Book review -- Harper's Team

Tom Flanagan, whom I've described as  a Calgary School teacher, was an intimately trusted advisor to PM Harper from their days at the University of Calgary and in forming policy for the reform party.

I'm not a Conservative, so I didn't read this book out of admiration for Harper. I do admire what he's accomplished, though. There's a line in the final few pages that suggests only four people have strung together Conservative governments of any meaning since John A, and that all of them did it in a way that inflamed the country and ultimately harmed Conservatism in Canada. We know that Brian Mulroney built the Quebec wing of his grand coalition by inflaming the nationalism that nearly cost us the country.

I read "Harper's Team" because I'm very impressed with Harper's strategic skill. The book appears to be a fantastically candid -- almost too candid -- peek into the backrooms of leadership races and general elections. Covering the late 1990s and 2000s, it also captures the changes in political campaigning, which reached an entirely new level last November, well after the book was published.

"Harper's Team" is a frank, detailed, un-objective but not unbalanced history of political campaigning in this era. It's of the nitty gritty -- how to telephone people and how to pay for those telephone calls. And it's framed around a narrative -- the rise of Harper -- which makes it far more readable than a textbook.

If there was substantial emphasis on issues of phone banks and postal drops, perhaps there was not enough emphasis on the strategy of triangulation. Flanagan relates that he gave Harper a copy of Dick Morris' "Power Plays", which as a history of several modern and ancient political campaigns provides as comprehensive description of triangulation as I've read. Harper reads the book on a solemn vacation following an election loss and returns re-invigorated. 

Frankly, he has triangulated the entire national "conversation" (what an odd word that is). The Quebecois are a Nation -- and the Liberals are no longer inside that circle. Most recently, Harper triangulated himself out of the conservative sphere (the geometry is difficult, but the principles are sound) with a stimulus package bigger than Liberals could have imagined.

Triangulation, as I believe Dick Morris roughly put it, is to adopt in part the policies of your competitors, and make them your own. A divided opposition is no opposition.

Liberals in this country need to swallow a lot of pride, recognize that the Conservatives are not even close to being the B team; we need to all read this book.