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Where’s Stephen? How Harper’s trail has gone cold since the election

POLITICS

Harper's trail has gone cold since the election. Can you find him?

For a decade, Stephen Harper was everywhere. Now , he has all but disappeared. Ian Brown goes in search of a man whose presence once dominated the country

Click here for a detailed map to see if you can find Stephen Harper

Illustrations by David Parkins/The Globe and Mail

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This is how to try to find Stephen Harper, who seems to have vanished from public life.

You contact his office in Centre Block at the House of Commons in Ottawa. When the office says he's not talking, you try again, and again. They stop replying after that.

You call the office of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The office tells you that Mr. Harper has been busted down to MP status, that "it's a harsh world," and suggests you try the office of the Leader of the Opposition, among whose ranks Mr. Harper has been sitting, once in a while, since the Conservatives lost the federal election last October.

But the office of the Leader of the Opposition doesn't know where he is, either.

You call the RCMP, because Mr. Harper is still provided a security detail. But after two days of phone calls, all the Mounties will say, over and over and over again, six times in fact, is: "For security reasons, the RCMP is unable to comment on security measures that may be provided to former prime ministers."

You fly to Calgary, because the former prime minister lives there now. You visit his constituency office, you phone his friends (few of whom call you back), you drive around his neighbourhood and find his house, you go to a funeral, on a tip that he will be there.

Finally, you fly to Ottawa for the reconvening of Parliament after one of its recesses, an occasion many MPs attend. In the course of having to pass through three (3) bomb and weapon scanners on your way to the press gallery overlooking the House of Commons, you leave your watch behind. Mr. Harper isn't in the House anyway, as it turns out, though reporters claim he's in the capital. You experience intense dejection. Two days later, when you call the House of Commons Lost & Found to find your watch, you make a feeble joke and ask if they have Stephen Harper in there, too, since you can't find him anywhere else.

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The security officer laughs. "Yep," she says, "he might be in there." She seems to know as much as anyone.


‘The people are never wrong’: Highlights from Harper’s 2015 concession speech

1:51


Where has Stephen Harper gone? What is he up to?

The man who was prime minister for nearly 10 years and wanted to make it 14, the sixth– longest-serving federal leader in our history, the polarizing political mastermind who reinvented partisanship and confidently subjected his citizens to the longest, bitterest election in Canadian history, which was his to win and which he then shockingly lost, has virtually vanished.

The House of Commons doesn't publish attendance records. But in the five months since the election, Mr. Harper has introduced no bills, has made no interventions in the House or in committee. He hasn't taken the floor once. He is known to have voted on nine of the 31 days the House has sat since the 42nd Parliament launched in December. On those nine days, he voted 18 times, most recently last week, when he opposed the government's new tax regime, its revamped military campaign against ISIS, and its unwillingness to expand Toronto's island airport. He likes to slip out of the House through back hallways, avoiding reporters.

Known Harper sightings outside Parliament since the election have been few and eccentric. He was spotted in December in a Shake Shack in Las Vegas, shirt untucked and wearing a ball cap, but reportedly happy and rested. He surfaced in coastal Florida in much the same state. ("That's one level of anonymity he can enjoy down there," a close friend of the ex-PM says. "Getting that part of your life back is a relief.") He has been seen on the street and in bookstores (looking for the business-and-economics section) in Calgary. I ran into Eddie Goldenberg, Jean Chrétien's old chief of staff and policy adviser, now a big-time government-relations lawyer, last month in a downtown Ottawa food court – food courts! where Ottawa's political mini-celebs meet and greet! – and he'd seen Mr. Harper twice since the election, both times at funerals.

He turned up in the House last week, but his appearances are not a given. When the current session of Parliament reconvened in the middle of a blizzard on Feb. 16, the House was packed, but Mr. Harper was nowhere to be seen. His tiny green leather seat in the front row of the first aisle of the Official Opposition ranks, hard by the Speaker, was as empty as a sold-out slot in a vending machine. But he was reportedly spotted the same day at Fatboys Southern Smokehouse, a barbecue joint not far from the Parliament buildings, eating with his son, now an undergraduate at Queen's.

