Toronto Star, Saturday, May 21, 2005
'Dump Harper' bid on the rise
NB: This article is factually incorrect. David Orchard
is not part of a 'dump Harper' movement — see
letter to the Toronto Star, May 25, 2005
By Bob Hepburn
Slowly, quietly, a "Dump Stephen Harper" movement is
emerging in small pockets of the Conservative fold, and
the Tory leader can ignore it only at the risk of his
Harper's performance over the past five weeks —
taking the Tories from a healthy lead in the polls to
forcing an ill-fated parliamentary showdown with Paul
Martin and now once again trailing the Liberals in
public opinion — has only fuelled this stealth effort to
oust him as party leader.
Maybe, but the signs are growing — and there's a
history within the conservative wing of Canadian
politics of parties slaying their own.
Think back to the early 1980s.
Back then, Joe Clark was the embattled leader of the
Progressive Conservative party. His minority government
had fallen in late 1979 on a non-confidence motion, and
he subsequently led the Tories to defeat in the 1980
election that saw the return of Pierre Trudeau and the
Liberals to power.
Clark had enemies within the party, none bigger than
Mulroney had lost the 1976 leadership race to Clark,
but he never gave up. And neither did his cronies.
Every morning, some of them held court in the West
Block cafeteria on Parliament Hill. Any member of the
Ottawa press gallery could stroll over to the Hill, get
some bacon-and-eggs, sit down and listen to Mulroney's
pals stab Clark in the back, telling stories and
spreading gossip that always put their party leader in a
Among the Mulroney cronies at the breakfast table
were Nova Scotia MP Bob Coates, who became Mulroney's
first defence minister in 1985, Pat MacAdam, a long-time
Tory aide whom Mulroney rewarded with a plum job at the
Canadian High Commission in London, and Nova Scotia MP
Elmer MacKay. Yes, the daddy of Tory MP Peter MacKay,
and who got his prize when he was named
Toronto lawyer and Mulroney pal Sam Wakim was another
player working behind the scenes against Clark.
To a person, myself included, the Ottawa press gang
dismissed the "breakfast club" as inconsequential. We
also dismissed as nonsense their informal "Dump Joe"
But in 1983, the "Dump Joe" forces won. Clark wound
up with the infamous 67-per-cent leadership review vote,
which he said was not enough, and so called for a
leadership race, which he lost to Mulroney.
History is important because the "Dump Harper" bid is
One of the driving forces is Sinclair Stevens, the
former Conservative cabinet minister who along with
other "Red Tories" fought bitterly against the 2003-04
merger of the Canadian Alliance (née Reform party) and
the Progressive Conservatives.
Another key player is David Orchard, who ran for the
Progressive Conservative leadership and is still angry
with Peter MacKay for merging the party with the
Alliance headed by Harper.
Now, it's easy and convenient to dismiss both Stevens
and Orchard as bitter guys out of step with politics in
Ottawa in the year 2005.
Easy, but too simplistic.
The "Dump Harper" crowd thinks the media focus this
week should have been on their leader instead of Belinda
Stronach and "heartbroken" boyfriend MacKay and Paul
As they work the phones, the group says that under
Harper the Tories remain a western-based party that is
seen as mean-spirited, as being angry at Central Canada,
and as being too right wing to appeal to urban voters in
the East. They are deeply distressed that moderates such
as Stronach, and before her Scott Brison and Keith
Martin, have left to join the Liberals.
To bolster their argument, they point to a column by
David Asper, chairman of the National Post, considered
the media voice of the Conservative party.
"Harper has damaged the Conservative brand far more
than he seems to realize," Asper wrote. "Through miscue
after miscue, the party has shone a light on the
alienation felt by moderates such as Ms Stronach."
Asper suggests Harper has failed to make inroads into
Ontario and Quebec and that the party is following a
pro-life, anti-gay-marriage agenda that alienates
"Even many of his supporters will ask themselves
whether he (Harper) is a man they want to become prime
minister," Asper said in the column.
As one observer said, such tough words "makes one
wonder what media support Harper has left — beyond the
Ottawa press gallery."
Or wonder just how strong the "Dump Harper" movement