There is one reason to be sorry to say farewell to Stephen Harper. That’s because the end of the Harper era might also mean the demise of ShitHarperDid. The social media comedy group that has built a large cult following poking fun at the PM for four years is considering drawing a the curtain its own act, maybe as a victim of its own success.
For the past four years the pesky anti-Conservative government protest, best known for its satirical YouTube videos supported by crowd funding, aimed to connect with an audience of young Canadians who had grown disenchanted with politics and their inability to affect progressive change.
SHD first came to prominence during the 2011 election, with its own campaign to empower young people with information and the motivation to vote. But SHD could have died after that election, especially as its efforts were frustrated by such a disappointing result.
“We thought we’d have to go back to our day jobs,” said SHD’s founder, Vancouver based stand-up comedian Sean Devlin. But instead the movement was sustained by the frustration at the electoral system that gave Canadians a majority government that didn’t reflect the values of many Canadians.
It’s no accident that the group has a comedian at its foundation. Political change may be the group’s ultimate goal, but the message is delivered through the comedy and satire which has made it so popular.
Devlin soon built SHD into a nationwide network of organisers, volunteers and supporters all across Canada, like Montreal’s David Vanderfleet, who was originally attracted to SHD by its biting brand of comedy.
“I think a lot of young people consider politics really dull. But they’ll share funny stuff online even if it’s political,” he says, “like a lot of people, I first got into the group because of the name. It’s like what you’d say to your friends; ‘Hey, have you heard about that shit Harper did?’”
The group’s YouTube gags include the viral video Ryan Gosling Not Endorsing ShitHarperDid.com:
and the purchase of the domain name EcomomicActionPlan.ca to spoof the government’s self promotional ads on the state of the economy. The SHD versions highlighted unemployment, lack of opportunity and discrimination as an alternative view of Harper’s economic record:
Behind the gags was much more serious activism. Devlin teamed up with Brigitte DePape, who is best remembered as the Senate page appearing on the floor of parliament holding a stop sign with Harper’s name on it. The two activists breached the Prime Minister’s protection protocol to crash a 2014 Harper speaking event in Vancouver to protest the PM’s environmental policy. The stunt got Devlin roughed up and arrested but also gathered national media attention for SHD and its message.
As the 2015 election neared, SHD swung back into full campaign mode focusing on getting the anti Harper vote out. The Conservative campaign handed the protesters plenty of ammunition for its particular brand of mocking protest.
With reference to the niqab issue and a woman who was attacked on the streets of Montreal while wearing the veil, SHD’s webpage offered a stinging message to the Harper government: “If you’re going to put Canadians against each other to get ahead in the polls at least offer a hand up after they get knocked down…and wash it off before you offer it, you slimy eel-eyed discriminating weasel.”
A massive mobilization of its supporters on election day may have played a part in ending the Harper era, but the question the membership is now being asked on the SHD web page is whether the group’ efforts should continue and where it could go from here.
Brigitte DePape has suggested that the fight will continue on several other fronts. “We are part of building something special that is capable of taking down not only the Harper government. It’s really great being part of this shift in culture,” she says.
It remains to be seen whether the shift in Canada’s political culture DePape refers to will gather momentum or moss, considering how it has been built on antipathy toward such a polarizing figure as Harper.
One hint at SHD’s new focus can now be seen on its website. A ‘Trudeau meter’ will record the incoming PM’s record of keeping his promises. “We will be prepared to hold that (new) government to account and push for the systemic changes we need to get through,” said a statement by Devlin, “things like the climate crisis, the environmental crisis and the economic crisis.”
David Vanderfleet confirms that he wouldn’t like to see the movement disband, even if it’s in need of a name change. “Shit Trudeau Does? No!” he laughs, as he considers how it might be abbreviated, “I don’t think that could work.”