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"He's in what I would call the listening phase," the old friend of the former PM insists.

Really? When I first called Stephen Harper's office on Jan. 7 at 5:15 in the afternoon, a recorded female telephone-system voice said, "I'm sorry, but the person you called has a voice mailbox that has not been set up yet." That was almost three months after Mr. Harper's re-election as MP for Calgary Heritage.

Many Liberals think he's moping. "He's gotta be going crazy," one theorized not long ago, repeating an oft-uttered meme. "He was beaten by a Trudeau, his home province is suddenly run by socialists, and the mayor of the city he's gone back to live in is a Muslim!" Cackling ensued.

Here's the strange thing: Whatever your political stripe, however much he was your hero or your enemy, do you not somewhere, if only in the remotest corner of your political subconscious, want to know where he is and how he's doing, and whether defeat and distance have cracked the kiln-fired veneer of the most emotionally reserved prime minister in living memory? He ran the whole show, and now he has vanished, like Waldo.

His absence stirred me: I wanted to find him. Most everyone I met was keen to know what he was up to. Now that he has nothing to prove, no power to protect, people want to see what kind of man has been hiding behind the pose. Were we right to let him lead us? Were we right to let him go? Did his famous inaccessibility – then, as now – hide traits we ought to have valued, or was it a symptom of an obstinate nature, one we might want to avoid in a leader from now on? At the very least, the immediate future of the Conservative Party will be determined in part by what people remember about Mr. Harper. So far, the party seems to be going with the keep-him-out-of-sight-in-the-basement option.


I think a principal rule is to remember that you’re a former prime minister. And that’s pretty important in the early days of your return to parliamentary status.

Joe Clark, Canada’s 16th prime minister

On the question of Mr. Harper's whereabouts, Cory Hann, director of communications for the Conservative Party – who actually bears a slight resemblance to Waldo – will say, "My understanding is that he's taking a well-deserved break since the election."

Theories abound about why Mr. Harper has stayed on as a simple MP if he's not going to play a major role in the House. One is that parliamentary immunity might have protected him from testifying as a witness in the Mike Duffy trial, which ended in December.

Rob Walsh, the retired former law clerk to the House of Commons, who studied its denizens for more than a decade, can wind off half a dozen more. "Who knows," he says. "It's not for pension purposes, as ex-PMs do very well with their pensions. Is he trying to avoid looking like a sore loser? Does he feel obliged to respect the decision of his electors and serve for some respectable period of time? One media source suggested he wanted to delay the calling of a by-election. Perhaps it's as simple as wanting weekly free flights between Calgary and Ottawa?"

The most persuasive explanation of Mr. Harper's invisibility, however, can be summed up in two words: John Diefenbaker.

Mr. Diefenbaker roamed the House after his majority government's defeat in 1963 until his death – cue the spooky organ music – in 1979. The infamous spectacle of the interfering Jowl King hoarily hanging on to his former glory is a chief reason modern prime ministers make themselves scarce once their day is done.

"I think a principal rule is to remember that you're a former prime minister," Joe Clark explained over the phone recently. "And that's pretty important in the early days of your return to parliamentary status. People get used to being in charge, and you have to deliberately control against that."

Besides Mr. Diefenbaker, Mr. Clark is one of only a handful of prime ministers in the past half-century who ended up as mere MPs (and in his unusual case, more than that) after losing an election and their party's leadership. The others include John Turner, who was an unadorned MP for three years until he resigned in 1993; and Paul Martin, who lost to Mr. Harper in 2006 and resigned as Liberal leader but sat as a backbencher for two years to work on aboriginal education.

It's a tricky role. Mr. Clark lost his prime ministership in 1980 and the leadership in 1983, demoted in favour of Brian Mulroney. Shortly after that, the two men travelled to Nova Scotia. Walking back to a limousine they were sharing, Mr. Clark, out of habit, walked to the right-hand back door of the car, where the leader always sits. He caught himself at the last moment. "It sounds like a small matter," he says, "but it's not."

