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Harper set to surpass Diefenbaker and join 'historic company'

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets band members during the opening of a performing-arts centre in Burlington, Ont., on Dec. 2, 2011.

MIKE CASSESE/Mike Cassese/Reuters

Stephen Harper and his Conservatives mark an important anniversary this week in their continuing efforts to erase all that is Liberal from the memories of Canadians.

By Friday, Mr. Harper will overtake Conservative icon John Diefenbaker's time in office, becoming the ninth longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history.

"To see Stephen Harper move into the historic company of John Diefenbaker, the hero to so many, the great civil libertarian, the great patriot, Canada's first 'ethnic' prime minister [he had German roots] an inspirational statesman of Canadian history...," a former senior Harper official, who asked not to be named, effused. "This is a satisfying milestone."

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Indeed, the anniversary comes as the Tories prepare to hold their caucus Christmas celebration on Parliament Hill – the first big party since winning majority government on May 2..

Mr. Diefenbaker was in office for five years and 305 days from 1957 to 1963. As of Monday, Mr. Harper has been in office for five years and 302 days from 2006 until now.

The official noted that "when we celebrated Kim Campbell day back in 2006, it seemed funny rather than serious or historic." Celebrating Joe Clark day later that same year was "satisfying, but, again in a non-historic way."

Then came Pearson day. That was considered historic as Liberal icon Lester Pearson was a minority government prime minister, according to the former Harper official.

Bennett day followed. It meant that Mr. Harper had surpassed R.B. Bennett to become the longest-serving prime minister from Calgary.

Of all his predecessors, Mr. Harper's Tories have revered and celebrated Mr. Diefenbaker the most. For example, they are renaming Canada's flagship polar ice breaker after the late prime minister.

"When announcing the icebreaker in August of 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper invoked the memory of the right honourable John Diefenbaker, who stood at the same spot to dedicate the newly built town of Inuvik in 1961," according to the press release accompanying the announcement. "Diefenbaker made history when he became the first Canadian prime minister to travel north of the Arctic Circle. 'When it launches for the first time into the frigid Canadian waters, the Diefenbaker, as it is almost certain to be nicknamed, will be a crowning achievement for our country,' said Prime Minister Harper."

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In addition, Ottawa's former city hall, which was bought by the federal government in 2003, was renamed the John G. Diefenbaker Building in September. It is located just down Sussex Drive from Foreign Affairs headquarters, which is the Lester B. Pearson Building – though the Tories avoid calling it that at all costs.

This year, too, the Conservatives returned the "royal" prefix to the navy and air force. And Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has ordered that portraits of the Queen hang prominently in all Canadian missions and embassies abroad.

"What we're seeing is the emergence of a new patriotism or at the very least a small-c conservative alternative to the established Liberal narrative about Canada," Patrick Muttart, the former deputy chief of staff to Mr. Harper and a key election strategist, told The Globe earlier this year.

And writing about new Governor-General David Johnston in the latest edition of The Walrus, author Charlotte Gray notes: "This quiet re-launch of the monarchy forms part of a larger campaign, led by a group of fierce monarchists, including Harper's principal secretary Ray Novak; John Baird; and Chris Champion, senior advisor to immigration minister Jason Kenney. These men make no secret of their eagerness to erase the Liberal-dominated narrative of recent Canadian history, with its emphasis on the Charter, multiculturalism, and the flag, and replace it with other, older traditions that embrace military victories and historical identification with Britain."

MPs have their say on organ donation

The plight of a senior Conservative staffer is inspiring a debate in the House of Commons Monday about the importance of signing your organ-donation card.

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The Globe wrote last week about Garry Keller, the chief of staff to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird who has suffered from renal failure since he was 28 years old. Now 35, Mr. Keller had a set back and was told by his doctors that he needed to start looking for a live kidney donor.

He has been waiting for an organ from a deceased donor since his diagnosis. But his age and his rare blood type (B) have conspired against him, hence his decision to go public with his search.

"While obviously I am trying to bring attention to organ donation to help me find a kidney, anything that helps bring attention to the larger issue of encouraging both living donations, as well as encouraging Canadians to willingly offer to be organ donors if the unthinkable happened to them, is certainly a win-win," Mr. Keller told the Globe Monday morning.

"I also hope that part of the discussion will focus on the policy choices that all governments, both federal and provincial, have to make to encourage Canadians to be organ donors," he said.

He is planning to watch the debate, which begins around 7 p.m. ET, from the Commons gallery.

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan announced the debate last Thursday, saying there were consultations among MPs of all parties to "use their place here in the forum of the nation to draw attention to an important issue that knows no party divisions and to encourage Canadians to sign organ donor cards."

A take-note debate is just that. There is nothing binding on the government but rather it allows MPs to shine a light on an issue.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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