Monday, June 20, 2005

Straight Eye for the Straight Guy

It's really hard to know what to make out of Stephen Harper's new makeover. I suppose the most obvious conclusion to draw is that Harper will be staying on to lead the Conservatives in the next election. This in itself isn't too surprising although I'd been warming up to the theory that Harper might quietly take Bernard Landry's lead and announce his resignation in early July. There have certainly been enough calls for him to resign and I tend to agree wholeheartedly with Mike Brock's controversial call for Harper to step aside. I know that coming from a Liberal, that's not saying much but I have always thought very highly of Harper. I think he's a very smart man and, despite some recent decisions, I think he's a pretty good tactician. The main reason I never bought into the whole "Stephen Harper is the Bogeyman" scare tactics used last election was that I always knew Harper was too smart to make radical changes as Prime Minister, even if the 'hidden agenda' was chalk full of abortion reform.

But the problem with Harper, as Mike Brock points out, is that he simply has too much baggage. People associate him with the Alliance and his seat is in Calgary. That's why the Ralph Klein health care comments and the victory tour down central Alberta were a lethal combination in the dying days of the 2004 election, probably more so than anything Randy White may have said. If Harper had wanted to, he could have resigned this summer and been praised for all he's accomplished. After all, he united the right and has been the opposition leader who oversaw a stunning collapse, first in Liberal support, then in Paul Martin's personal popularity. Yeah, most of those wounds were self-inflicted but Harper has accomplished a lot in the past two years. A graceful exit would have let Peter MacKay or Bernard Lord come in and pick up the pieces. I know it's a "what if" question political junkies love to debate, but you can put me in the camp that firmly believe either of those two would thrash Martin to pieces in the next election.

And heck, Harper is still a young guy. Maybe after a few 'non-scary' years as Industry Minister, Steve could run for and win his party?s leadership for the third time.

Instead, he's going to try for the political makeover. Don't get me wrong, showing off the "kinder, gentler, young, and athletic" Stephen Harper is likely a good thing to do. It's what he should have been doing the past two summers when he's gone to his Fortress of Solitude. It only makes sense when you're up against a Senior Citizen Prime Minister with little charisma.

But people aren't afraid of Harper's burger flipping abilities. The fact that he can catch a football or dance with a senior citizen won't get rid of the baggage he's accumulated. Stockwell Day tried these stunts when he first took over and it turned him into the biggest laughing stock of the past decade. Harper likely has enough substance to avoid that fate but I strongly doubt this makeover will have much of an impact on an electorate that has, fairly or unfairly, already made up their mind about him.

40 Comments:

  • well if Harper loses the next election before Klien leaves edmonton he very well could replace Morton as the main opposition to Dinning in the race for the Priemership of the province

    By Anonymous Chad Semenchuk, at 9:19 PM  

  • Stephen Harper's problem isn't that he's scary. Margaret Thatcher was scary and people gave her three majorities. Harper's problem is that he looks and talks like an accountant. No offence to accountants, but the masses want a parent- or grandparent-figure for a leader. Jack Layton looks like a riverboat gambler; that's not good either. But Paul Martin is Grandpa. Grandpa had his hand in the till? I can't believe that! Grandpa will take care of us.

    By Blogger Aeolus, at 10:03 PM  

  • Harper says he's not interested in image makeover despite summer offensive BRUCE CHEADLE
    Mon Jun 20, 4:28 PM ET


    OTTAWA (CP) - Despite Conservative talk of changing tack with a summer-long charm offensive by the party's leader, Stephen Harper says he's not interested in an image makeover.

    "I don't intend to change myself," Harper told Vancouver radio station CKNW during a nationally syndicated call-in show Monday. "I'm not a believer in these so-called image makeovers. I've watched politicians who tried to be something they're not and tried to have all these different incarnations. I think it just comes across as phoney.

    "I am who I am."

    Last week, the Conservatives announced Harper would be travelling the country this summer in an effort to soften his public persona as an angry, unknown entity.

    "I think we have to show a sunny disposition and show to Canadians that we're competent, we're professional, we're disciplined and we're ready to govern," deputy leader Peter MacKay said at the time.

    The following day, MacKay grabbed Harper for an impromptu game of catch football on Parliament's front lawn.

    But Harper, 46, said changing his image is more about getting face-time outside Ottawa than rearranging his personality.

    His staff is simply trying to draw more attention to his activities away from Parliament, he said.

    A pair of callers took Harper to task for his "constant negativity," saying he needs a more positive message.

    Harper responded that as Opposition leader, Canadians see him primarily in those "five-or 10-second clips where you're attacking the government."

    As a result, people get a one-dimensional image, he said.

    It wasn't Harper's only dig at his media tormenters Monday.

    The Tory leader also questioned the focus on his anger when "the Liberals used relentless negative advertising quite effectively" in last June's election campaign.

    Demagogic Liberal TV ads, featuring a handgun firing directly at the viewer and a young woman weeping in hospital waiting room, have not been forgotten by Conservatives.

    Nor does Harper think he's getting a fair shake in the current debate over Christian political activists, including reports that at least eight Tory candidates have been nominated with links to Christian evangelical organizations.

    "There's at least that many in the Liberal party that sit in the Liberal government right now," Harper shot back.

    "What always disturbs me is how this concern about the Christian right or the Christians involved in politics always becomes a concern if it's in the Conservative party."

    He said the same media bias exists in the United States, where no one seemed to think it worth debate when Jimmy Carter, an evangelical Christian, was the Democratic president in the White House.

    Harper made no apologies for attempting to recruit people from a variety of faith groups to the Conservative cause.

    "If we're to . . . clean up government, end corruption, restore some sense of ethics and morality into politics, then you have to have people who are concerned with these kinds of things," said Harper.

    "If you continue to vote for people who say they have no ethics, you'll end up with an unethical government."

    Harper made it clear he's not about to soften his stance on the issues that animate his political ambition - because a burnished image is not his goal.

    "Some of the image politics frustrates me a bit because that's not, obviously, what I'm in it for," he said.

    The real significance of getting out and meeting Canadians this summer, he said, is to reconnect with voter issues.

    "That part of the job is important."

    By Blogger HearHere, at 10:39 PM  

  • It’s a shame that when you look at what other minority governments were able to do in the past, that this government has to be consumed with business that does nothing to serve the people of Canada. I firmly believe that all of them are just as equally as poor and irresponsible. While the child poverty rate in Manitoba is above 20%, tactical politicking should not be the focus of anyone’s agenda, no matter their position in the house.

    Given that a no confidence vote, were one successful, would run a real risk of placing Canadian federation in jeopardy, I don’t see how anyone can claim that such ends would benefit Canadians. I think it reckless on the part of both the Bloc and the Tories. That’s not to say that I believe the current Liberal government is all that fantastic, or that the NDP is a good choice to replace them. In my opinion, the Canadian political landscape is in that bad a state, but all of this useless grandstanding is going to lead somewhere highly undesired. And the people, not Mr. Harper or Mr. Martin, are going to be the ones that pay the price.

    By Blogger Matthew Good, at 1:41 AM  

  • I echo the previous comments, and I will go one step further. There is a serious leadership void in Canada. We have weak and ineffective leaders all around the table. There are no luminaries on the main stage at this time, nor are there any compelling visions or platforms. Yet, there are several pressing issues that need to be dealt with. How sad.

    By Blogger John Murney, at 2:41 AM  

  • I agree with John Murney's comment. There is a leadership void in Canada. It is hard to get excited over a vision of Canada being presented by Martin and Harper.

    Paul Martin is managing to pull himself back into position to win another minority government, not because of anything he has or the Liberals have done. They have benefitted from the foot in mouth contamination within the Conservative party.

    Harper and his group continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Imagine the Conservatives today had they not has the Grewal tapes or had they supported same-sex marriage or had no official position.

    Perhaps Belinda might still be there, the Gomery stuff would have remained on the front burner.

    All that said, I am pleased Harper has a bunch of "morons" advising him. The last thing we need is another minority government led by Harper. It would die in short order and then Martin and Layton would be asked to team up.

    By Blogger Rick Barnes, at 12:48 PM  

  • If things work out well, the West will soon be seperate from the East, including those who refuse to accept the strong leaderships of true Canadians.... westerners. Once again the Liberal biased media is trying to skewer a western based leader. Give it up.

    You can have your Trudeaus, Chretiens, and Martins. We'll be fine with Klein, Harper, and Manning.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:58 PM  

  • I agree with everyone who mentioned the leadership void right now. There's very little to get excited about in any of the major parties. Is it any wonder that people are turned off of politics?

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:55 PM  

  • Western separatism is a laughable idea pushed by hillbillies. An independent Western Canada's economy would collapse in about 5 seconds. The status quo is not perfect in Canada, but I'll take what we have, rather than trade it for government by hillbillies.

    By Blogger John Murney, at 3:23 PM  

  • Hahah Murney that was hilarious.

    You do realize it is Alberta propping up most of the Countries economy right?

    Ontario's economy is over 70% publicly employed, Alberta's only around 30%.

    Who pays for Ontario's jobs... thats right Alberta and BC.

    Who pays for Quebec's transfer payments.... Alberta.

    Without western resources, Canada would have become the 3rd world country Ontario votes for years ago.

    Western Seperation is real, and if you keep up your attitude we will be gone sooner rather than later... thanks!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:39 PM  

  • Anonymous is dead wrong in his assessment of Ontario's economy, which is more than strong enough to stand on its own two feet, and helps share the burden the rest of the country puts on Alberta and B.C. Like Alberta, most of Ontario's economy is privately employed, with a considerable amount of international investment pushing our unemployment rates down among the lowest in the country.

    That said, Mr. Murney is himself engaging in hyperbole. With the amount of oil Alberta has in its tarsands, with the oil that Saskatchewan has, they have more than enough resources to do quite well for the next fifty years at least. They could certainly go it alone... as could Ontario. We may not have oil, but we have something more significant: water.

    In short, both anonymous and Mr. Murney are engaging in hyperbole bourne out of anger. You both need to calm down and see each other as the decent people you both are. Nobody benefits by playing immature games of "gee, my town's being victimized, the rest of you guys all suck."

    By Blogger James Bow, at 3:52 PM  

  • Anonymous, Ontario is not a “HAVENOT” province. We don't get one cent from Alberta. Ontario products compete in the global market. Companies and employees here must always remain competitive otherwise businesses and jobs will go elsewhere. We can’t just shovel tar for a living and feed on a world addicted to oil.

    Just like your beloved Alberta we end up sending our hard earned tax dollars to the rest of Canada. If the country were to split up, Ontario would end up with billions in extra tax revenues.

    We do it all WITHOUT oil revenues.

    I almost wish someone would find oil in Ontario :)

    By Anonymous Ontario Engineer, at 6:25 PM  

  • “Western separatism is a laughable idea pushed by hillbillies."

    Even just five years ago this might have been true... but it's not anymore. The Liberanos have pushed a lot of Albertans past the "Tipping Point." With a strong leader…anything is possible.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:32 PM  

  • lol. Anonymous, you're funny. Thanks for the good laugh, I needed it! :P

    By Blogger daveberta, at 7:50 PM  

  • So Harper would flee Ottawa because he's a weak leader, only to take Alberta to the promised land because he's a strong leader? What, are second-raters good enough for Alberta?

    That's just me baiting the gullible. See who bites.

    In the meantime, to return, laboriously, to the point of the post: Harper doesn't need a makeover. He needs to say what he would do in government. It never ceases to amaze me lately — really only lately, like in the last year or two — how he buys into the gallery's diagnosis and then complains about the gallery.

    Nobody on Earth cares whether the prime minister is cuddly. Canadians don't want a hug. They want a program for government. And "integrity" isn't a program. "Barbecues" aren't a program. "Really ugly photo ops, grudgingly delivered" aren't a program.

    Harper says, through surrogates, that he had a complete and impressive platform ready to roll out five days after the big confidence vote, if the Conservatives had won it. And now he won't share it. That's what a hidden agenda looks like. It may be a benign agenda. It may be a glorious agenda. The point is that he won't let us see it. That's OK; the Liberals will be happy to tell everyone what's in Harper's platform, and since he won't show it to us, who's to say they're wrong?

    If Harper spent the summer saving old ladies from drowning or swooping out of the sky to splint the legs of injured children, it wouldn't change the fact Canadians don't know his roads policy and his energy policy and his thoughts on Europe and India and laboratory research and regional development. We know what he *used* to think of regional development, only now apparently he's changed his mind, and he won't say what to. He cannot hug enough babies to fill the hole that leaves in Canadians' perception of him.

    By Anonymous Paul Wells, at 8:23 PM  

  • Anonymous,

    You still haven't appologize for lies you told about the hard working people of Ontario.

    Instead you spread more lies.

    Well as a proud Canadian, the only way ANY province is leaving Confederation is over my dead body.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:18 PM  

  • Paul Wells makes some excellent points. But I wish he would clear the last bit up:

    All these policy issues are important and we want to know where he stands.

    But how does Paul Martin do it? From polls, its clear we "love" the guy - but we have no clue where he stands on any issue at all.

    We know he's "very clear" in making everything "an important priority" that his team is looking at - but at the end of the day, we have no clue what he believes.

    Remember ballistic missle defense?

    Paul: how do the Liberals do it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:23 PM  

  • Anonymous,

    Are you asking yourself questions in the third person?

    D

    By Blogger daveberta, at 10:42 PM  

  • yes :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:23 PM  

  • "But how does Paul Martin do it? From polls, its clear we "love" the guy - but we have no clue where he stands on any issue at all."

    Well, most Canadians don't love him. Not even most Ontarians.

    40% of Canadians who were eligible to vote in the last election said that Harper, Martin and Layton were equally bad and decided to step away from the political process.

    Of the remaining 60% or so, 36.7% decided to stick with the devil they knew rather than risk the devil they didn't.

    That's hardly a ringing endorsement.

    By Blogger James Bow, at 12:18 AM  

  • James Bow:

    Your point is a really good one. I just want to know why we think Harper needs more policy statements when Martin doesn't ever give any.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:22 AM  

  • Well, for better or for worse, Martin *is* a walking policy statement. We have the record of his last eighteen months as prime minister and his years as finance minister.

    This means, a vote for Paul Martin gets us managerial style leadership that doesn't rock the boat (and has no vision, either). A government that acknowledges such problems as the underfunding of medicare, the military and our cities and promises to do something about it in five years time (or when prodded into action by the NDP).

    We are seeing the downsides of Martin's leadership style through this fractious, dischordant parliament and the fact that there's a sense that little has been done over the past two years. However, most Canadians have jobs. Unemployment is relatively low throughout the land. Canadians in general feel more secure about their personal futures and have vague (but rapidly diminshing) feelings of good will towards Martin for it, because of a sense (however erroneous) that he gave us this during his tenure as finance minister.

    The Canadians who have decided to stick around and vote don't want to shake that up. Also, the Liberals continue to plunk themselves down in the middle of the electorate. By committing to nothing, they're allowing the extremes duke it out around them. 63% of voting Canadians may dislike what the Liberals stand for, but while 30% think the Liberals go too far, 20% don't think the Liberals go far enough.

    That's how the Liberals are staying on top at this point.

    By Blogger James Bow, at 12:41 AM  

  • I'm generally in agreement with Wells on this. I've always felt that it's better to wait until during an election campaign to release a platform since it ensures you maximum news coverage. Also, if Harper release a platform now and he needs to change it over the next 8 months, he'll be branded as a flip-floper or a weak leader who backs down.

    BUT

    a) The Conservative platform is going to get picked appart pretty hard so, at the very least, they'll know the arguments against it by the time the election comes around.

    b) The PM has pretty much announced we're in an election campaign, albeit a 10 month one.

    c) The Hidden Agenda talk is Harper's biggest enemy right now. Not his football skills.

    My advice for Harper would be to talk issues all summer, do lectures, and play up the "smart policy wonk" angle. I wouldn't leak the platform as a platform per sey, but he can hint at a lot of it. Then I'd consider rolling it out in October or November.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:08 AM  

  • Harper is a strong leader, its the eastern biased media that doesnt want to accept the fact that western canada has become the true leadership center of Canada. Manning was demonized, Day was demonized, and now they are trying to do the same with Harper.

    And you cant really blame them, its worked previously so why not continue? The status quo is great for easterners, they hold the balance of power and are far too selfish to ever give it up. (read: Actual Senate reform, a (gasp) western PM).

    The East alone supports a government riddled with corruption, dragging Canadians to death over an unworkable health care ideology, and promoting the homosexual agenda before fixing real problems. Why? Because Harper is 'scary'? Give me a break.

    One term of conservative leadership brought about ten times the improvements three terms of Liberal corruption and dithery did. It's time for Canada to return to greatness, and Stephen Harper knows the way.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:40 PM  

  • Definitely showing some bias in your search for bias, there. :-)

    By Blogger James Bow, at 4:53 PM  

  • Alberta's leaving? How are you getting me out? Shooting, hanging? That's the only way a separatist would get me to leave.

    By Blogger Canadian Perasma, at 6:16 PM  

  • Crap. I find myself agreeing w/ Anonymous.

    And I think Paul Wells is a really smart guy - to the point where my g/f says I have a crush on him. (those are her issues, not mine) - but I have to disagree with him here (and w/ Kinsella, who made the same point in the Post the other day).

    In the short term, extensive policy focus and communication will get Harper nowhere. There's something in the water in Ottawa, I don't know.

    Maybe the Martin void makes this a different playing field than the Chretien years, but I don't remember the Manning government that killed the deficit or implemented the Clarity Act. More to the point, I don't even remember voter/MSM media validation of the ideas in and of themselves until they were des faits accomplis by the Liberals. I do remember Lawrence Martin's biography of Chretien (vol 2) giving Reform credit for them with one hand and calling it Chretien's legacy with the other.

    By Blogger matt, at 8:13 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Sailor Republica, at 10:56 PM  

  • It really quite amazing that everyone who know stephen harper raves about his intellectual prowess - but he can't seem to get his message (or any message) across.

    In the days leading up to the election that wasn't, he told us that he had a platform that he was excited about - and as noted above - we still haven't heard what it is!!

    I agree with Paul that this was a huge mistake - Canadians are sick to death of corruption and graft - but we need someone credible to get rid of it, not to tell us more about how badly we have been taken!

    By Blogger snether, at 11:41 PM  

  • "In the short term, extensive policy focus and communication will get Harper nowhere."

    Matt: Here is something I cannot emphasize enough.

    I have now, to my horror, been in Ottawa for more than a decade. I have never gone TWO WEEKS without hearing somebody who thought he was a political sophisticate explaining patiently that "extensive policy focus and communication" would get the opposition nowhere. Even though it's practised by many people in many parties, I call it the Joe Clark strategy, and it's sheer and utter madness. And it is FAR stupider for Harper to say nothing about his policies than it was for Clark, because Clark's opponents branded him as a nice guy, and they brand Harper as a danger to the survival of the nation.

    "Extensive policy focus and communication" got Preston Manning from zero seats to within a hair of Official Opposition status in one election. But Manning has been replaced by a succession of losers who thought it was politically sophisticated to play Hide-The-Policy. Their only fan club is a bunch of morons who post anonymously on blogs. Joe Clark would be proud of the fine work Harper and his strategists — Harper, Harper, Harper and Harper — are doing.

    By Anonymous Paul Wells, at 2:24 AM  

  • Matt: some of your analysis is spot on.

    All major events of Chretiens reign were prompted by the Reform, Alliance, or PC parties.

    Tax and deficit reduction - Reform Party platform.

    Clarity Act - Designed and written by Stephen Harper himself.

    How come the MSM doesnt pick up on any of this? Because, Harper IS a westerner, after all.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:42 AM  

  • Paul: touche. Presque. Western policy analysis made Manning a contender. An equally valid national policy analysis kept him stalled there.

    I really really want you to be right. Over and above having good governance and a healthy democracy, I want to post on other peoples' blogs about substantive policy and not communication strategy.

    To be a fatalist, it can't hurt Harper to give it a try. But, cynically, I still think that voters will respond better (in theory, at least) to him playing with his kids on TV and releasing a nebulous five point feel good plan to fix use the SCC ruling to fix healthcare than to Harper shilling a Blue Book.

    By Blogger matt, at 2:40 PM  

  • Oh, and Anonymous: Manning/Harper got credit. After the fact.

    By Blogger matt, at 2:40 PM  

  • First, to be clear, this is the first time *this* anonymous has posted to this thread.

    Matt, thanks for reminding me that Reform can be attributed for the slash and burn policy for which I've personally blamed Martin.

    That eliminating of the deficit wiped-out my career. Along with thousands of others from the education and health care fields who had to go scrambling to other countries to find jobs.

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