He wasn't much to look at.
It's unlikely that future generations of Canadians will feel compelled to erect statues in honor of Stephen Harper. There is no school of Harperism, no faction of loyalists ready to die for the leader now that power has finally and totally slipped from his grasp. Ayn Rand once said of Ronald Reagan - very unfairly - that he was a pragmatist who limped to the Right. That is an appropriate epithet for nearly a decade of Harperist rule over our fair Dominion.
He has been compared to Mackenzie King sans the weirdness. King ruled over a nation in Depression and at war. The Age of Harper has been one of comparative peace and plenty. A decade of rising commodities prices kept too many people from noticing our lackadaisical service sector and hollowed out manufacturing. Our success has been relative. We look like a nation possessed of a genius for prudence and common sense. We have one man to thank for that. It is not Stephen Harper, it is Barack Obama.
Nearly seven years of Obama could make the Keystone Kops look like James Bond. Had America been led half-way well during these last few years, we'd be back to wringing our hands about the brain drain. We have not improved, others have simply gotten worse. Our success, such as it is, is due to not making the mistakes others made with wild abandon.
Yes our banks remained steady during the financial crisis of 2008. The Harper Tories were keen to take credit for that. Yet our banks always remain steady. Our approach to banking regulation has not fundamentally changed since John A's time: Have a few big well diversified banks and make sure they don't lend too much. The Australians do much the same thing. So do the Swiss. It's a simple formula that pretty much always works. The last major Canadian bank to fail was way back in 1923.
Yes our fiscal house is in better order than most developed countries. But it usually is. Leaving aside the Pierre Trudeau inspired spending frenzy of the late 1970s and 1980s, the Harper years showed a return to our historic norm: Small deficits, some small surplus and nothing that could frighten investors out of the Canadian dollar.
This brings us to the future. We could say of Stephen Harper one thing that was utterly indisputable: He was better than the alternatives. In every field of public policy his remarkable mediocrity has been sharply contrasted by the ineptitude of his opponents. You don't have to be the best to win in politics, just seen as better than the other guy. The man in the fluffy blue sweater was better. Better than the dithering Paul Martin, better than the clueless though well meaning Stephane Dion and better - so much better - than the prodigal philosopher king Michael Ignatieff.
Is he better than Justin Trudeau? Oh, absolutely. Leaving aside the obvious differences in intelligence and political experience, there is a simple degree of maturity. Listen to the two men talk. It is hard to imagine that all that separates these men is a dozen years of life on this earth. It seems like so much more. Here we have the essential strangeness of this election. As if by a bizarre turn of events the Porsche is now to be turned over to a kid who just got his learners permit.
Casual ineptitude can cause only so many problems in this world. This is why Justin Trudeau - who is every inch his father's son - is only dangerous up to a point. History shows that the real danger isn't idiots who are given great power, it's intelligent men with bad ideas who stand behind the throne. The intellectuals who are far too clever by half. Behind the Boy King there is a man, again not so different in years but far greater in shrewdness: Gerald Butts.
Remember that name. In previous centuries when an idiot Dauphin became King of France, it was a cadre of prominent churchmen who actually ran the state. They were known as the éminences grise, the grey eminences. Needless to say that none of our soon to be ruling elite is silly enough to take Christianity seriously. Justin is a Catholic in the same sense that Stephen Harper is a forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Instead we have a new creed: Environmentalism. Gerald Butts will be the éminence vert of the new regime. Don't believe me? Before he became Principal Advisor to Justin Trudeau he was a key mastermind of Dalton McGuinty's rise to power. Twelve years of windmills, shuttered power plants and a war on rural Ontario. Now the Ontario wrecking crew is going on a national four year tour. Encores to be expected.
Canadians have not voted for change. They have voted for the worst of the past wrapped in a shiny and vapid package. The Liberal Party that heads back to power in Ottawa will combine the intellectual modesty of Pierre Trudeau with the fiscal prudence of Dalton McGuinty. The two worst Liberal regimes of the last fifty years are about to be fused together to create Canada's new national government.
In four years time you won't just be missing Stephen Harper. You'll be gazing fondly at that sensible looking chap Thomas Mulcair.