In a two-day visit to Campbell River and the Comox Valley last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper rallied Conservative Party supporters, drew scattered but vocal protests and stumbled into controversy when Scouts Canada objected to the use of uniformed scouts during his announcement of a proposed environmental initiative at McIvor Lake.
After arriving at Comox Airport Thursday afternoon, Harper met with search and rescue volunteers before moving on to a private campaign event that evening at Coastal Black Winery in Black Creek.
The strategic location allowed Harper to stump for a pair of regional Conservative candidates in ridings created since the party won its last federal election, in 2011.
Laura Smith, candidate for the North Island-Powell River riding, served as master of ceremonies and introduced incumbent North Vancouver Island MP John Duncan, who is running for the Courtenay-Alberni seat.
Duncan, who served for a time in the Harper cabinet, then introduced the prime minister to a cheering crowd in the open-sided pavilion at the winery.
Both Duncan and Smith were back with the prime minister Friday morning for the announcement of a plan — should the Conservatives be returned to power in the Oct. 19 federal election — to benefit estuaries and wild salmon. The event was billed as a public appearance, but was held at a private residence overlooking McIvor Lake, accessible only after passing through several security checkpoints.
“We’re obviously extremely optimistic” about the party’s chances in the two ridings, Harper said during a brief question period following the announcement. “John has been a great representative and a great colleague for all of us for many, many years, and Laura will be a great addition to parliament.
“British Columbians are probably going to be in a position to decide the outcome of this election,” he added, noting the province has been granted six additional ridings since the 2011 election.
Protester Hal Hewitt of Headquarters plays the sousaphone as the Stephen Harper campaign bus leaves a campaign event in Black Creek Thursday night. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/Campbell River Mirror
While Harper received adulation inside Thursday’s invitation-only event in Black Creek, his visit prompted several small protests during the day.
A group of perhaps 40 waved “Stop Harper” and other signs from the 17th Street bridge in Courtenay around the time he flew into the Comox Airport.
A rumoured stop by Harper at the Quinsam Hall in Campbell River later in the afternoon drew the threat of a protest action by a social media group, but only a half-dozen residents appeared at the hall at 4 p.m. to find all was quiet.
Finally, another group of perhaps 40 people staked out a spot at the intersection of South Island Highway and Endall Road in Black Creek to wave signs at vehicles en route to Coastal Black Winery for the campaign event.
Hal Hewitt of Merville played a sousaphone with a sign over its bell reading, “Face the music Harper” as campaign rally guests departed the winery. Several of the attendees waved and honked at the protesters, while others rolled down their windows to yell, “Get a life!”
“Ah, there’s been four or five grumpy old white guys, but most of them have been good about it,” said Grant Gordon of Dove Creek, who waved a “Stop Harper” sign at the departing vehicles. “Some of these people are our neighbours and, let’s face it, we’re all in this country together.”
In one notable instance, a woman who drove past the demonstrators turned around and drove back to throw an egg at them.
“I think it’s a perfect demonstration when you get egged,” said Chuck Murray, a veteran who has been battling Veterans’ Affairs over disability payments.