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Elizabeth May: “The only person on that stage who’s never held a private sector job is Stephen Harper.”
By: Dana Wagner on
Elizabeth May, Green Party leader and candidate for Saanich — Gulf Islands, on Twitter on September 17, 2015
It’s false that Harper never worked a private sector job. After dropping out of the University of Toronto, he took a job with Imperial Oil in the company’s Edmonton office in 1978, leaving in 1981 for a second go at university.FactsCan Score: False
Elizabeth May was not at the Globe and Mail leaders debate, but jumped in on Twitter with tweets and video commentary.
One video singled out the Prime Minister among the three debaters.
“We don’t need career politicians,” May said, listing her previous stints and adding that Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair have also worked in other fields. “The only person on that stage who’s never held a private sector job is Stephen Harper.”
It’s true Harper has been in politics for a long time. But it’s false that he never held a private sector job.
He worked at least one, with an oil company. Imperial Oil had an Edmonton office with a vacancy in 1978 that Stephen Harper, a fresh undergraduate dropout of the University of Toronto, moved away from home to fill. Harper stayed with the company for a few years, first as an office clerk in Edmonton before transferring to the Calgary office. He left in 1981 to begin studying a second time, now at the University of Calgary.
Harper’s history at Imperial Oil is documented by Globe and Mail reporter John Ibbitson in his recent biography, Stephen Harper (pages 22-23). The Imperial Oil job is also cited by Ron Graham in The Walrus, Mark Kennedy in the Ottawa Citizen, and John Paul Tasker in CBC. When Harper’s long-ago boss at the company, Frank Glenfield, died in 2011, Harper gave the eulogy and according to news reports, recounted his time as a junior staff. Working in the “petroleum industry” is referenced in a short biography on the Prime Minister’s website.
It turns out May knew about the oil company gig, but she discounted it, for the inaccurate reason that “his job at Imperial Oil was a short-term student job.” She said, “I didn’t consider it as an actual ‘hire.’”
Even in that incorrect version of events (Harper was not a student at the time), the job would still be private sector. A claim about his ‘limited private sector experience’ would be more accurate.
It’s also worth noting that May was making a larger point about the value of a diverse career. And the private sector is not the only way to diversify, as she seemed to acknowledge by listing her positions in different sectors. Harper too has diversified. He left politics in 1997 and until 2002 headed the National Citizens Coalition, a lobby group that is also a registered non-profit.
But focusing only on the private sector, Harper held a job with at least one company. May’s claim is false.