News / Canada

Metro interviews Stephen Harper: PM talks terrorism, Syrian refugees and 'elite political correctness on steroids'

Metro sits down with the Prime Minister ahead of the looming 2015 federal election.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper sits down for an interview with Metro.

Steven Goetz/For Metro

Prime Minister Stephen Harper sits down for an interview with Metro.

Stephen Harper says the world is full of danger. In a sit-down interview with Metro, the prime minister warned of international financial crises, pandemics, terrorists and, in a measured way, explained why Canadians can’t have the kinder, gentler country that the other leaders are promising.

Harper almost looked casual — the top button of his blue shirt undone — as he brought the hammer down on what he called “Canada’s elite.”

“Look, it’s not that elite opinion doesn’t matter, and in all matters expert opinion always counts, but you cannot govern well and you cannot govern properly unless you understand the values and realities of ordinary Canadians,” Harper said.

He criticized the other parties for opposing the stripping of Canadian citizenship from people convicted of terror crimes.

“This is kind of elite political correctness on steroids,” Harper said. “We can’t have two classes of citizens.

“We can’t have a class of people who are war criminals and convicted terrorists as opposed to everybody else.

“A Canadian citizenship means something.”

Fear is a guiding factor for this leader.

If the common-man look Harper adopted throughout the interview was forced, his message of us versus them seemed genuine.

Listen to Metro's entire interview with the Prime Minister below, or click here to read the full transcript.

Metro: According to Generation Squeeze, Canadians aged 25 to 34 earn, on average, $4,200 less in their full-time jobs than their counterparts did in the late 1970s — and that’s in equivalent dollars. What can the federal government do to help young people be at least as financially successful as their parents’ generation?

Prime Minster Stephen Harper: We’re obviously living in an age of unprecedented global instability. We now have had, what’s it, seven years of ongoing economic and financial crisis across the globe. In that period, Canada has had the best job creation, growth, you name it, across the G7 countries. We believe we have a plan for the next four years to keep moving us forward on that, making sure we continue to reduce taxes for people, we make investments, large-scale investments, that we can afford and do so within a balanced budget. And we believe that if we stay on that track the economic prospects in this country are better than anywhere else.

Metro: People my age (31) fear, when it comes to refugees, Canada has become a meaner country. Others fear that if we accept too many Syrian refugees ISIS will enter with them. Is that a real threat?

Harper: Per capita, we are the largest refugee resettlement country in the world. But, at the same time we’ve also made clear that we’re going to make sure we select people who are genuinely refugees. Organizations like ISIS are planning attacks around the world. There’s absolutely no doubt that they are planning attacks. There is absolutely no doubt that they will use migrant flows to try to move people. That said, no one should think for a second that most of the people who are coming are not people doing it for their own reasons, either they’re refugees or they’re seeking better economic opportunity or they’re under humanitarian stress. A tiny percentage of those would likely be a potential terrorist, but they do exist.

Metro: You came to politics as a reformer. What’s left for you to change? 

Harper: We now want to make sure we secure our economic framework, that we retain our balanced budget, that we make the investments we need to make to really realize the potential and the opportunities of our economy.

Metro: How will Canadian cities look under another four years of your leadership? 

Harper: Unlike most of the most developed economies, all of the major developed economies, our average infrastructure age in Canada has actually started to come down a little bit. Theirs is actually rising. We have an opportunity here to make these investments, and we are doing so, without borrowing money, without raising people’s taxes.

Metro: If you had a time machine and had the opportunity to go back, what are three piece of advice you would give your younger self?

Harper: I guess if I could say one thing it’s that you don’t know what’s coming next. Particularly in this age of a global economy. Anything that happens in the world has immediate effects on us. And I’m not just talking about financial crises, refugee crises, the outbreak of a pandemic. Everything in the world can affect us at any moment. The government has to know where it’s going. It has to have its fundamentals down, it has to be prepared to adapt. 

You need to have a philosophy of government, where you’re leading. We’ve been clear where we’re leading. A government that’s lean, where taxes are low, where we don’t create jobs directly but we work closely with economic actors to make sure we have a good environment to create jobs. If you have no philosophy you will just be anchorless and rudderless. Nobody looks at Canada and thinks that. You can look at a lot of other countries and think that. But I don’t think people think that about this country. 

Metro: We’ve heard you make many comments that don’t seem positive about elites. What do you think has changed them? 

Harper: It’s not that elite opinion doesn’t matter. It all matters. Expert opinion always counts. But you cannot govern well, and you cannot govern properly, unless you understand the values and realities of ordinary Canadians. You have the other parties opposing, the fact that we now allow the taking way of citizenship from people convicted of terrorist offences. And I listened to the rationales for their positions. And this is elite political correctness on steroids. We can’t have two classes of citizens. What do you mean? We can’t have a class of people who are war criminals and convicted terrorists, as opposed to everyone else. 

Our Canadian citizenship means something, and if someone, as we just had recently, someone is convicted of trying to plan the most horrific terrorist plot in Canada. It’s something that if carried off would have created a 9/11 in downtown Toronto. If we can’t take away the citizenship of that person when we’re perfectly able to do so, why, what is it our country stands for, exactly? This is a case where I think you’ve got elite opinion completely divorced to what ordinary people think and understand. You know. Not only on security matters, but, we are not a country where we want to have in our midst, people who want destroy our friends and neighbours. 

There’s some elements of elite opinion who just kind of oppose military intervention, oppose working with our allies, as a matter of principal. How does that help Canadians? Canadians understand that if we don’t put military pressure on (ISIS), they are actually going to plan attacks on us. And they will. And if we’re not there, it’s going to be worse, not better.

Metro: Would you take away the citizenship of terrorists who only had Canadian citizenship, if you could?

Harper: Well you can’t do that because you can’t render people stateless.

Metro: Would you want to?

Harper: You can’t render people stateless in international law, but when there is no reason to keep citizenship, then there’s every reason why it should be taken away.