I met Stephen Harper twice.
The first time was in the summer of 2007 when I was working a PR exhibit with the Army Reserves during the Calgary Stampede at a school for disadvantaged children.
I would have been 24 years old at the time.
In a move that likely amounted to career suicide, while in full fighting order manning a radio detachment, putting camo-paint on the faces of youth with developmental and behavioral challenges, one of Prime Minister Harper’s security guards came up to me and asked: “Want to shake hands with the boss?”
In front of the cameras, I shook hands with him and had him autograph my FMP.
I lost the note, but it simply said: “Thank you for your service to Canada, Stephen Harper.”
I have never felt my service was praiseworthy, Class A and B services domestically, mostly in training and on support call outs. But in hindsight, it really reflected a humility that Stephen Harper had to recognize uniformed Canadian soldiers automatically and unreservedly as individuals worthy of respect and gratitude.
It actually pains me to know that such a man was once the leader of this country, as I personally feel I deserve no such honour. I’m no hero and there are unreservedly far more deserving past and present serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces than me.
Moreover, it doubly pains me to know Harper’s personal admiration of members of the Armed Forces is NOT a value common among most Canadians. Most would probably dismiss it as a jingoistic American-Republicanism and I am doubtful the current Prime Minister shares that ethic.
A year after meeting Prime Minister Harper, I was victim of what I know today to have been a clear case of constructive dismissal from the military.
Turning in my kit, I remember vividly a Sgt. at the ASU Calgary asking me why I was releasing:
“I just don’t love my country anymore.” I told him bitterly.
That was a sentiment I held for quite some time, but looking back in retrospect, in was in no small part reversed by Stephen Harper’s governance and the example he set as Prime Minister.
In the darkest days, I was so angry and hate filled towards Canada. It was a feeling that led me to the idea of Alberta Separatism.
I first toyed with the idea of Alberta Separatism in 2009. But after talking to the head of the now defunct Separation Party of Alberta, I dismissed the idea as silly and outlandish. His exact words were: “Stephen Harper’s done a really good job at keeping this movement down.”
Going into the 2015 election, I was dreading the mere prospect of an election.
As I became more and more involved, I realized that the Canada that Stephen Harper had created embodied most of the principles I valued, respected, and agreed with.
Though imperfect in it’s execution, I felt Stephen Harper was the man who could polish out those imperfections. To me, the Canada he left when he called the election was something I could actually commit myself to serve and be a part of.
So much so, I had seriously contemplated rejoining the Canadian Armed Forces putting my spotty past behind me.
That all changed.
It wasn’t Stephen Harper’s defeat in the past election as much as it was the clear and blatant revulsion and utter hatred towards him by entrenched interests, institutions, individuals and regions generally held iconic for what “Canada” is.
The CBC, the RCMP, a large contingent of Canadian Armed Forces veterans, Toronto. The list goes on.
Personally, I never thought the man who actually won the election would be good leader for this country. Seeing the white hot anger and hatred of many on the left have towards the man who (for a time) restored my faith in this country startled me. Seeing it to the point that some were not only celebrating his defeat, but hoping and wishing for his death, shocked me.
I felt tempted to reciprocate that response towards the current Prime Minister – but to hate anyone to the point of wishing them dead is too extreme. It’s not me.
Such is the attitude and actions towards Stephen Harper with so many who legitimately can claim to be truly representative of what Canada actually is.
The second time I saw Stephen Harper was on election night last year, as he gave his concession speech after being defeated.
It was interesting how his staff micromanaged the event intensely. As he walked by, thronged by supporters, I was simply able to shake his hands and yell out “Thank you sir, for your service!”
In many ways, it reminded me of an event my Dad would have put on.
I think one of the most endearing things about Stephen Harper is how similar he is to my father, and in my opinion, representative of the most iconic traits of the Baby Boomer Generation. I think of Baby Boomers (like my Father and Stephen Harper) as having a meticulous attention to detail (OCD) and an outstanding work ethic born out of absolute, desperate necessity.
Ironically, those are the exact opposite traits of what defines most people in my generation: lazy, self-entitled, ADHD Millennials .
I believe Stephen Harper when he says he doesn’t like being centre stage. Even though he presents very well in front of an audience, I think his actions show clearly how unnatural it is for him to be in the limelight.
Growing up, my father was the same way.
Not only did he learn a second language (English) later in life, he had to work very hard to overcome a natural aversion to public speaking in that language. Both men, Western Canadians and Albertans by choice, were phenomenal examples of dedication and personal excellence.
For me, I think that my once regained affinity for Canadian federalism was a consequence of Stephen Harper’s personal excellence and the legacy he created.
As has been shown with the current Prime Minister, that legacy is very easily undone. Moreover, I am not at all optimistic that a repeat of Stephen Harper’s accomplishments will ever happen in my lifetime.
I read an article in a BC newspaper accusing Harper of being some kind of a malicious separatist, hell bent on taking over the government of Canada to re-engineer it to eviscerate the Federal Government’s influence on Western Canada.
I think that’s absolutely untrue.
Stephen Harper loves this country in a way that I think made many of us, especially in the West and absolutely in Alberta, love it also.
With him not only gone, but gone in such a way that many of the most iconic symbols of Canada having all the momentum, interest and clear intention to undo everything he’s accomplished (and more), I know that love will be quickly lost.
It certainly has with me.