OTTAWA — The news media has been uninvited to a speech by Stephen Harper on Thursday, underscoring the apparent antipathy the former prime minister continues to harbour in private life towards the Canadian press corps.
Harper is to address the Canadian Club of Toronto, which had previously invited reporters to cover the event. But the club sent out a notice to the media Wednesday saying the invitation had been sent in error.
"The Canadian Club of Toronto would like to apologize for inviting the media to our event with The Right Honourable Stephen Harper. This is a closed event. The previous media advisories were sent in error," said the notice.
Colleen Kennedy, the club's executive director, said the event was always considered private and that her organization should not have sent out an invitation for the media to cover it.
Harper is plugging a new book, "Right Here, Right Now," in which he addresses how conservatives should tackle the challenge of rising populism since the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency.
Harper spoke to a series of American media outlets earlier in the week to promote his book.
During his near decade in power, Harper's office had an acrimonious relationship with the national media. He distrusted reporters' motives and his office tightly controlled access to his ministers, foreign diplomats and senior public servants.
Harper's book argues that the forces that propelled Trump to power can't be ignored by political leaders, and that conservatives need to find practical ways to bridge the disconnect and distrust separating working people and those who govern them.
The message is similar to the one Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made in numerous speeches but Harper draws a sharp partisan distinction, arguing that "a pragmatic conservative approach to market-oriented economics" is the best way to deal with the current disruption.
"If conservatives do not develop answers, we will not only seem disconnected, we will cede territory to the bad ideas of the other side," he writes.
Harper says Trump supporters can't simply be written off as ill-informed bigots. While he avoids heavy-handed criticism of Trump, Harper does say the president's focus on renegotiating a well-functioning North American Free Trade Agreement was "an enormous and unnecessary distraction for all of us."
He says the three North American countries should have been focusing on their shared problem — China.
Harper says Chinese President Xi Jinping is "utterly committed to authoritarian governance" and holding power for life.
China is poised to become the world's largest economy, and that is not a good thing in Harper's view.
"This, combined with its renewed authoritarianism, its increasing foreign aggressiveness, and its military buildup, cannot be seen as anything other than a serious threat to the Western democratic model."
Harper also argues against granting China market economy status and accuses the Liberal government before him of attempting to "slip special treatment of China into our regulations" before he reversed them.
Harper says the non-market status that China was assigned in 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization must be maintained, and he supports Trump's efforts to do that. A controversial clause in the recently renegotiated North American free trade pact requires countries to notify each other if they enter into trade talks with a "non-market" economy.
"Trump needs to hold his ground here and continue to resist the calls to change China's WTO status in the absence of sufficient reform," Harper writes.
"The Chinese government wants market economy status badly. It needs to earn it."
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press