Sometimes former Prime Ministers should avoid the spotlight

Pity the poor ex head of state, whether that person is a prime minister, a president, a monarch or a dictator, who settles for retirement,  although I’ d wager that many former dictators never get that far.  At one time you are cock of the rock. Everyone listens to you.  You get really cool perks like official residences and private jets.  You are regularly quoted in the media.  You get to pal around with other world leaders.  Then it all comes crashing down.

Some ex-leaders go quietly into the night.  Others return to former jobs, like Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien who went back to practicing law.  In a few cases some turn to novel pursuits.  Jimmy Carter worked for Habitat for Humanity George W. Bush became a painter.

And then there’s Stephen Harper.  The Conservative PM who lost to Justin Trudeau in 2016 didn’t pop up much after he resigned shortly after the last federal election.  Canadians heard nary a word from him for some time – until now.  Mr. Harper has regained some notoriety of late for a few things he has done that, at least according to some, are not helpful.

First he came out and congratulated Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for his election ‘victory’ last April.  For those who do not follow European politics, Mr. Orban is an increasingly autocratic leader who is openly clamping down on freedoms in his country.  His actions are not exactly consistent with the International Democratic Union, in whose name Mr. Harper offered his praise.   Then he thanked US President Trump for taking his country out of the nuclear deal with Iran in a full-page ad in the New York Times.  Finally, he recently traveled to Washington to meet with senior US officials, including the President’s main trade adviser, Larry Kudlow, all without letting the current government know.  In light of the ongoing tariff war initiated by Trump, you would think that Mr, Harper would want to coordinate whatever it is he is doing with the people in power, no?

For the record, I never liked Mr. Harper as PM.  As a civil servant this nevertheless never interfered with my duty to provide the best intelligence assessments to him and his governments.  Besides, I don’t have anything personal against him: I even saw him at a Grey Cup party at a Toronto bar several years ago and he seemed like an average Joe.  But I never liked his government.

It turns out that something else he has done may actually be kinda illegal or, better said, of questionable merit.  A few days ago he spoke at a rally in Paris organised by the National Resistance Council, which is actually the front for the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) or, as it is known in Farsi, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), thanking the group for its ‘long battle for democracy and freedom in Iran’.  You could argue that Mr. Harper has the right to say whatever he wants as a private citizen, except for the complication that the MeK was a listed terrorist entity in Canada, until his government ‘delisted’ it in late 2012.

Aside from the curious obsession Mr. Harper seems to have with Iran, the more serious question is why he would embrace the MeK?    Sure, they are no longer a listed entity, although I for one have no idea what prompted the Harper government to remove them (full disclosure: as an Iranian analyst at CSIS the MeK’s activities were one of the things I would keep an eye on).  Furthermore, the MeK is about as democratic and freedom-loving as the mullahs who currently run Iran. From bizarre sexual segregation to the worship of the group’s leaders, the husband and wife team of Maryam and Massood Rajavi, the MeK is little more than a cult.  In addition, the organisation has been behind many acts of terrorism over the years even if it has been quiet in that department for a decade.  The group was probably behind an attack on the Iranian embassy in Ottawa and representations elsewhere in 1992 in retaliation for Iranian airstrikes against MeK forces in Iraq and there was a series of bizarre immolations of MeK followers here and in Europe following the French police raid on the group’s HQ in Paris.

Look, I am not a fan of the current regime in Iran.  As someone who followed that nation since the Iranian revolution I probably know more than the average Canadian and I know that those who run the country are not nice people.  They should be replaced – but by whom?  Certainly not the MeK and not the family of the last Shah (the Shah’s son has as much credibility in Iran as the MeK – i.e. none. That the heir to the Peacock Throne is popular with the wealthy Iranian diaspora, especially in the US, who fled Iran in 1979, should tell you something).  Whatever eventually takes the place of the present government should be left up to the Iranian people – those that live there.  I don’t think their first choice will be the MeK.

As for Mr. Harper, maybe he should take up painting and stop befriending terrorists.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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