Mr. Clark knows every step of the dance of the deposed leader. He was one of the leaders of the youth wing of the Progressive Conservative Party when Mr. Diefenbaker lost the 1963 election; the old busybody was still sitting as an MP when Mr. Clark was elected prime minister 16 years later.

"I was always conscious that Mr. Diefenbaker had brought me into politics," Mr. Clark says today. (He is as articulate as ever, and still sounds as if he's speaking from the bottom of a very deep well.) "And I think he found it surprising later to be taking orders from me." To retaliate, Mr. Diefenbaker liked to muster his cronies, and then insult the upcoming whippersnappers in public. He thought Flora MacDonald had betrayed him, and so called her "the finest woman to walk the streets of Kingston since Confederation."

Mr. Harper is well aware of these risks. An unnameable former provincial premier (who, like nearly everyone in this story, refused to speak on the record) claims he recently asked the ex-PM what his plans were. His reported reply? "I don't want to be the crazy uncle yelling in the attic."


John Ibbitson on three things Canadians will not miss about Stephen Harper

1:31


So, you think: Maybe Stephen Harper's hanging around his constituency office in Calgary, happily helping the people who re-elected him last October. Let's go there.

The office is on the second floor of the Professional Building, a mainstay of Glenmore Landing, a shopping mall in the riding of Calgary Heritage, once the solar plexus of conservative Calgary. There's a Safeway, a TD Canada Trust, a McDonald's. Mr. Harper has not patronized the Golden Arches, a counterwoman told me, "but we saw him once on the sidewalk, since the election."

"With lots of security?"

"Nope. Just by himself." She seemed excited by her brush with history.

Former American presidents are surrounded by security for life, but ex-PMs have more discretion. They get security when the RCMP considers it necessary – when Mr. Clark or Mr. Martin travel in unstable countries in Africa, say. But the RCMP still deems Mr. Harper a VIP, which means he will be accompanied by bodyguards for at least the next five months while the Mounties assess his ongoing risk. He is still showing up with a chauffeur, a relief to at least one friend. "He was never that good a driver," the friend explains.

Every prime minister makes enemies in office. After Mr. Chrétien crushed Kim Campbell in the 1993 election, a man in a half-ton truck tried to run Mr. Clark over as he crossed Calgary's 6th Avenue. Mr. Clark tells this story calmly. "I had to duck out of the way," he says. But the lesson is obvious: A former prime minister "may not want to settle where you've been an MP."

Ms. Campbell liked to travel in Europe, and spent several years in Los Angeles as our consul-general, i.e. she left the country. Mr. Clark has grandchildren in Ottawa, and spends time there. "With the passage of time, antagonisms diminish," he says. "It might take a little longer with Mr. Harper because his defeat was recent, and their displeasure hasn't matured into respect."

Mr. Harper's second-floor constituency lair is easy to miss, a single door with a small sign. Anam Kazim, the new provincial NDP MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, who won her riding by six votes in a recount, has an office – a more spacious and luxurious and welcoming office – across the hall. Ms. Kazim's people recall that Mr. Harper's hole-in-the-wall was often unstaffed when he had a majority in Ottawa. When a constituent needed help, "basically we called Ottawa."

But the NDPers haven't seen him around much since Justin Trudeau was sworn in. "Maybe, if you find him, you'll find Jim Prentice, too," someone in Ms. Kazim's office says. The ex-premier of Alberta also dematerialized after his ignominious loss to Rachel Notley, until he landed a job last month as a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Eventually, I ring the electronic bell on the door of Harper HQ. A young woman's voice bids me good morning over the speaker. A moment later, she opens the door. She is wearing business attire and high heels, and is probably in her early 20s. She is very pleasant, but seems nervous. I am nervous, too: All I want is to ask Mr. Harper, now an ordinary MP, how he's doing, how he's adjusting to ordinary political life, if he's holding up after his defeat. But his past attitude toward the media suggests he is best approached with a whip and a chair.

