The real Stephen Harper

"There’s always been this concern that Harper believes he’s the smartest guy in the room and that, no matter what, he’s never wrong," confides the Harper acquaintance (who’s also a Mulroney friend).

In interviews with federal associates of Harper, past and present, a picture emerges of a bright and driven man who does not take dissenting counsel especially well and is prone to profane outbursts.

"The people around him, the stable, has generally been bred for obedience, so that’s what you get," says a confrere.

Another insider agrees "there’s no question the Prime Minister rules by fear," which is not always productive.

"At some point, you know, you get up every day and you get kicked in the balls and, you know what, you get tired of it. So when people stop fighting back, I’m telling you, that’s a most dangerous, dangerous, dangerous day," he says.

It was Harper who insisted that the Nov. 27 economic statement be used as a political weapon to bludgeon the Conservatives’ foes.

While sources claim his chief of staff, Guy Giorno, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – seasoned veterans of government at Queen’s Park – were less hawkish, the Prime Minister, ever the chief strategist, was convinced the provocative measures could withstand any challenge from the three opposition parties.

Harper was sure the Liberals, mired in a leadership contest, and the NDP and Bloc Québécois could never unite against him.

"Why let a good crisis go to waste when you can use it to hobble your opposition?" says a party insider.

That’s how Flaherty wound up deriding "the free ride for political parties" last week and pledging to eliminate their $1.95-per-vote funding subsidy. That would have crippled the Liberals and the Bloc (to say nothing of the Greens).

Flaherty also vowed to "temporarily" suspend the right to strike of federal public servants and curb their ability to make pay-equity appeals through the courts, an anathema to the NDP.

And if that were not enough, there was no significant economic stimulus package to match what other countries have been implementing.

After that triple-whammy enraged and emboldened the Liberals, NDP and Bloc, the Tories retreated last weekend, but the coalition government-in-waiting had already been forged.

Conservative MPs this week publicly supported Harper’s sharp criticism of the NDP-Liberal coalition, and prominent ministers such as Environment Minister Jim Prentice and Transport Minister John Baird took their message to the media. Some, like Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, voiced support for Harper.

But inside and outside the party, Harper was being blamed for precipitating the storm.

"It’s not that he’s never made mistakes before. He actually has made a number of them, but … there’s always been handy staff to blame it on," says a Tory.

"The big difference here is that the big flaming pile of s— is squarely … at his doorstep."

Read the rest at the The Toronto Star.  It really is worth reading.

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