The right adults, in the wrong room
Notes on a fascinating week in Ottawa, big blue tent 2.0, and men and women worth admiring.
After a week at Canada’s largest small-c conservative networking conference, put on by the good folks at the Canada Strong and Free Network — and after some time spent on the Hill, where one had to periodically dodge Biden’s ever-expanding security detail — “Hi, pardon me, my name’s Alex, we follow each other on Twitter,” has been so baked into my vocabulary, it may take cognitive behavioural therapy to rid the habit entire.
And while I may be struggling with the mental burnout from shaking thousands of hands (and even having the pleasure of meeting some Substack subscribers!), I come bearing notes from a pretty fascinating (and fun?) week inside a town that’s generally known for anything but.
Stephen Harper is still the adult in the room. (And he can even draw a Poilievre-sized crowd.)
Such a crowd, in fact, that to scan the conference room, and mingle amongst the rabble in the hospitality suites and dimly lit bars to follow, was to participate in some form of augmented Twitter reality, where every face was familiar, friendly, and, more often than not, refreshingly normal, no matter their stature or celebrity.
With the spectre of the Liberal dalliance with the Mandarin-bloc, a Tuesday federal budget release that will test the stomachs of all those who have been steamrolled by government-fueled inflation, as well as April 1st tax hikes hanging thick in the air, it proved to be the right time for Canada’s 22nd prime minister to make a rare public appearance.
For an hour or two, Canada was in more stable hands. Conversations had substance. There were fewer “umms” and “ahhs.” Populism as a ruling political strategy wasn’t presented as some dirty word from a shoulder-tapped Aaron Wherry piece, but offered up as a better alternative to understanding an electorate that’s being made to hurt.
Sensing the tipping point the country now finds itself at, the Right Hon. also came bearing notes for his Conservative successor: “It’s not [the Official Opposition’s] job to talk about how you would run the country. It is to hold the government accountable for how it is running the country and making it wear its mismanagement, incompetence and corruption.”
Given that Canada has and will always be a country ruled by a media landscape that holds Conservative oppositions to account first, and Liberal governments second, the man knows of which he speaks. Poilievre will never get a fair shake from a legacy press dominated by literal Trudeau Foundation members, so don’t even bother fighting them on that front. Make them wear their mismanagement. Save the pocketbook issues for an election cycle, where, in this case, your opponent has the disadvantage of running on his record.
As for my favourite quote from his speech, and subsequent chat with the Hon. Preston Manning? “Only Jagmeet Singh could walk into a room with Trudeau and come out with a deal where he gets nothing.”
Did I mention one of his next conversations was with yours truly?
On “an interesting day in Ottawa.”
They say never meet your heroes. In this instance, the proverbial ‘they’ would be entirely mistaken.