As he took to the podium in defeat, Canadians expected to hear a gracious concession speech, that he was stepping down as party leader and resigning his seat immediately.
Instead, Harper thanked his supporters and said goodnight. The announcement he was stepping down as leader came in a statement to the party president released to the media. Harper would not say the words on camera.
Then he lingered in the back rows of the House of Commons for 10 months.
Harper was a ruthless campaigner and took negative advertising to a level previously unknown in Canadian politics. He prorogued Parliament to avoid defeat and outfoxed his opponents. But he lost battles in the Supreme Court and on Senate reform. His policies were divisive rather than inclusive.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was generous in his comments last week, few Atlantic Canadians shed tears or felt any sense of loss at Harper’s departure.
Harper was never able to shake off his comments about there being about a culture of defeat in Atlantic Canada. His government’s changes to employment insurance were seen as an attack on the region. Atlantic premiers were united in opposition, arguing we were unfairly penalized because of our heavy reliance on seasonal industries.
Harper’s battles with former Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams are legendary. Williams actively campaigned against him, urging voters to cast a ballot for anyone but a Conservative.
Harper refused to attend premiers’ meetings. Instead, he summoned Robert Ghiz, Darrell Dexter, Sean Graham, David Alward and others to Ottawa for one-on-one audiences. His appointment of Ottawa resident Mike Duffy as a P.E.I. senator signalled his disdain for Atlantic Canada.
He outmanoeuvred Peter MacKay to seize control of the Conservative party. Had MacKay prevailed, the party’s history in this region might be different (though likely not in Newfoundland).
Harper’s battles with Amherst’s Bill Casey carried on for years. Casey opposed budgets that hurt Nova Scotia and today the populist MP is enjoying the last laugh as a Liberal.
It was not all bad news, though. Harper was at the helm when Canada weathered the 2008 worldwide recession. He committed to an ambitious naval rebuilding program and apologized to First Nations for years of neglect and negotiated ambitious trade deals.
But in the end, Atlantic Canada had enough and cast its lot with a youthful leader who offered hope and optimism. Canadians wanted a more tolerant country and a government with a conscience.
Harper outstayed his welcome.