Thursday, March 15, 2007

Harper Outwit's Himself?

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.


Closet Liberal said...

What does that mean for those voters that haven't forgiven the Liberals or are not quite ready to let the Liberal's return to power for whatever reason? Could this mean increased voter dissatisfaction and lower turn out at the polls?

I think there is a large number of voters that don't subscribe to one ideology or the other. They aren't yet ready to trust the Liberals again but on the other hand worry about Harper's motives.

This marginalization of the alternatives may have other undesired effects. Though more voter's staying home helps Harper more than anyone else IMHO.

Steve V said...

That's valid for sure.

UWHabs said...

Every play he has is a gamble. That's what politics is. Whether they pan out, only time will tell. But so far, nothing he's done has made me doubt that he's strategically planning out everything so far.

knb said...

While I wouldn't disagree that Harper is a master at this stuff, but he may be a little to clever by half at the moment.

To me, he looks ridiculous out there citing song lyrics and saying things like, "Our bond with the land is embedded in our literature, music and art..." Now, I happen to believe that, live that in fact, but believe me, Stephen Harper and I could not be more different, so it doesn't wash and anyone who buys it, is foolish or blindly partisan. (As an aside, I haven't read any of the BT's extolling the virtues of our environment vis a vis literature and art in Canada.)

All of that said, I'm not so sure he's neutralized the issue Steve. He's made a ton of announcements, some real, most re-announcements of Liberal strategy, some dependant on the passage of the budget. Raining money down on the electorate at this rate, loses it's meaning. In an election debate, you can't recite, "we promised x for this, y for that...etc., etc." A plan still has to be articulated, not just random spending.

If Dion comes out with solid numbers, a plan, it may not be as hot of an issue, but it'll be important.

As to what he's done re' the NDP. I'd agree that he's done Layton no favours, however, Layton did the Tango with him and is paying the price.

Steve V said...

Hi knb. Clever by half is a great way to put it, and I don't think anyone truly concerned about the environment is buying any of it- interesting that Harper chastizes Dion for "conversions".

Is it enough to neutralize with the general public? I look at like Dion on law and order, he doesn't have to own the issue, only look credible. If Harper can recite a litany of announcements, it might be enough to deflect the earlier criticisms. The key might be what Dion comes up with, if it is really innovative, then he may regain the upper hand.

knb said...

Hi Steve. I hear you on Dion, but the Lib's have never not been about law and order and the stat's bear it out.

We shouldn't have to defend this position, it's an American one concerning liberals and the con's are playing it for all it's worth. It's nonsense though.

I do hope that Dion comes out with something on Environment though. We'll see.

ottlib said...

Sorry Steve but I reject the conventional wisdom that Stephen Harper is a political stategic genius. It is an invention of a bored media.

If he were he would have won more than 124 seats against Paul Martin. Hell, I could have won 124 seats against Mr. Martin last year.

If he were he would have been able to sustain his support in majority territory when he achieved it last year.

By every quantitative measure that we have seen in the last weeks Mr. Harper is failing to connect with Canadians. His leadership numbers are on par with Mr. Martin's at a comparable time in last year's election cycle. He has not convinced any more people than this time last year that a Harper majority is a good idea and his disapproval rating is higher than his approval rating, which is at a level a sitting PM usually does not see until they have been in power for 3 or 4 years.

This despite a rough patch for Mr. Dion, who now appears to be regaining his political footing.

In addition I believe Mr. Harper has overplayed his hand with all of these funding annoucements. The story is increasingly becoming about the spending itself instead of the the projects announced and the storyline is not very positive. The Globe and Mail, which has not had too much of anything negative to say about Mr. Harper in the last year actually used "Conservative" and "hypocracy" yesterday in an editorial about Mr. Harper's spending spree.

He reminds me of Paul Martin last year when after awhile I would cringe every time I saw him on TV, and I was and still am a big fan of Mr. Martin. As you say Steve, sensory overload.

To see how spending announcements should be done you only need to look at Jean Chretien in 2000. He only made a few announcements in stategic parts of the country and then he let Paul Martin deliver a budget with $100 billion in tax cuts. The result was a third straight majority.

So far Mr. Harper has not been really challenged in his political career. He won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance and the CPC is a walk and he faced an old and tired Liberal Party in two elections.

He currently has the advantage of being the incumbent in between elections.

If Mr. Dion and the Liberals can give him a run for his money in the next election I really wonder if Mr. Harper has the ability to rise to the challenge.

Steve V said...


I reject the CW in some ways too, as I have previously blogged. Harper isn't Kasparov, but he is a political animal, which seems to translate into guru status. Just to keep the record straight, if Harper hadn't completely miscalculated the environmental file in the first place, despite all the obvious signs of its rise, then he wouldn't be in damage control mode.

The Tory machine is pretty slick, and Harper contributes much, but I think we need to temper the attributes we attach, for many of the reasons you mention. Respect clearly, but prone to error as well.

wayward son said...

"Harper isn't Kasparov"

First time I have ever seen Kasparov being referred to on a Canadian political blog. Awesome! (This is the only time you will ever hear me defend Harper, but in his defence no one can compare to Kasparov)

I really hope that Dion is on the rebound. The Country needs him and he has to be prepared to enter what I am expecting to be the nastiest campaign in Canadian history.

Steve V said...

wayward son

I only used the Kasparov example because the media keeps using chess references when describing Harper's political instincts :)

Steve V said...


"The story is increasingly becoming about the spending itself instead of the the projects announced and the storyline is not very positive."

When The National Post starts criticizing, you may be over doing it.

ottlib said...

But you will note that they still manage to take a swipe at the Liberals.

It makes my heart happy when the NP does that. I will know that I will need to put my affairs in order and await the end of the world if they ever stop taking shots at the Liberals.

Steve V said...

"But you will note that they still manage to take a swipe at the Liberals."

Of course, that way it gets past the editor- barely ;)

lance said...

knb: This isn't about neutralizing the issue . . . although that works too.

You said: "Now, I happen to believe that, live that in fact, but believe me, Stephen Harper and I could not be more different, so it doesn't wash and anyone who buys it, is foolish or blindly partisan."

And that's the point.

Those dedicated to the environment are not going to vote CPC. That's a given; what you're missing is that those for whom the environment is the issue aren't going to vote Liberal either. That too is a given . . . like it or not.

Harper isn't trying to woo greenies, he's trying to neutralize the environment as a mover for the other 80% of voters.

I've said it before here, it bears repeating . . . who is the threat?
Understand that and you can see the moves.

_That's_ politics.