In the depths

Ian Brown’s fascinating piece in Saturday’s Globe and Mail was both a bit of nice writing and the kind of reportage too often missing these days. Brown sought to find out why Stephen Harper has been invisible since he lost the October election to Justin Trudeau.

But did Brown succeed? I think not. After travelling to Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton in search of the elusive Harper, Brown was finally standing a few feet away from his quarry but let a Harper aide dissuade him from approaching the man for a conversation. Normally, Brown is sufficiently vigorous to not let anyone stop him so close to success. “I let it go,” he wrote. Let it go? I think Brown let it go because not talking to Harper fit with his thesis that the former prime minister might just be obstinate.

Indeed, Harper’s disappearance does seem odd. No speeches, occasional visits to the House of Commons, no new jobs. But what Brown did not even mention was depression. As someone who has been in politics and lost – albeit in a far less public manner – I can tell you that losing an election is a lot tougher than you might think. I was just a lowly press secretary in the office of Robert Stanfield when he lost in 1974 after almost winning in 1972. I thought, “Well, I gave 110 percent, why wasn’t that enough?” Harper, who was actually in office, lost badly. The Liberal increase of 148 seats more than they held in the 2011 election was the biggest numerical increase by a political party in any election in Canada.

It took me months to find my sea legs. It may take Harper longer. Brown did not touch on this but Harper has no doubt received job offers from law firms such as Norton Rose and Bennett Jones, invitations to join the boards of Suncor and a chartered bank, think tank fellowships and teaching roles. He has accepted none of them.

I’ll tell you why. Stephen Harper hasn’t vanished. Nor is he in some sulk. He’s immobilized. He’ll only move forward when he can.

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