Monday, October 5, 2009

Like it or not, Harper is on a roll....

Those who took great delight in the travails of Stephen Harper over the summer are likely none too pleased with more recent developments. The blogosphere tends to be extremely partisan in nature, and objectivity is often a scarce commodity.

But love him or loathe him, the fact is Harper is on something of a roll.

I'm not going to suggest that a run of good press and good optics is going to suddenly convert legions of detractors into fans....the news hasn't been that good. But for the majority of Canadians who are more interested in hockey and reality TV shows than politics, recent events likely have them feeling at least a little more warm and fuzzy about Canada's Prime Minister.

Back in July I wrote about Harper's Summer of Discontent, detailing the numerous blunders and scandals that were plaguing the Tories. Wafergate was hardly anything major, but it did cast the Conservative leader in a negative light. More damaging was the mess over the funding of GLBT -Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender- events across the country. It harkened back to the days of the "scary" Reform/Alliance parties. Soon thereafter Harper was going all pitt-bull over a quote misatributed to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff while on the world stage at the G8 conference in Italy.

Then, to top it all off, came news from Parliament's budgetary watch dog Dale Orr that Jim Flaherty's budget projections were totally out to lunch...again. Others like Kevin Page of Economic Insight, supported Mr. Orr's numbers, while dismissing the Conservative Finance Minister's forecasts.

Of course all that happened during the summer, when people are at the cottage or the trailer. I don't know that its yet been scientifically proven, but I strongly suspect that the smell of meat on a BBQ greatly diminishes the ability of the average citizen to digest any meaningful news.

So what has changed for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the past few weeks, as summer faded into fall?

Polling has shown support for the Tories to be very resilient, with their numbers hovering in and around 35% nationally. While that doesn't quite put them in majority territory, it does suggest that the electorate hasn't fallen in love with either Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton. Given a summer of bad press, that had to be seen as a big positive for those on Canada's right.

I don't think its unreasonable to think those numbers might get a boost should news come out that Canada has been exempted from 'Buy American' measures as is widely speculated. The CBC, Globe and Mail and CanWest are all reporting that serious progress is being made in this regard. Its hard to see how developments in this area could have anything but positive results for Stephen Harper's Conservative government vis a vis their standing with Canadian voters.

And it would be folly to underestimate voter animosity toward Ruby Dhalla's private member's bill, proposing to shorten the amount of time immigrants need to be in Canada before qualifying for certain aspects of Old Age Security. On a personal level I have yet to encounter one individual who thinks positively about this proposed legislation, and that includes new-comers to Canada.

Finally, worst of all for those of us who would like nothing better than to see Stephen forced into a new career, comes the PM's touchy feely performance at the National Arts Centre.

Those who are quick to dismiss Harper's performance on stage, tickling the ivories while warbling not too shabily to the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends" don't understand politics in this modern era of sound bytes and video clips.

Bill Clinton jammed on Johnny Carson with his saxophone, Obama danced with Ellen. While these antics have no inherent value...they do resonate with many voters. Harper's public personna has always been very stoney and contrived, and like it or not, his little turn on the piano will go a long way to softening that image.

Of course momentum in politics can be fleeting, governing during a time of increasing expenditures and declining revenues is not typically a time when sitting governments perform well with voters.

When the election writ is finally dropped, Harper is going to need all the help he can get.

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