, Canada speaks with a very different voice in the world. He has also given us a very different politics – more intensely partisan, more ideological, more polarizing. This, too, is unlikely to change, now that people are used to it.
Peace? I'm not so sure. Later in the piece, Ibbitson writes of Stephen Harper's flaws. He's a man whose personal psychology has made him a disastrous choice for prime minister:
There are disagreeable aspects to Stephen Harper’s personality. He is prone to mood swings. He can fly off the handle. He goes into funks, sometimes for long periods. He is suspicious of others. The public is aware of these traits mostly through what’s written and reported in the media. In public, Harper is almost invariably calm, measured, and careful in what he says and how he says it. Yet none of us, watching him, have any difficulty believing that this closed, repressed personality is capable of lashing out from time to time. We all get the vibe. His personality also comes out in the tactics that the Conservative Party uses against its enemies, both perceived and real – which are, in a word, ruthless.
Another of Harper’s less attractive qualities is a perceived lack of loyalty toward others. One-time political adviser Tom Flanagan points out that Harper has betrayed or estranged many in the conservative movement who were at one time senior to him – Joe Clark, Jim Hawkes, Brian Mulroney, Preston Manning. This, Flanagan believes, is the product of Harper’s need to dominate whatever environment he is in. “I think he has this very strong instinct to be in charge,” he said. “He really wants to be the alpha figure, and he’s achieved that. So part of that is to dispose of anyone who might be considered to be a rival in some sense or another.”
Flanagan also asserts that “there is a huge streak of paranoia in Stephen. And he attracts people who have a paranoid streak. And if you don’t have one to begin with, you develop it, because you’re constantly hearing theories.” At its root, “looking back, there’s a visceral reluctance to trust the motives of other people,” Flanagan concludes. “He often overcomes his initial suspicions and will sign on to other people’s ideas. But the initial response is always one of suspicion.” Flanagan believes Harper is prone to depression. “He can be suspicious, secretive, and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia,” he wrote in 2014, “at other times falling into week-long depressions in which he is incapable of making decisions.”
Not disagreeable, Mr. Ibbitson. Dangerous. Such a man is capable of making momentous mistakes. And Harper has made many. Should he receive a fourth mandate? I think not.