The young woman invites me into the tiny waiting chamber. There's barely room for two people, never mind a discussion. She asks for some ID, proffers a seat, and disappears behind an inner door, making sure not to open it too widely – as if she might be hiding, you know, a former prime minister.

Did I say the waiting ward was spartan? A square of two-way glass mirrors me while revealing nothing more than the outline of a desk in the next room. The remaining contents of the room comprise two flags (Canada and Alberta); a small framed photo of Mr. Harper; a bottle of hand sanitizer; and, displayed prominently on a table stand, a pamphlet entitled A Crown of Maples: Constitutional Monarchy in Canada. Perhaps it's a tableau of Mr. Harper's mind. It feels like a scene in a Coen brothers movie.

The young woman reappears. She is sorry. Mr. Harper isn't available. Not, he's not here. Not, he's here but he won't speak to you. Just not available, the vaguest of the vaguenesses. "We're booking a few weeks ahead now," she says, apologetically. She suggests that I e-mail a woman in Mr. Harper's office who has already refused my entreaties.

I say, "Is he here now?" to which she replies, "I can't really say." Pause. "But I have to go, because we're in the middle of a meeting."

I thank her anyway. "Okay," she says. "Have a wonderful day. Stay warm!"

But Calgary is mid-chinook. People are walking the streets in shorts and T-shirts. How long has it been since she left the office?


The day Paul Martin vacated his seat as a backbencher, Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations, called to ask if he’d go to Africa to create the African Development Bank. The redemption of Paul Martin began moments after his fall.


What's he doing for money?

His salary has dropped from a prime ministerial $334,800 a year, to a basic MP's salary of $167,400. He lost his $2,000 annual car allowance – MPs don't get one – and, because he stood for election and won his riding, missed out on a one-time $167,400 severance payment. (If you're a quitter or a loser on Parliament Hill, you get paid.)

Then there's his pension. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which is clinically obsessive about these matters, Mr. Harper's pension for the prime-ministerial part of his job – about half of what it might have been, thanks to reforms he introduced in 2012 – will be $48,000 a year, starting in 2026, when he turns 67. He'll take in another $121,000 to $148,000 a year (depending whether he buys back his early pension, under rules introduced later on) from his MP's pension; he could collect that tomorrow if he resigns, but he makes $19,400 more sitting in the House.

Mr. Harper appears to be trying to compensate for his diminished postelection cash flow. Just before Christmas, he incorporated Harper and Associates Consulting Inc., whose address is a chartered accountant's office in Ottawa. Speaking fees will help, too. Bill Clinton raked in $27-million (U.S.) giving speeches over the last three years, at anywhere from $125,000 to $725,000 a spiel, and he hasn't been president for a decade and a half. Still, an unnameable Canadian speaking-agency executive points out, "Politicians don't make much money in Canada. We don't have a celebrity culture. If there's a market for him, it's in the U.S." Said executive doubts Mr. Harper will regularly command $100,000 a speech in Canada, but "he could make a comfortable secondary income."

Look: He'll be fine. He already shaved $18,000 off his 2015 taxes by moving to Alberta from Ontario before the end of the year.

Still, "I think money is always a concern," Mr. Clark says. "We're simply the CEO of the country, not the CEO of an opulent corporation. Again, I think it depends on what you're in public life for." Mr. Harper's former colleagues all say the same thing about him: Stephen Harper's not a lawyer (as Pierre Trudeau was in his after-Ottawa life). and has no interest in making bags of money (as Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Mulroney have). On the other hand, he is still Stephen Harper, the former leader who centralized federal power in his own office, and he'll still wield influence: That, former prime ministers say, never goes away.

But it's impossible to pretend the loss of the big job as the Big Dog doesn't hurt. "Oh, yes, there's an appreciable difference," Mr. Clark says of life as PM versus life as MP. "As prime minister, you're able to be the decider. Afterward, your capacity is to influence. Not to decide."

