After watching yesterday’s mediocre speech from Stephen Harper that was intended to put a positive spin on the economy but ended up being, to paraphrase Scott Feschuk, a lovestruck crush on the Recession, it’s almost depressing to watch the new U.S. president deliver an address (in this instance dealing with the contentious issue of earmarks, both in the present spending bill now before Congress and on a going forward basis). I suppose it’s unfair to make such comparisons, but why should it be?
And the Wrong Way…
Adam Radwanski provided one of the best critical accounts of Harper’s speech. In case you haven’t read it, here’s a salient part that pinpoints one of the key flaws when it comes to our leader’s inability to control his partisan political impulses even in times of crisis:
…For 90 per cent of today’s speech, Harper managed to stick to the former. Then, out of nowhere, he proceeded to announce that he’s “been very frustrated with the opposition since the election,” took a trip down memory lane to attack the coalition and encouraged his audience to tell the dastardly Liberals that it’s time to “stop the political games.”
This was possibly the sincerest part of Harper’s speech; he absolutely loves this stuff. But it also undermined everything else he was trying to accomplish.
Set aside that his attacks weren’t all that grounded in reality (without the coalition, this vaunted economic plan would not have been produced), since every leader takes liberties in bashing his or her opponents. The real problem here is that when these broadsides land like a lead balloon at the end of his text, they serve to cast the entire thing in a different light.
Suddenly, it’s no longer about rallying Canadians around a common purpose; it’s about positioning himself against his opponents, about scoring points that nobody should be tallying right now.
Amen to that.
In this morning’s Toronto Star, Chantal Hébert acidly described the “leadership gap” (my term, not hers) that seems to be emerging as people draw the obvious contrast between the public face of Stephen Harper promoting his “economic recovery plan” with the aggressive effort currently being waged by the new U.S. president to sell his own “stimulus” plan (now re-branded quite cynically and/or wishfully as a “jobs bill”) to a shell-shocked American public:
Since the reopening of the House of Commons last month, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not delivered a single comprehensive speech on the economy, on or off Parliament Hill.
The last speech currently listed on his website is titled: The Prime Minister celebrates the Year of the Ox. It was delivered at a Toronto Chinese New Year dinner on the weekend.
The week before that, Harper attended the opening of the Quebec Carnival. In between the two, he attended a New Brunswick hockey tournament.
[snip]… even as the president is sending the message that he is too hard at work on the economy to waste time on social calls, Harper can’t seem to get his fill of carnivals, hockey tournaments and holiday dinners. The contrast could not be more striking, but it is not necessarily the one that Conservative image-makers were striving to establish.
Herewith, the video in question from the PM’s YouTube channel (on which, true to form, the ratings and comments have been DISABLED):
Of course, Hébert’s parallels between the two leaders aren’t fair (or even accurate for that matter), but given that Stephen Harper spent much of the first three years at the helm of Canada’s parliament stressing the critical importance of “leadership” and touting himself as a powerful and decisive LEADER, then perhaps it’s not altogether unwarranted to demand that his value to the Canadian public now be measured accordingly. What goes around, comes around, etc.
Keeping in mind the prevailing disclaimer around here that “polls are bullshit” — and especially one coming so soon after the “undemocratic coronation” by the “Liberal elites” of “Prince” Ignatieff (sorry, I thought just for the hell of it, I’d throw in those slap-dash epithets that are de rigueur amongst the Conservative cognoscenti and embittered “grassroots” wankers these days) — the new Angus Reid poll touted in the Toronto Star this morning does have a certain amount of significance if only viewed relative to how poorly Stéphane Dion scored in the same sort of poll throughout the course of his hapless leadership.
Newly appointed Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is in a virtual tie with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the person Canadians think would be the best to lead the country, a new poll exclusive to the Star reveals.
Ignatieff tops the list of party leaders Canadians would prefer as prime minister, with 28 per cent of respondents naming him the best head of government, according to the Toronto Star/Angus Reid survey.
Harper came in at 27 per cent – a virtual tie because it’s within the margin of error, but the first time the Conservative leader has polled below 30 per cent in two years.
New Democrat Leader Jack Layton was chosen by 10 per cent of respondents, while Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Green Leader Elizabeth May came in at 2 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.
Sixteen per cent of respondents did not want any of the leaders to be prime minister and 15 per cent were unsure.
Mario Canseco, a spokesperson with polling company Angus Reid Strategies, said the numbers are especially significant compared to what was seen before Stéphane Dion resigned this week as Liberal leader.
