The Commons: Humble brag

Across the street and behind a metal barricade, a young man in a bike helmet, holding a pink sign that read “contempt,” was yelling at Conservative delegates as they filed into the giant glass orb that is the Ottawa convention centre. He yelled about the G8 and the $50 million. He yelled about Bev Oda. He yelled about the defeated candidates now in the Senate. He yelled the word “mockery” more than a few times. Most of the delegates ignored him. Some smiled and laughed and waved.

The man in the bike helmet was eventually joined by about 300 others waving various signs for various reasons. “Beat Back The Tory Attack On Reproductive Justice,” read one. “Whither Joe Clark,” read another. The noisy gathering eventually settled on a simple enough chant: “Hey Har-per! You! Suck!” Later there was something about no one being illegal or some such sentiment. Somewhere in the middle of it all was apparently the rogue Senate page.

Inside the orb, the proceedings were running rather late. Eventually, about a half hour behind schedule, Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and Senator Pamela Wallin turned up to play host. After throwing to “floor reporters” Mike Duffy and Jacques Demers from interviews with various members of the crowd, Mr. Blaney and Ms. Wallin got around to expounding on how fondly they regarded Stephen Harper.

Recalling something Stockwell Day had said about something Teddy Roosevelt once said, Ms. Wallin described Mr. Harper as a man “in the arena .. striving valiantly against a sea of criticism.” Presumably, President Roosevelt did not so clumsily mix his metaphors. Or perhaps, before the Romans had figured out better, arenas were often built with waterways running through them.

Either way, this was apparently a theme. Mr. Blaney and Ms. Wallin proceeded to recount how, on five separate occasions, “so-called experts” had doubted Mr. Harper’s chance for political success, only to be proven wrong. “They say that two wrongs don’t make a right,” Ms. Wallin observed. “But it seems that five wrongs do make a right honourable.”

The promotional video that followed duly began with image of the House of Commons voting to find Mr. Harper’s government in contempt.

Moments later, Mr. Harper emerged from a gap in the wall to wade into the crowd and puts hands on the faithful. The Collective Soul song played (“Oh I’m happy as Christmas/ All wrapped to be seen/ I’m your recent acquisition/ Time to celebrate me”) and the delegates chanted his surname.

He opened with a salute to self-congratulation. This beautiful new convention centre, he explained, was mostly John Baird’s doing: “the house that John Baird built,” he proclaimed it. He saluted his local MPs and gushed over his 166-member caucus. “Give them a big hand,” he appealed. But they’d not done it all themselves, he reminded. It had taken the work of all those party officials and volunteers. “So give yourselves a big hand,” he commanded.

We proceeded then to the ceremonial running of the strawmen.

“We promised that a Conservative government would work to strengthen families, not to replace them,” Mr. Harper recounted. “And so, we took money from bureaucrats and lobbyists and gave it to the real experts on childcare—and their names are mom and dad!”

“We said that we would finally put the protection of Canadians ahead of the rights of criminals,” he enthused, notwithstanding the burglarizing apparently carried out against lobbyists and bureaucrats.

“We also have a purpose,” he continued, moving on to foreign affairs. “And that purpose is no longer just to go along and get along with everyone else’s agenda. It is no longer to please every dictator with a vote at the United Nations.”

And as bravely as he stood against bureaucrats, lobbyists, criminals and dictators, Mr. Harper assured the audience that he would continue to support jobs and economic security.

He was solid and forthright and forceful. He wore dark blue against a light blue backdrop and stood in the ethereal glow of overhead spotlights. At the end of a rectangular stage, spectators and giant Canadian flags arranged to his left and right for the sake of the cameras, he hunched over the podium and pantomimed determination: the pointy finger, the hand chop, the Clintonian fist pump.

Despite having been preceded to the stage by a meditation on the folly of political prognostication, he ventured a prediction. “Friends,” he said, “the honeymoon with the NDP will pass.”

He bolstered this prediction with innuendo. “As many of us know well no honeymoon passes as quickly as one with the NDP.”

He suggested that Canada was not necessarily guaranteed of existing in 2067. “If, in 50 more years, we wish our descendants to celebrate Canada’s 200th  anniversary,” he mused, “then we must be all we can be in the world today.”

He allowed himself to dream of one-party rule. “If we stay faithful to our commitments and if we stay focussed on serving Canadians, in four years time, people will say, ‘Conservatives can be trusted; Conservatives know what they are doing; Conservatives are the people—the only people—who deserve our vote!'”

He demonstrated, most impressively, a mastery of the humble brag. “Canada’s first majority government elected in 11 years. The first Conservative majority elected in 23 years,” he swooned. Let me be absolutely clear to you about who Conservatives are today, about what this journey has made us. It has made us strong. It has united us around core beliefs. And it has reminded us that we are not a party of entitlement. We understand that we serve at the pleasure of the Canadian people. That is the very core of who we are as Conservatives.”

As he would later explain, the Conservative party is “not here to do politics.” “Sure, we do politics,” he said. “But that’s the instrument; it’s not the music. Our party is called to a great purpose.”

This purpose? Apparently something to do with strength and moral certainty and national unity. A stronger Canada and, while they’re at it, a stronger Conservative Party of Canada. The two being mostly synonymous in this context anyway.

“We are moving Canada in a Conservative direction and Canadians are moving with us,” he had said at one point, the term “Conservative” capitalized in the prepared text.

“So, friends,” he said at another point, “at last, after all these years, I can stand before you, and tell you this: Conservative values are Canada’s values. And, the Conservative Party is Canada’s Party!”

At this, the crowd did not chant the name of the party (perhaps understandably given the number of syllables) or the name of the country (a fairly simple three-syllable shout), but the name of the man on stage: “Har! Per! Har! Per!”

He finished up just before eight o’clock, right in time for the opening faceoff in Vancouver.

Delegates filed out of the orb in relative peace, the crowd having almost entirely dispersed—save for one man with a sign—by then.

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