Prime Minister Stephen Harper is reputed to be a man with a penchant for control, a leader with a grip on the Conservative communications machine.
So when one of his former advisers several years ago wrote an insider book called Harper’s Team, the Prime Minister’s Office, the author says, asked him not to publish it.
That writer, Tom Flanagan, now is back with a forthcoming book, Persona Non Grata: The Death of Free Speech in the Internet Age, that speaks of Mr. Harper in “Nixonian” terms, as a man who “believes in playing politics right up to the edge of the rules, which inevitably means some team members will step across ethical or legal lines in their desire to win for the Boss.”
Bruce Carson, a former senior Harper aide facing charges of influence peddling, is also slated to release a book soon. 14 Days: Making the Conservative Movement in Canada, set for publication in June, promises a “rare behind-the-scenes account of the Harper Conservatives,” according to the publisher.
The PMO produces 24/7,a weekly online video summary of government news and events, but unvarnished portrayals of Mr. Harper behind closed doors are harder to come by.
The books are unique for their access, offering a look at Mr. Harper’s leadership from the perspective of people who once worked closely with him (in Mr. Flanagan’s case eight years ago, and in Mr. Carson’s case five years ago).
Revelations about the books’ contents coincide with questions concerning Mr. Harper’s judgment, particularly when it comes to appointments and who he approves for top jobs.
Mr. Harper’s former director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, resigned as Conservative Party executive director last month amid controversy, as did his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, last year. Three senators Mr. Harper appointed are embroiled in an expenses scandal.
When asked about the books, the Prime Minister’s chief spokesman, Jason MacDonald, said Mr. Harper “has not had a relationship with Dr. Flanagan for years.”
In Persona Non Grata, Mr. Flanagan discusses freedom of expression, weaving in his path to persona non grata status after he publicly expressed doubts about, in his words, “the necessity of putting people in jail if their only offence was to look at child pornography.”
But Mr. Flanagan also outlines his professional trajectory, including his time as “Harper’s chief organizer, under various labels.” By 2006, he writes, he was worn out from trying to work with the party leader.
“He can be suspicious, secretive, and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia, at other times falling into week-long depressions in which he is incapable of making decisions,” Mr. Flanagan writes. “I feared, as I still do, that he might some day bring himself down Nixon-style by pushing too hard against the network of rules constraining authority in a constitutional government.”
Mr. Flanagan, who also describes Mr. Harper as intelligent and hard-working, said the Prime Minister frequently treats people as “disposable.” The disposed, he writes, include former cabinet minister Helena Guergis, the three senators, Mr. Wright and former prime minister Brian Mulroney.
“So I can count myself in pretty good company among those who have been crushed by Harper’s PMO,” Mr. Flanagan writes. The author said his personal relationship with Mr. Harper ended when he refused to kill Harper’s Team.
After the child-porn comments, politicians and organizations publicly repudiated Mr. Flanagan. Andrew MacDougall, the Prime Minister’s communications director at the time, tweeted that the remarks were “repugnant, ignorant, and appalling.”
Mr. Flanagan said someone he knows in the PMO told him later the phones were “melting down” after the YouTube video of his comment went live, and that they had to distance themselves.
Mr. Carson said that, given the reaction to Mr. Flanagan’s 2007 book, the Prime Minister “won’t like anything written about government,” but says he thinks Mr. Harper will consider 14 Days “fair comment.”
The book looks at the Conservatives’ rise to power, starting in the early 1990s, Mr. Carson said. He said about one-third of it centres on the Harper government.
Mr. Carson , who is under RCMP investigation for allegations of illegal lobbying, said he is headed to court at the end of May on the influence peddling charges. “I pled not guilty and will be fighting tooth and nail,” he said.
Mr. Flanagan, whose book comes out in early May, could not be reached on Wednesday.