I like Stephen Harper very much, and could not be more grateful that he pushed Paul Martin into the dustbin of Canadian history. But he has his flaws, and Rex Murphy has clearly identified what could become his tragic one if he doesn’t get on top of it soon. From Rex’s Saturday, June 2 column:
Mr. Harper, and some at the top of his party, seem reluctant to part with the opposition mentality. In Question Period, for example, the Prime Minister gives off the impression that he’s more interested in settling old scores with the Liberals for those days, now gone, when they taunted him.
Likewise, the relentless war his party seems obsessively determined to wage on Stéphane Dion – new attack ads were released this week, the fourth in a series – is seriously over the top. Mr. Dion may have his failings as a party leader, but the Conservatives’ continuous and nasty focus on him, in their increasingly trite media campaign, may, in fact, stir Canadians to consider that Mr. Dion must have virtues to which they have not been alerted. They will certainly note that he is not a bully, that he is not brittle and angry. And they may note as well that brittle and angry is becoming the Prime Minister’s default mode.
This is where the Terminator comes in. Mr. Schwarzenegger showed, even in his brief hop to our country this week, that although he has serious business on his mind, he evidently enjoys what he’s doing. He isn’t grumpy in public. A light touch and an open manner goes a long way in politics. And if the Conservatives are really looking to expand beyond the 30 to 35 per cent that appears to be their high-water mark in the polls, maybe a little charm from their leader, and a resolution to move out of the dark mentality of their long stay in the opposition hinterland, is the way to go.
One thing is absolutely certain: They are not going to earn their way to a majority merely by periodic and ill-tempered slaggings of Stéphane Dion.
This truly is a serious problem. The Conservatives should be ignoring Stephane Dion – the rest of the country certainly is! And Harper does need to lighten up and, at the very least, engage with the press in some candid scrums. His cool, distant demeanour certainly gives him a nice Prime Ministerial aura, but it does nothing to help him connect on a visceral level with the swing voters who can grant or deny him the majority he expects.
It’s time to connect with Canada, Mr. Harper, before it’s too late. (And while you’re at it, stop relying on the former Mike Harris cronies – they just aren’t doing you any favors. Ontario doesn’t like them!)