Conventional wisdom assumes Stephen Harper is a strategic master. I don’t disagree with the assessment on some levels, although I do think Harper’s “two moves ahead” mentality has a tendency to backfire. Case in point, Harper’s desire to divide the political left.
There is no question that Harper has gone to great lengths to paint the NDP in a different light than the Liberals. You can find numerous comments, wherein Harper admonishes the Liberals on a particular issue, while concurrently praising the NDP for their constructive input. The Liberals have no desire to get things done, constantly playing partisan politics, while the NDP makes concrete contributions.
This differentiation is clearly by design. Harper attempts to prop up the NDP with his comments, and in effect, make them look relevant. A strong NDP serves Harper’s interests, because theoretically that divides the anti-Harper vote. However, given the NDP’s poor showing in the polls, you would have to conclude that Harper’s strategy has been a failure, in fact, his tactics may have hurt the NDP. Harper’s approach has given the appearance of co-operation, which is a risky proposition for the NDP. You could argue that Harper’s indirect courting of Layton has actually hurt his chances come election time. A weakened NDP is a dangerous part of the majority equation.
Another area where Harper may have out strategized himself is in the area of the environment. Harper’s recent green binge has been effective in neutralizing the environment as a partisan issue. This is just a theory, but let’s say the environment is on the back-burner come the election, as a result of the Harper greenery. Does this fact potentially weaken the Green Party? If the environment isn’t a red hot issue, it stands to reason that soft Green supporters might not be compelled to vote for the party. Again, I would assume that a strong Green vote actually helps Harper, in further dividing the center-left pie, allowing him to win seats with marginal support. If the Greens are less of a factor, as a result of Harper’s recent moves, is he in fact hurting his electoral chances? I think it reasonable to assume that this is a possibility.
The great strategist might be missing some other factors as he fixates on his primary goal.