Party of One: Stephen Harper’s Canadian Makeover

The beginning of the end?

READ IT by Bruce Mason

Party of One by Michael Harris book cover• Canada’s 42nd federal election – arguably the most pivotal in our history – is scheduled for October 2015. In the meantime, a book worthy of everyone’s attention, Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover, has just been published.

Between now and then, it’s essential that as many citizens as possible study and discuss the 500+ page definitive, meticulously reported record of Canada’s current majority government. It re-focuses attention on the fundamental election promise of transparency and accountability and those who intend to vote Conservative will be better informed about what they support. The undecided will find essential information they require. And there is more than sufficient inspiration to change the plans of those who don’t intend to vote.

We all owe this country – its past, present and future – and the world, a serious conversation and debate on Canada’s ongoing role and our dreams and responsibilities within it. As the starting gun signals the countdown to a year-long contest, Michael Harris provides a book based on hundreds of interviews and the advice of Harper himself: “Watch what a politician does, don’t listen to what he says.”

Several years ago, the veteran journalist set out to provide a “badly needed detailed rational critique of the Harper government… A lot of the things that Harper was doing struck me as not only unjust, but unjustifiable. In doing the research, I found I was not the only person who thought so.”

Party of One opens at the Speech from the Throne on June 3, 2011, after Harper’s coveted majority (166 of 308 seats) and the shrill, hissing cries of “Shame!” as 22-year-old page Brigette DePape held up a hand-made “Stop Harper” sign.

The book ends in a visit with Farley Mowat, then 92, in the last months of his life. Mowat gives voice to DePape’s gesture: “Stephen Harper is probably the most dangerous human being ever elevated to power in Canada.”

The devil is in the details. In the intervening four years and 500 pages, in a grand sweep of issues and personal accounts by often unlikely and relatively non-partisan individuals – many of whom disapproved of DePape’s dire and courageous signal – Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover – are revealed.

Party of One instantly appeared on best-seller lists along with eager, ubiquitous reviews and blogs of every stripe. Political junkies won’t be able to put it down. Those frightened by its weight can be assured it is highly digestible and nutritious, in bite-sized pieces. And would-be readers, scared off by the $34 hardcover price, are well advised to reserve a copy at the nearest library.

Even if there were little that’s new, it earns a place in the national conversation, consciousness and conscience, as well as on reference bookshelves. Its readability, strength and urgency resides in issues covered in separate chapters, such as “The Unfair Elections Act,” “The Death of Evidence,” “Farewell Diplomacy” and “Forked Tongue.” The minutely detailed documentation of Robocall and Senate scandals may cause most eyes to gloss over, but there is plenty to keep readers turning pages.

For example, a few sample quotes:

Paul Heinbecker, distinguished in foreign affairs: “We have become outliers. We are seen as more American than the Americans, more Israeli than Likud.”

Peter Milliken, former Speaker of the House of Commons: “Harper can’t go much further without making the institution dysfunctional. In fact, it will have to be returned to its former state by someone if we are to have a democracy.”

Preston Manning, former mentor and leader of the opposition: “Stephen had no interest in international stuff, we simply couldn’t get him to travel,” and “Stephen doesn’t think words mean much.”

If you only plan to read one book in the next 12 months, make it Party of One.

Michael Harris, by the book

Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover is Michael Harris’ ninth book. He calls it his “most important work.” His previous investigations have sparked four separate Royal Commissions of inquiry and include the collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery in Lament for an Ocean, the wrongful conviction in the Donald Marshall case in Justice Denied and the abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Unholy Orders.

Stephen Harper declined to be interviewed. Unprecedented in Harris’ experience is the fact that prominent Canadians decided not to go on record with full and frank stories fearing reprisals, including their favourite charities losing tax status, loss of full pensions and even fears of charges under national security legislation.

“The difference with this book is this involves the whole country and what we are. I really believe that the country is in a fight for its soul. And when you’re in a fight for your soul, you have to stand up,” Harris claims.

Michael Harris currently writes for ipolitics online. He can be reached at

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