The Intellectual Versus The Football Star
I really do have mixed opinions on this. I do think that policy is where Harper's focus should be. I really have a hard time believing that Canadians refuse to vote for Harper because he’s not personable enough. I think it’s somewhat insulting to the electorate to announce to them that Stephen Harper will toss a football around and that they should vote for him as a result of it. If you asked most Canadians if they’d rather have Preston Manning or Stockwell Day running the CPC, I’d wager most would pick the geeky policy wonk over the flashy pretty boy.
But I don’t think that means he should reveal the entire Tory platform right now for a few reasons. First of all, a lot can, and will, change in the 8 months from now until the next election. The Supreme Court Health Care decision is an example of that. I think it’s also fairly obvious that at least one Liberal Minister is going to bungle something between now and then to the extent that the CPC will want to highlight it in their platform. If something goes wrong and it’s not addressed in the released platform, the Liberals will be able to say “well, the Conservatives wouldn’t have done this any differently, so don’t blame us.” The reason the Bloc does so well is because they can criticize without worrying about governing. The second you tell people exactly how you'd govern, it makes it very hard to be critical.
One also assumes that some changes will have to be made between this platform and platform 2.0 that Harper will release once the campaign gets going. And once those changes are made he’ll be branded a flip-flopper or an opportunist – whether that’s fair or not.
And finally, I think that releasing a platform in stages during a campaign is a great way to keep media attention on yourself and your ideas once the campaign gets going. If he wants to present himself as a man of ideas but has already shown all his cards, the media isn’t going to want to cover his ideas come campaign time. Instead, they’re gonna want to find some backbench idiot who thinks abortionists should be tried for murder.
That said, there are a lot of benefits to releasing parts of the platform now. A lot of media pundits have been saying that instead of barbecues, Harper should go speak at conferences and share his ideas. I couldn’t agree more. Everyone keeps saying that Stephen Harper is a smart guy with lots of ideas. Well, let’s see it. Let him talk on big issues and prove that he’s an intellectual. He doesn’t need to give away the entire platform but why not give a talk on federalism? On democratic reform? On changing the tax code?
The bottom line is that the “hidden agenda” is still killing Harper. And it seems to me that the worst possible way to fight hidden agenda talk is to tell people that you’re going to put on an act to seem nicer than you actually are. If the real Stephen Harper is a non-scary intellectual, then show people a non-scary intellectual rather than a non-scary prom king.