Friday, October 05, 2007

Flanagan's Harper's Team a must Read

It is hard to believe that five years ago Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan were a couple of mildly successful right wing policy wonks and Canadian Conservatives were fragmented and listless. The new century saw the decline of the Canada’s right wing voice and was heralded by key Liberal provincial victories; the Conservative journey to irrelevance seemed to have no end.

Today the Canadian political landscape today is vastly different. Harper has been transformed into the respected, though hardly loved, Tim Horton’s-drinking Prime Minister of Canada. Tom Flanagan, who can justly be characterized as Harper’s right brain, was one of the prime architects of the Conservative Party retooling and Harper’s climb to the top of the parliamentary heap. Under Harper’s leadership the once vapid Conservatives are a party that continues to grow in popularity to the point where they are currently on the verge of successfully replacing the federal Liberals as the leading federalist party in Quebec!

Tom Flanagan’s new book, Harper’s Team: Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power is a valuable and unique look at the ascension of the Stephen Harper led Conservatives from a seemingly ineffective opposition to Canada’s current government. A book like this from someone with the credibility and analytical ability of Tom Flanagan is rare, and the insights he has into our current Prime Minister and his brain trust, are unavailable from any other source.

By any standard, this is a great story. Tom Flanagan was an integral part of every important move Harper ever made. He spotted the young Harper, who was a student of his at the University of Calgary, recognized the man's potential, and has long been one of the key players in Harper’s inner circle. He has been a key advisor to Harper for the past five years. So Flanagan is uniquely positioned to provide insight into the Harper team and how it accomplished the political transformation that has played across the country.

At its heart, this book is a nuts-and-bolts, practical look at political growth and electoral success the like of which has not been seen since John Lashinger’s Leaders and Lesser Mortals, published in 1992. And unlike the equally enjoyable Right Side Up by Paul Wells, Harper’s Team has the added cache of being written by one of the key figures in Harper’s decision-making team. Indeed, the friendship between the stoic and brainy Harper and equally brainy Flanagan is part of the unique appeal of this book.

For the political practitioner, this book is full of descriptions of campaign techniques as currently practiced by the Conservative Party. It's a useful update, especially considering the transformation of political practices that has occurred since the arrival of the Internet.

Flanagan, as he details in this book, has avoided the public spotlight since coming to serve with Harper in Ottawa. He learned quickly that a lead staff person to the Leader of the Opposition does not voice an opinion, no matter how interesting, which differs from that of the leader. That's why Flanagan, a published academic particularly well respected on the subject of Louis Riel and other native topics, has essentially been silenced until now.

As a Canadian Métis, I have a strong appreciation for the quality and thoughtfulness of Flanagan’s previous academic work on native issues. I have read his book on Riel, and found it a substantial and important contribution to the scholarship on the subject. Yet Flanagan has served as a kind of über-nerd bogeyman for those who have wanted to criticize Stephen Harper, usually for his critical views on Riel and native issues. Usually this is political posturing, and sadly, it is often done by those who have never read his work.

Regardless of your political philosophy, it is hard to reconcile the harsh criticisms that have been levied against Flanagan with the tone and content of this newest book. It is clearly written, thoughtfully argued, easily accessible and deliberate and measured in tone. Moreover, the writing and publishing of this material is very much in the public interest.

The best part comes the towards the end as Flanagan discusses the creation and execution of the Conservative ad campaigns and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaigns in the failed 2004 campaign and successful 2006 campaign. Always the teacher, Flanagan concludes with “The Ten Commandments of Conservative Campaigning.” This section contains items on unity, moderation, inclusion, and self-discipline.

A remarkable book and very worth your time.

Highly Recommended.