So how did I know Stephen would get the job? Was I clairvoyant? No. It was nothing more than simple, old-fashioned, logical deduction. The list of potential candidates --people who would have the proper skill set to run an organization like the NCC -- was not that long.
Being NCC president is not a run-of-the-mill job. First of all, you need to be an ideologically pure, small "c" conservative. That means you must reject Pierre Trudeau and all of his works. You must view the CBC as a socialist-run boondoggle. In general, you must believe that whatever the private sector can do, the public sector can do-- worse.
You must also know how to communicate effectively. You must know how to handle hostile media interviews and how to boil down complex socio-political issues into tidy 15-second sound bites. And you must have the debating skills to take on everyone from union bosses, to left-wing academics, to politicians, to NCC supporters who want a refund because the latest newsletter contained a split-infinitive.
And you must have no compunction about picking up the phone and asking a successful businessman for a $5,000 donation to help pay for radio ads featuring pigs oinking to the tune of The Blue Danube.
To me Stephen Harper fit the bill. Not only was he known as a principled ideological conservative, but as a Reform MP he had been a consistent and forceful champion of NCC causes. He spoke out vehemently against the MP pension plan, he denounced the Mulroney government's election gag law and he ensured that NCC representatives could appear before House of Commons committees.
What's more, Stephen was a longtime member of the NCC and had spoken at some of our events. Plus, I knew David liked Stephen. The two had first met back in 1987 at one of the Reform party's founding conventions and had become friends. Many times David would tell me how impressed he was with this "bright, young Calgary MP."
Well that is nice. By lavishing such high praise on Harper, it appears that all of the budget inflicted woundsin the Harper - Nicholls relationship have healed.
But perhaps this choice of extract serves a subtler purpose. There has been a lot of speculation as to Harper's future. With the ascendancy of Ignatieff, the Oh for three record in elections and, most importantly, the manifest fallibility Harper demonstrated in the Prorogation fiasco; people have been looking for signs Harper is preparing the ground for a retreat from public life. How about this?
Elected officials are constrained by the need for popularity every four to five years. The average one is consumed by the monthly opinion polls. The really bad ones worry about the approval of every group coming through their offices looking for a handout. Working with you in the NCC provides me with an opportunity to do much more -- to fight for basic conservative values of free markets and free elections, whether fashionable at that moment or not.
I am honoured to join you in your fight. The battle for political and economic freedom will have its victories and setbacks, as it has in the past.
It will never end ... and we shall never surrender."
Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part. But you have to sift through the signs as would a Kremlinologist with this bunch. If this is a sign of an imminent retirement, it brings to mind a quote from a book worth reading: