Monday, June 27, 2005

The Intellectual Versus The Football Star

On my post bellow on Stephen Harper’s image make-over, Paul Wells jumped in with his view that Harper should roll out the Conservative platform this summer. The thinking is that this will eliminate the “hidden agenda” talk and show that there’s more behind him than angry words and hockey trivia.

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.


  • As much as I'd like to see the whole platform released ASAP, I'd be equally happy with the CPC releasing one chunk of it per month (for example) and talking about that issue ALLLLLLL month.

    (July is health care month! August is all about tax relief! etc)

    By Blogger Andrew, at 6:41 a.m.  

  • What I don't get is the notion that this is an all or nothing proposition. Why does he need to release his platform in order to discuss policy? I talk about policy and I don't have an election platform.

    He really does need to speak to his supposed strengths.

    And, while he's at it, surround himself with some useful advisors.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:51 a.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger john, at 10:30 a.m.  

  • I don't think that Harper's image is the problem. What kind of image did Chréien have?

    While policy is important, in my view Harper just does not come across as a leader. On the other hand neither does Martin!

    By Blogger john, at 10:32 a.m.  

  • I agree its a somewhat cynical attitude to suggest that the voters are simply not warming to Harper because he doesn't throw a football around...

    That being said, I don't know how many times I've heard this:

    "Look at his hair. He looks like a nerd!"

    "Why does he always wear a suit?"

    "I would vote Tory, but I just. don't. *like*. Harper. I can't put my finger on it."

    I really hear variations of these regularly and that, to me, suggests that large portions of the Canadian electorate really *is* that superficial at times.

    By Blogger The Hack, at 11:11 a.m.  

  • Have the Liberals released their agenda? Have the NDP?

    This "hidden agenda" crap is a creation of the Liberal spin machine, and has nothing to do with how public the Conservative agenda is. It's effective because the communication machinery of the CPC is ineffective, not because of any factual basis for the attack.

    The CPC could release their entire platform in excruciating detail and the Liberals would continue to claim they had a "hidden agenda" - that they haven't said enough, or wouldn't do what they say.

    Just because the Liberals in government rarely do what they say.

    By Blogger Paul, at 11:47 a.m.  

  • The "Paul" who wonders whether the Liberals have released their agenda needs to get out of the sun. The Liberals have indeed released their agenda. It's called 12 years in power and as many budgets. You can get a pretty good idea how somebody would govern by watching them govern for more than a decade, and if you don't want to suggest any better ideas, you should prepare to watch 'em govern for a decade more.

    The NDP released their agenda too. It's the budget they co-wrote with Tim Murphy while Ralph Goodale was bound and gagged in the root cellar.

    Interesting contrast. Stephen Harper worries the Liberals will steal his ideas. Jack Layton says, "Hey, steal these ones." Which one has gone up in the polls?

    This whole business of hiding your ideas is a bit perverse. "I have really excellent ideas for improving the well-being of all Canadians, but I refuse to reveal them because I'm afraid somebody might implement them, thus...improving your life. And we simply can't have that, because I'm a 200-pound crybaby."

    But the fact is, the-Paul-who-posted-the-comment-above-mine needn't complain. Conservatives have been playing it the way he wants it played since at least 1998 (I'd argue that Preston Manning was very much a policy-based leader, and he didn't abandon that tactic in 1998 so much as he got swallowed alive by the United Alternative process). So, the Conservatives in two parties, then in one, have been playing Hide-the-Policy since 1998. I think it's working really well for them, don't you?

    So take it from Paul: keep complaining about how the Liberals govern instead of telling us how you would govern. You will be rewarded with endless opportunity to criticize an endless suggestion of Liberal governments. And what's more, you'll get to be angry at anyone who suggests that's bad politics. Bliss!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:52 p.m.  

  • Paul Wells you made a great point.

    I don;t think is so much that people don't like Harper or that the agenda is really all that hidden. The message has been confused and mixed.

    For instance, Harper was all over the Liberals for "buying" support to the tume of billions...but promised he'd honour them all. What? So if you are going to act like the guys already in office, why should I vote for you again?

    The other thing that we seem to overlook is the very real posibility that Canadians DO know the agenda of the CPC...they just don't agree with it. Is that really so hard to fathom?

    BTW, I'm not the mike above

    By Blogger Mike, at 1:22 p.m.  

  • Even if the "Hidden Agenda" is a the creation of Liberal spin machine, I suspect that it's been effective...if people are still voting for a 'corrupt' and 'dithering' government, there's obviously more than a bad haircut behind it. So, fair or not, the Tories have to do something to try and dispel the hidden agenda talk.

    And tossing the football around will likely be less effective at this than a series of policy talks.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 2:14 p.m.  

  • This is not the States. The parties do not have enough money to create something out of nothing. The hidden agenda thing works because, well, it is true. Take what the Conservatives have been saying about SSM. The Conservatives have been trumpeting their "compromise" solution on the gay marriage issue for quite some time now. The Conservatives have promised to keep the traditional definition of marriage, but have said they will offer same sex couples the same rights under federal law as what married couples have.

    The problem is that civil unions come under provincial jurisdiction. In other words, such unions would first have to be recognized under provincial law for gay couples to be in a position to receive such entitlements under Federal law and the Federal government would not have a say whether gay couples would receive equal treatment under provincial law (e.g., adoption).

    Harper's "compromise" solution also ignores the fact that two provinces have already rejected the civil union plan outright.

    Harper seems to have a thing for jurisdictional shell games. Take his position(s) on abortion during the last election.

    Harper said the Conservative Party would not table legislation on abortion, but that he would allow private members bills and he would not instruct his caucus how to vote. However, he has also said that it is a provincial matter, presumably making any such potential vote unconstitutional.

    By talking out of both sides of his mouth, Harper managed keep his critics at by and “theo cons”, such as Mary Ellen Douglas, Ontario President of Campaign Life Coalition, happy. “I am happy to see that the Conservatives recognize that abortion funding is a provincial issue. We have been telling our provincial politicians that for years, but they keep insisting that the issue is federal.”

    Also during the 2004 election Harper borrowed a trick from Bush and tabled absurdly high revenue projections. Martin was not the only one to call him on this. The NYTs Paul Krugman did as well.

    Just how far is Harper willing to fudge things? Well look no further then the whitewashing he gave the parents involved in the Alymer spanking case.

    The judge ruled (July 2002) in the Aylmer case that hitting the kids with a belt, stick, electrical cords, clothes hanger and metal “spanking stick” went well beyond the use of “reasonable force” and slapping the wound of boy brunt by hot water so that a remedy including diluted bleach could be a applied to the wound was not protected by law. The Children’s Aid Society had every right to intervene; the parents claims to the contrary were “sheer nonsense”. "No community, or society, could reasonably agree with the concept that a parent who sexually abuses or physically mistreats a child should be entitled to give his/her consent to the interviewing, or examination of the child by a member of a Children's Aid Society."

    Harper June 2003 in a prepared policy speech: "We saw the capacity for this abuse of power in the events that took place in Aylmer, Ont. Children there were seized for no reason other than the state disagreed with the religious views of their parents. No conservative can
    support this kind of intrusion, and conservatives have an obligation to speak forcefully against such acts."

    By Blogger Koby, at 7:28 p.m.  

  • Also during the 2004 election Harper borrowed a trick from Bush and tabled absurdly high revenue projections.

    You're full of it. It was the Liberals who tabled absurdly low revenue projections. Did you conveniently forget about the whole "$1.9 billion, oops, I meant $9.1 billion" business?

    (In case you're wondering, the Conservative projection for that year was $5.7 billion. Please explain how that's "absurdly high" compared to $9.1 billion.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:07 p.m.  

  • Harper's revenue projections were more accurate than the Liberal projections.

    The Liberal-NDP spending spree over the past few months far exceeds the cost of any promises Harper made.

    By Blogger Michael Fox, at 8:11 p.m.  

  • 90 billion over 5 years with a 27% income tax cut. Liberals predicted the surplus to be 40 billion over 5. 8 billion per.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:30 p.m.  

  • And so far, the Conservative projections for the five year period have been considerably closer to reality than the Liberal ones. What's your point?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:37 p.m.  

  • It should be noted that the NDP has their platform available. Hell, I'm hosting a copy of it on my server for Greg (Sinister Thoughts). Not only is the Dipper platform available, but their costing document is there too.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 8:51 p.m.  

  • PW. Thanks for engaging in the discussion. But what ever became of the Red Book? Did you pay GST on any purchases this year? You chose to skip my point; does that question make my point any clearer?

    By Blogger Paul, at 10:06 p.m.  

  • Welcome to the perfect illustration of the institutional Conservative Party mindset. Paul is hoping that if he reminds us of the GST flip-flop for the 80,000th time, he can make the Liberals' 1993 victory go away, or make people feel bad about it, or something. Some conservatives hope, instead, for a method of persuading their fellow Canadians to elect a Conservative government in 2005 or 06.

    So you can get mad or you can get even. I know how satisfying it is to get mad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:03 a.m.  

  • It doesn't matter what the platform says; it's what the loose cannons on Harper's right wing let fly that is the problem. The "hidden agenda" wasn't hidden from anyone but the folks who typed up the official CPC platform last time around. Canadians figured out what it was from what CPC canadidates were saying and ran from it as fast as they could.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:59 p.m.  

  • PW chose to ignore my point for the second time, resorting instead to strawman arguments.

    My point, once again, is that the Liberals have no credibility whatever they say they will do. This is true whether it's GST, cleaning up AdScam, managing the budget, or SSM. And they will continue to claim that whatever the Conservatives say is a politician's lie.

    The fact that the Conservatives have said much of what they will do, is lost in the Liberal spin machine. Whatever the Conservatives say isn't good enough, they claim. Harper is scary, they claim. And if by some miracle the Conservative message gets past the media firewall, the Liberals simply claim it isn't credible.

    The point, once again, is that this discussion isn't about policy, it's about politics and spin. It's about throwing mud. And it's disgusting.

    By Blogger Paul, at 2:07 p.m.  

  • See? Get mad! So fun! Meanwhile Stephen Harper launched a summer policy tour today. While his apologists are trying to explain the world's injustices, he's trying to win. Compare and contrast. Or, if you prefer, just piss and moan.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:41 p.m.  

  • "with a 27% income tax cut." seems to have been left out.

    Switching subjects, I thought that McGill study killed off the notion that, the press media anyway, is pro Liberal, but alas the spirit lives on in the hearts of minds of Conservatives everywhere.

    Oh well, Conservatives are right about the CBC. Night after night Andrew Coyne, Chantel Herbert and Jack Travers are on telling audiences accross the country just how fond they are of the PM and his party.

    The dominant Conservative media storyline is this. Can Stephen Harper keep the hard core social conservatives at a distance and move the party to the middle in terms of social policy. This most recently flared up at the end of May with Jeffrey Simpson claiming that a slew of “pro family” activists would cost Harper a lot of sleep. Giggles and chuckles. There is only 8 Conservative MPs out of 98 that have every angered lifesite and with the exception of James Moore they are former PC members. 95 out of 98 Conservative MPs voted against gay marriage.

    Someone like Cindy Silver will fit in just fine. In terms of beliefs she is no different then her friend and former Reform MP Sharon purple Hayes.

    Besides riddle me this, does someone trying to foster a more moderate social image of the party ignore a million plus people at the Toronto pride parade and instead on that very same day choose to speak to, how did Harper's assistant put it, a few hundred "proud" Muslims about the dangers of gay marriage.

    It is high time the media start taking Harper seriously when he says he wants to keep the party on the hard right on most social issues.
    “rebalancing means there will be changes to the composition of the
    conservative coalition. We may not have all the same people we have had in the
    past. The new liberal corporatist agenda will appeal to some in the business
    community. We may lose some old "conservatives," Red Tories like the David
    Orchards or the Joe Clarks.

    This is not all bad. A more coherent coalition can take strong positions it
    wouldn't otherwise be able to take - as the Alliance alone was able to do during
    the Iraq war. More importantly, a new approach can draw in new people. Many
    traditional Liberal voters, especially those from key ethnic and immigrant
    communities, will be attracted to a party with strong traditional views of
    values and family. This is similar to the phenomenon of the "Reagan Democrats"
    in the United States, who were so important in the development of that
    conservative coalition.”

    They should also pay attention when Harper says and that the party should focus most of its energies on these policies. They are what seperates Conservatives from Liberals. This should have been clear with emphasis the Conservatives placed on 38 at the expense of 48.

    “If conservatives accept all legislated social liberalism with balanced budgets and corporate grants - as do some in the business community - then there really are no differences between a conservative and a Paul Martin.”

    I doubt that will happen, so convinced are many that Harper wants the Conservative Party to become what he specifically rejects, namely the PC party. The attitude of Vancouver Sun religious columnist Douglas Todd is typical. He said it is not as if Harper wants to bring religion in Canadian politics; after all, he said, it is not like he ends his speeches with “God bless Canada”. Harper, of course, frequently ends his speech with “Thank you. God Bless Canada.”

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