"You can do more in government in five minutes than you can do in five months outside," another former prime minister told me not long ago. Not that there aren't opportunities beyond the gargoyled peaks of Parliament Hill. The day Mr. Martin vacated his seat as a backbencher, Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations, called to ask if he'd go to Africa to create the African Development Bank. The redemption of Paul Martin began moments after his fall.


INTO HARPER'S SHOES

The Conservatives pick their new leader on May 27, 2017; the deadline to register is next Feb. 24. While no one's declared an intention to run yet, many have been mentioned as possible candidates. Here is what some key players have said about potential leadership runs:

Whatever he does, Mr. Harper will do it unobtrusively. Politically connected Calgarians who know him are used to the ghostly nature of his presence in the city. "He's not actively involved in what you would call the downtown Chamber of Commerce activities," a Calgary lawyer and Conservative acquaintance observes. The country is dotted with former aides he rarely speaks to.

The silence is partly strategic: Mr. Harper lost a big long election in a very public manner, and will lie low until the taint wears off and he no longer gives off the pong of electoral failure. There are lots of people in Calgary, for instance, who want Rona Ambrose, the interim leader of the federal Conservatives (who therefore cannot run for the actual leadership), to run against Ms. Notley in Alberta's next provincial election: They don't want Mr. Harper to scare off potential Ambrose voters, which is why we very likely won't see him supporting her. It is predicted he'll hit the federal Conservative leadership smackdown in May, 2017, but that's an eon away.

"It's been really quiet," another Calgary businessman told me. "But that doesn't surprise me. That's who he is." Which is not to say the Harpers aren't fitting in. Laureen Harper was born in nearby Turner Valley and has family in the Calgary area, and Mr. Harper's parents moved there in the late 1990s. (His father died in 2003.) He gets together more often now with his accountant brothers, and is gradually emerging from his postelection cocoon: He has been welcomed as a member of both the Ranchmen's Club and the Calgary Petroleum Club. He's definitely Calgary establishment now.

Indeed, the former prime minister is becoming almost extroverted: This week, on St. Patrick's Day, he tweeted a memorial to "my friend Jim." That would be Jim Flaherty, Mr. Harper's longest-lasting finance minister, who died two years ago in April. Mr. Harper was deeply shaken by Mr. Flaherty's death, despite having clashed with him over income trusts. "May the luck of the Irish be with you all today," Mr. Harper's tweet continues, over a picture of himself hefting a pint of stout with his pal.

And of course the Harpers own a home in Calgary. They moved back in, full-time, last October.

The house is in the northwest quadrant of the city, in a subdivision called Tuscany because of its theoretical resemblance to Italy's hilly topography. The house is a two-storey beige stucco detached structure with gray trim and a two-car garage in a neighbourhood that didn't exist until the early 1990s. Stephen and Laureen Harper first bought the house in 1998, for $233,775. Its ownership has migrated over the years – to Laureen Harper and Mr. Harper's father in 2001, to Laureen alone in 2002, and finally to Stephen and Laureen again in 2012. It's currently assessed at $607,500.

It's a nice spot, quiet, safe, modestly unobtrusive.

The property backs onto a small ravine, across the top of which you can see another subdivision, some highways, and, in the far distance, the ski jumps in Calgary's Olympic Village. It's almost what you'd call a vista. Except for the black RCMP van parked outside when Mr. Harper is in residence, you wouldn't distinguish our former prime minister's home from any other house in any other prosperous middle-class subdivision in any other suburb in any other city in the country, which was probably his point. (He won't say.) He hoped to reflect the aspirations of average Canadians. The house reminds you instantly that Mr. Harper's intention – as a leader, but also for the country – was not to be ordinarily powerful, but powerfully ordinary. As Paul Wells pointed out in The Longer I'm Prime Minister, his biography of Mr. Harper, the former PM never wanted to stand out. He wanted to last.