“In that same question Harper was always over 30 per cent and Dion never made it to 20 per cent,” Canseco said yesterday. “So the fact that Ignatieff is virtually tied after only a few days on the job is something that really bodes well for the future of the Liberals.”
Granted that the results can be easily dismissed and explained away by Conservative spinners who will invoke all manner of mitigating factors that may have influenced the results, but the core finding is unassailable: presented with a viable, credible alternative to Stephen Harper, many Canadians it would seem are more than happy to view such an individual in a relatively favourable light. Indeed, it would seem that many Canadians are quite ready to welcome a change from Harper. Really, this poll says a great deal more about the Dear Leader than it does about Ignatieff. Conservatives should be concerned about that. Three years in as head of government and the best he can muster is 27 percent of people who think he’s best suited to lead us into the valley of the shadow of the great recession… Not exactly a rousing vote of confidence, I’d say.
Update: Tempering the above somewhat is another poll indicating that the Conservatives would romp to a majority victory if an election were held today. By an almost 20 point margin, Canadians would vote in support of a petty, spiteful and vindictive man that had cynically thrown the country into both a constitutional and national crisis in the midst of a severe economic downturn because of his “pathological” compulsion to eliminate his political opponents and ruled as if he had a majority government even though he was only able to scrape out a minority when faced with the weakest Liberal leader in living memory promoting a highly unpopular carbon tax. Go figure.
This seems to be the first one out the gate for the NDP. It takes a page out the Republicans’ playbook, directly attacking what’s purported to be Harper’s greatest strength. Tackling his “strong leadership” head on, the ad draws a sarcastic contrast between it and several alleged disparities.
“Steven Harper is a strong leader,” the female narrator says in a steely voice. “With the strength to brag about billions in corporate tax cuts, while one eight children lives in poverty.” And so it goes characterizing Harper as a callous SOB. “Strong enough to ignore nearly 5 million Canadians who can’t find a family doctor,” the voiceover says, each point reinforced with an ominous drum beat. “And destroying the environment while you pay record high gas prices… strong leadership,” the voice sneers.
The end of the ad shifts to the new kind of leadership being offered by the NDP, as Layton appears, in a sky blue shirt with and open collar and, of course, rolled up sleeves. “The new strong is about fighting for what’s right, for you,” he says, adding special emphasis to the word “new” when announcing the name of the party at the very end.
I have to say that for an attack ad, I quite liked it; nicely produced, well paced, clear and concise. Some might find the sarcastic tone of the voiceover a little harsh and the claims being made are highly suspect to say the least. Is Stephen Harper really “destroying the environment” (manifested here with a picture of an off-highway hauler in the tar sands)? Don’t most people realize that healthcare is primarily a provincial issue, not a federal one? Is there a direct correlation between corporate tax cuts and child poverty? The message will play well to the NDP base, of course, but I wonder how effective it will be at swaying independent voters. Anyway, as an initial salvo at Harper, it’s very sharp and provides a rather shocking contrast to the gauzy Conservative fluff pieces that have been filling the air of late.
Ever since Stéphane Dion took over the helm of the badly listing Liberal ship following the party’s defeat in 2006 and a prolonged leadership contest that followed, we’ve been told by the Conservative party and its supporters that the former academic and cabinet minister is “not a leader.” By contrast, Stephen Harper has been touted as the embodiment of “leadership” — a principled man of conscience that’s unconcerned by the whims of popular opinion polls and is unafraid to stake out forward positions on a range of controversial issues. Or so the story goes.
Yesterday, in response to a question at a town hall meeting about the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, the pending bill that would make it a criminal offence to harm an unborn child during an attack on its mother, Dion stated that he opposed because it might infringe on women’s access to abortion. “We need to protect everyone against crime but, at the same time, it happens that I believe in the rights of women to choose and I have a lot of respect for the people who have a different view,” he told the crowd.
Dion then went on to ask that Stephen Harper to state his own position on abortion. “I think all Canadians have the right to know what the party leader thinks,” he said. “I gave my opinion. I want to hear the opinion of Stephen Harper.” A fair enough question it seems.
So how did our fearless “leader” respond? Harper had Darren Eke, some flunky in the PMO, send an e-mail distancing the government from the private member’s bill and further stating that the government “no intention to reopen the debate on abortion.” Wow. That was quite some “leadership” there. So much for appealing to the “silent majority” of social conservatives that have long been ignored by the media, but are supposed to living in what’s imagined will soon become “Harperland” after the next election.