Harper tour plays to small crowd

Stephen Harper's visit to the North Island was tightly scripted

When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper traveled to Campbell River and the Comox Valley last week, the visit offered local residents a rare chance for an up-close-and-personal look at their top elected official.

Who are we kidding? No, it didn’t.

In a tightly scripted and security-heavy blitz to stump for local Conservative Party candidates in the upcoming Oct. 19 federal election, Harper did shake a few hands and sign a few autographs. But this special treatment was afforded only to a select handful of ticketed party faithful Thursday evening in a rally at Black Creek’s Coastal Black Winery.

Which was announced with about 75 minutes advance notice.

For anybody else hoping to catch a glimpse of the prime minister’s smiling face, their best chance was to catch the larger-than-life version painted on the side of the campaign bus that lumbered through the communities Thursday and Friday carrying national press and aides.

Campaigns certainly have the right to hold private functions and fundraisers, and Thursday’s rally was never billed as anything else.

But Harper’s second appearance, held Friday morning at a private residence overlooking McIvor Lake, was portrayed as a “public event” in a brief press release to the Mirror. Problem was, it was announced at 6:49 a.m. and said only that local media interested in attending were requested to meet at the entrance to Elk Falls Provincial Park less than two hours later.

And that was simply to meet a media helper who would then guide us to the as-yet undisclosed location for the actual event, an announcement by the prime minister to a few dozen fans of a promised environmental initiative should the Conservatives be returned to government.

Oh, and this time — unlike Thursday night — questions from the press! Three, to be precise (Mike Duffy, anyone?).

This hardly conjures images of Caesar marching triumphant through the streets of Rome. More like another panel of “Where’s Waldo?”

Granted, any country’s leader is expected a level of security. But the cloak-and-dagger secrecy surrounding Harper’s brief North Island tour seems symptomatic of a closed-door approach to governance that runs counter to the concept of a healthy democracy.

Sure, there are plenty of people who show up with signs and, in one humorous instance, a sousaphone, to demonstrate. In some cases, these protests seem little more than a visceral distaste of Harper himself. But while a red, octagonal “Stop Harper” sign leaves something to be desired in terms of public policy alternative, many citizens have very legitimate concerns about real government actions and policies.

Fortunately for them, they still have the vote.

And they have much greater access to their local riding candidates.

Less than two weeks before Harper came surrounded by the palace guard, North Island-Powell River Conservative candidate Laura Smith was racing fearlessly around the local logger sports ground surrounded by sharpened axes, chainsaws and little else between her and the public. You’ve still got nearly eight weeks to listen to and share your views with all four of our local candidates — and act accordingly on Oct. 19.

Pretty clearly, Harper arrived in the region for the purpose of shoring up support for both Smith and for longtime Conservative compatriot and ally John Duncan (Courtenay-Alberni) in ridings that appear to be up for grabs.

It just seems reasonable to think he could have been more supportive had he spread the message to a broader audience. Instead, we got a fine job of preaching to the choir — while the rest of the congregation was left out in the cold.