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Lawrence Martin

Lawrence Martin

LAWRENCE MARTIN

For Harper, a bad day at the bookstore Add to ...

It’s enough to have Stephen Harper’s boys out padlocking bookstores.

Two of the Prime Minister’s biggest tormentors have released books on the very same day. There is Justin Trudeau’s autobiography, Common Ground. On top of it comes a mammoth 534-page critique of his abuse of power called Party of One, from Michael Harris, one of Mr. Harper’s harshest journalistic critics.

The Trudeau book won’t satisfy critics who want big gaps filled on his policy thinking. But it is well-timed and neatly titled. Tories have been trying to cast him as Boy Blunder in the wake of his remarks on the air combat mission in Iraq and other bloopers. His book changes the channel. The title, Common Ground, works because it deflects from the image opponents like to cultivate: Mr. Trudeau as silver-spooned elitist.

The book fleshes out Mr. Trudeau’s back story. It tells us what’s behind the sizzle. There are poignant vignettes on his relationship with his father, one being witnessing his parent’s marriage breakup.

“I remember the bad times as a succession of painful emotional snapshots,” Justin writes. “Me walking into the library at 24 Sussex, seeing my mother in tears and hearing her talk about leaving while my father stood facing her, stern and ashen.”

Mr. Trudeau needed more fabric to his character. Common Ground helps to provide it.

More worrisome for the Conservatives, though, is Mr. Harris’s book. If this one catches fire, they need to look out. One scribe has already gone so far as to put it in a league with the blockbuster Renegade in Power, Peter Newman’s 1963 necktie party for John Diefenbaker.

Party of One is a differently styled indictment. It’s a searing, heavily sourced dissection of Mr. Harper’s “anti-democratic” methods. Former Commons speaker Peter Milliken tells Mr. Harris: “Harper can’t go much further without making the institution dysfunctional … In fact, [the House] will have to be returned to its former state by someone if we are to have a democracy.”

Is it that bad? Robert Marleau, a former commissioner of information who had a close-up view of Mr. Harper’s actions in respect to freedom of speech told the author: “Mr. Harper has not played within the rules. Having attained absolute power, he has absolutely abused that power to the maximum.” Many others testify, including former auditor-general and Liberal slayer Sheila Fraser (sponsorship scandal).

Mr. Harper’s supporters – his attack squad will be out in force – will counter that Mr. Harris’s book is just a rehash of old news by someone who’s always out to get the PM. It’s correct to say that the book does not break much new ground. But is what’s new in it what matters? The important question is the one invited by Mr. Milliken and others – where is all this heading? Mr. Harper’s methods have already brought so much dysfunction to the system. If his ways are vindicated with another election victory, then what?

Those who say it’s old stuff, that the book is beating a dead horse, miss the point. The story isn’t old – it’s ongoing, with a vengeance. Mr. Harper doesn’t stop. He has been asked many, many times to clean up his act, including by members of his own Conservative flock. He ignores such warnings.

During his minority governments, defenders said he had to act like an autocrat in order to save his government, that things would be different with a majority. But how different, Mr. Harris asks, have Conservative actions been in regard to the Senate scandal, the robocall scandal, the omnibus bills, the F-35 procurement process, the blocking of parliamentary reform, the vindictive attacks on those who disagree?

It’s cost him. Mr. Harper’s on track to lose the next election less because of his policies than because of his operation (and because of Mr. Trudeau’s popularity). There’s something pathological at work here. Mr. Harper’s drive to subjugate the system to his will is something he cannot shed – it’s compulsive. Party of One is rooted in a pathology of one.

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