Nothing does, of course. The best feature of the house is its back yard, which looks over a spinney of planted golden birch and a paved path that winds along behind the subdivision. According to friends, neighbours and acquaintances, Mr. Harper walks there for exercise from time to time. There's a bench on the other side of the path where you can sit and admire the ravine, next to a built-in dispenser of emergency dog-poo bags ("It's not just the law, it's your doody"); just beyond that sits a small statue of a bison, called Sunning Buffalo. It's pretty much right in front of the former prime minister's back yard.

This is where Stephen Harper lives now, in the city and province where he was inspired to stand up to the politics of Eastern appeasement and build a new Western-based coalition, one that created an alternative, possibly more democratic version of the country. They really should put up a plaque.

In any event, he didn't seem to be there the day I dropped by.


HARPER'S STORY

Last year, John Ibbitson's book Stephen Harper gave voters insights into the man's life before the election that ended his prime ministership. Read Bob Rae's review here, and read Mr. Ibbitson’s subscriber-only analysis of how Mr. Harper created a more conservative Canada.

In Mr. Harper's unfamiliar absence, his friends and associates are busy shoring up his legacy.

A 40-page monograph entitled Ordered Liberty: How Harper's Philosophy Transformed Canada for the Better appeared in Policy Options magazine in December, the first brick (that would be an accurate word) in what's going to be a heavily reinforced wall defending Mr. Harper's record.

According to some people close to him, Mr. Harper suspected he was past his best-before date. "He was pretty resigned" to defeat, a long-time friend of his told me a few weeks ago. We were sitting in a sprawling pub in a mall near the University of Calgary, not far from the food court where Mr. Harper and his pals argued out their notions of Burkean conservatism 25 years ago. "I think he thought the people were going to judge." But "one of his reactions to his defeat is relief. Because it's not his problem any more."

He has discussed the election with friends, and from their reports, while he takes full responsibility for the loss, he still believes it ought to have been fought over leadership, not over his personality. Does he respect the new Prime Minister? "Respect would be a strong word for Justin Trudeau," an associate admits. "But clearly we come from an egghead background. What Stephen Harper does realize is that Trudeau trusts his team."

People who know him have always claimed Mr. Harper is warmer than he lets on most of the time in public. The criticism that reportedly stung him – a devoted father – as much as any other in his entire decade as PM was the ridicule he endured when he shook his son's hand after dropping him off at school. Every man knows that a father's handshake can be a gesture of love and respect at the same time, as his surely was. But the gesture didn't roll off Mr. Harper that way.

"Partly due to his personality, he wasn't able to project that he cared about people," the long-time friend acknowledged. He paused. "He's not a guy for grand visions. But I would say you do need some aspect of grand vision in leadership. And I think he had some, but not enough."

Maybe Mr. Harper will write about that. Writing is the one thing everyone agrees he will be doing a lot of. As Globe and Mail journalist John Ibbitson revealed in his book, Stephen Harper, the former PM kept a log of everything that happened under his watch. Rumours are simmering in publishing circles that Mr. Harper is negotiating to write "a work of history," as one book executive puts it. (And not hockey history, either.) Meanwhile, the Harpers are building a second home in Bragg Creek, in the foothills of the Rockies southwest of Calgary – a knockout spot overlooking a river, perfect for contemplating past mistakes. Not that any of the neighbours I spoke with in Bragg Creek knew precisely where the property was. Like the whereabouts of Mr. Harper at any given time, it's a bit of a mystery.


Would we be better, smarter, more engaged, less cynical and less bewildered citizens if we had felt some emotional connection to his leadership? If Justin Trudeau is long on emotion but still learning to do math, could the ever-calculating Mr. Harper have learned to show more humanity?


Please don't misunderstand: This isn't an attempt to be lazily meretricious, to accuse Mr. Harper of taking a powder when it is perfectly reasonable he should chill for a while, after a decade as prime minister and a crushing election campaign. No one begrudges him a break, even if he is a working MP. Still, the questions rankle: Why do we feel this hankering to know what he's up to, and why won't he tell us? Does he owe us some explanation?

