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Canada  

Harper back in spotlight

Suddenly, Stephen Harper is turning up everywhere.

In the past couple of weeks, he's made headlines for writing a book, telling an American audience in February he could still "easily" lead the Conservative Party and for adding his name to a full-page ad in the New York Times praising President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran.

On Monday he was in Montreal to mark Israel's 70th birthday and Tuesday he tweeted he was pleased to be back in "la Belle Province", adding it was great to see one-time colleagues including former Conservative MPs Denis Lebel and Christian Paradis and Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos.

Harper's re-emergence bodes well for the Liberals' strategy to brand the Opposition as "Harper Conservatives."

For their part, the Conservatives seem to be saying: Bring it on. They're not hesitating to embrace their former introverted leader who left the party with 99 seats and mixed emotions.

In some parts of the country, there is still antipathy towards Harper, and the Liberals are trying to stoke those negative opinions, said Tim Powers, a Conservative strategist and vice-chairman of Summa Strategies. On the other hand, "hardcore Conservatives will love it," he said.

Powers said the Liberal strategy "makes sense" because Harper is visible.

Whether that's deliberate or not, it might help the Liberals a little bit."

Still, Scheer "can't be looking over his shoulder for the ghost of Stephen Harper," he added.

While Harper's re-emergence seems to be coinciding with the Liberal branding exercise, he's been active in global commentary and events since leaving office, said Rachel Curran, Harper's former director of policy who currently works as a senior associate with Harper and Associates Consulting.

Curran said the Liberal attempt to paint Scheer and Harper with the same brush won't hurt the Conservatives because Harper left the party in a strong position. She said if Scheer is able to build on that in 2019, the party will be in good shape.

As for whether Harper is looming over Scheer, Curran said there's room for both of them.

"I don't think Stephen Harper has to disappear entirely to make room for Andrew Scheer. Similarly I think Andrew Scheer has done a good job at putting his stamp on the party and developing his own policy direction certainly without any help from Mr. Harper."

Curran said when the Liberals label Scheer's party as "Harper Conservatives" it's because they want to re-fight the 2015 election.

"Given the number of times they're now referring to Stephen Harper in question period and elsewhere, it's clearly a strategic decision."



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