I eventually found Stephen Harper at a memorial service for Ron Southern, the billionaire founder of Alberta-based Atco Group. It was a long affair, two solid hours of speeches and music (including My Way, the most ironic funeral song ever), complete with a first-rate tenor and honour guards and the Band of the Scots Guards and Governor-General David Johnston and almost a thousand Albertans of every rank and station that Ronald Donald Southern had known or befriended or inspired. It was like watching the old Alberta of Peter Lougheed see out its last stalwart.

Stephen Harper, the man who harnessed that economic might to a thick political base, was the last person in the funeral procession to walk, slowly, out of the massive riding hall where the memorial service was held. Laureen was beside him, holding his hand. It was a surprise to see him: some in the Southerns' inner circle credited his presence to Laureen's connections with the family. He declined to attend the funeral of Don Getty, the former premier of Alberta, earlier this month. (He tweeted his grief instead.)

The Harpers proceeded with the other guests and members of the public to the banquet hall where Mr. Southern's daughters, Linda and Nancy, had laid out a generous spread. Mr. Harper immediately started listening to well-wishers: He stayed in one place, and people came to him. Not that there was a long lineup. In five minutes, I saw him talk to three people. I was standing in front of him, waiting to speak with him, when one of his young aides asked who I was and what I wanted. I said I wondered if Mr. Harper might have a comment about Mr. Southern.

"No," the aide said – it was noisy, and I couldn't hear very well, but I thought he said his name was Mr. Sprouts – "Mr. Harper is just here to pay his respects."

"Ah," I said, "well, I've been trying to find him to talk about what it's like to step down from power: Could he comment on that?"

"Mr. Harper is here to pay his respects only," Mr. Sprouts repeated. He was genuinely apologetic. I let it go.

Back in my car, heading west to look for the Harpers' new homesite in Bragg Creek, I began to grasp more clearly why I wanted to find Mr. Harper, and why even people who despised him are keen to know how, or even where, he's hanging.

He was the prime minister of this country for nearly 10 years. For a decade, he insisted that his personality was irrelevant, that only the quality of his management mattered. Principles, and not personality, would for once rule the age. His personal reserve made the country feel less intimate, less connected, but also tougher, more hard-headed. Now that he has lost his heavily defended kingdom on Parliament Hill, people want to witness the real and unprotected man. Did he do himself an injustice, hiding his alleged warmth? Did we, as citizens, in defeating him, misjudge what he wouldn't let us see? Is that our fault, or his? Would it have changed the experience of living in Harper's Canada, had he shown some emotional skin? Would he have been a better (an even better, if you prefer that phraseology) prime minister? Would we be more engaged, less cynical citizens had we felt some emotional connection to his leadership? If Justin Trudeau is long on emotion but still learning to do math, could the ever-calculating Mr. Harper have learned to show more humanity? Can we answer those questions – which are imporant ones for future elections – if he won't show us who he was?

It would be interesting to know what Stephen Harper thinks about all that, now that he's off the clock. If he were a more communicative leader – a Churchill, a Vaclav Havel, an Obama, a Boris Johnson, someone who thought of leadership as a shareable struggle and a story rather than as the management and retention of power – this would be the ideal moment for Mr. Harper to take a chance, step into the open, and provide a running commentary on what political power looks like once you lose it, what it can and can't do, how we could be smarter voters. That's a lesson all the world could use at this very moment. He's certainly smart enough to deliver it.

But apparently he isn't ready to do that yet. Maybe he never will be. "The two commonest mistakes in judgment," Charles Dickens once observed, "are, the confounding of shyness with arrogance – a very common mistake indeed – and the not understanding that an obstinate nature exists in a perpetual struggle with itself." Maybe he's just bashful. But it would be a shame if obstinacy is Stephen Harper's lasting legacy.


Ian Brown is a feature writer with The Globe and Mail.


With research from Rick Cash and Stephanie Chambers


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