Friday, June 27, 2008

The Death Of A False Narrative?

Last night, two separate pundits on the At Issue panel made reference to Stephen Harper's supposed reputation as a tactical genius. The "checkers vs chess" narrative that had become the common assumption of most in the media class. It was interesting to hear more voices now questioning that narrative, and it seems to me the media is finally starting to re-examine the fallacy of believing that Stephen Harper is always one step ahead, his motives mysterious recipes of well thought out strategy.

What everyone is starting to realize, a theme which many of us have stated for some time, whenever confronted with the undeserved adjectives, Stephen Harper and his team are really quite ordinary. The Harper approach is really quite predictable, quite pedestrian in terms of forethought, really more reactionary than visionary. Above all else, Harper really came to power more as function of right time/right place, rather than some juggernaut, that laid waste to less capable opponents. I would submit, all Harper had to do was stay out the way, ride the wave of change (more people cited this desire in voting preference than any affinity to the Conservative program) and reap the benefits. It amazed me that the media heaped such praise, considering the fragile nature of his mandate, despite the optimal conditions. But, it was here that the narrative began to cement itself, and the media has reinforced it every since.

This isn't to say Harper is inept, or that the Conservatives don't have talented people, but given where we are now, it is clear that the attributes were clearly overstated. For his first year in office, Harper faced a Liberal Party without a leader, completely retooling, completely off balance. It doesn't take much exceptional ism to carry the day in that environment, certainly nothing of the stuff of "legend". In the aftermath of the Liberal convention, the Conservatives probably scored their biggest tactical victory, pre-defining Dion before he could define himself. All the other "out flanking" maneuvers since have really been more a by-product of Liberal fear, rather than any brilliance. In other words, given the circumstance, you didn't need much skill to navigate the hyper-friendly terrain.

The Harper narrative first started to get a second look, once he was actually tested, once events occurred which were not scripted, we saw the "team" react to the unexpected. Easy to sit back and map strategy on a 2 dimensional board, quite different to gauge your aptitude when you are forced to react on the fly. It was here, when surprise entered the equation that the Harper "brilliance" began to unravel. The economy starts to falter, these geniuses think it would be a good idea to go after a newly re-elected Premier in the most populous province. A raid occurs at Conservative headquarters, and these brainiacs react like rank amateurs, hurling gasoline on the fire at every turn. Cadman, Bernier, the CWB, etc... No progress in Quebec, no progress with ethnics, no progress with urban voters, no progress with women, stuck, nowhere, all their lofty plans have borne little fruit.

The final nail, and this is where the media seems to have realized, the reaction to this Green Shift. Only a Conservative partisan could argue that their reaction has been effective, even people who hate the proposal also agree that Harper has fumbled to date. What has happened, another narrative has cemented, one less flattering, that of a mean-spirited, low brow, juvenile approach to every issue, a situation of going to that well once to often. Is it really a testament to strategic aptitude, that you have only one response for every issue that confronts you, you always offer the same negativity that insults people's intellects?

It would now seem that the mirage has evaporated, Harper and company might be able, but they are far from something anyone should fear. As a matter of fact, in many respects, the Conservatives are politically "tone deaf", they don't seem to understand what is required to expand their support, what they need to do to improve their image. The inability to recognize their own weaknesses, to just forge ahead with simplistic arrogance, is nothing to admire. It is encouraging to see that the media is finally readjusting how they view Harper and his actions. R.I.P "The Master Strategist".


JimBobby said...

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!"

"What a marvellous train!"

"And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!" They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

"The Emperor is naked," he said.

"Fool!" his father reprimanded, running after him. "Don't talk nonsense!" He grabbed his child and took him away. But the boy's remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried:

"The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!"

The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that. He though it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent.

Did you get my email, Steve? I sent one to your hotmail address post here on yer boog.


Anonymous said...

I heartily agree that Harper and crew are ordinary. They have policies that make me want to hurl but they are not and have never been either as brilliant as BT crowd and some in media have claimed. That being said, they ran a good focused campaign in 2006 and they are better in the sturm and drang of a campaign than they are when in govt. The truth or fiction of the strategic genius of Harper is not particularly relevant to the average voter. Only the most politically involved/interested would even know that this narrative has been oft repeated.

I also think it is too early to know whether the Con ad campaign will or won't be effective. Lets not forget all the negative press and polling they had when they released the Dion is not a leader campaign. No one can deny that ultimately it has been very effective. Dion's leadership numbers are still appalling and Liberal activists have rationalized those numbers by stressing the team narrative and now the carbon tax narrative. I would hold off on final assessments until after the summer.

BTW - doesn't help when Dion says gas taxes won't go up and then admits in the Sun that Big Oil will likely pass along increased costs to consumers at the pump.

Carbon pricing is necessary but there are other options like cap and trade (previously preferred over carbon tax by Dion just a few months ago) combine the actual policy discussion that will happen on left with the drubbing Dion will get from the right and things could be very tough for Dion.

I look forward to seeing how this all shakes out over the coming months.

Dan said...

"les libéraux fédéraux de Stéphane Dion semblent amorcer une résurrection. En un mois, ils gagnent six points dans les intentions de votes au Québec, atteignant 21%, après être descendus à 15% en mai dernier, indique le dernier sondage CROP-La Presse."

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Them's some bon mots fer the Grits, Dan.

Steve V said...


No email?

Steve V said...


That's a positive sign indeed. Off the mat?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...the Liberal got 21% in Quebec in the '06 election - something regarded as a total fiasco. Over the last few months, this poll by CROP says that have gone 21, 20, 20, 15 and now back to 21%. I don't call that a "resurgence". I call that a dead cat bounce!

Steve V said...

Oh, the poor Con anon's, nothing to cheer about anymore. So sad :)

JimBobby said...

No email?
I'll try again., right?

Steve V said...


Blues Clair said...

If Harper was the stratigic mastermind and possessed the 'retail politics' we are instructed to believe, he would of easily walked away with a majority in the last election. Considering his weakened opponents were a tired 13 year old government plagued with an RCMP investigation and the enormity of the ADSCAM scandal. That being said I do believe Mr. Harper to be highly intelligent and he is surrounded by an impressive group of individuals (I'm not talking abut his cabinet).

Steve V said...


That's a fair read.

Anonymous said...

Well, Steve I think you have to let things play out on the carbon tax and other fronts. Some premiers, such as Danny Williams, still have to weigh in.

Re Harper's strategy, here's some of what I see happening in the next few months:

Harper prorogues Parliament.

CPC holds their convention in mid-November.

The four days of free media, will be followed by an extremely hardball Throne Speech, which Dion will have a very difficult time letting pass. Also, Dion probably wants to avoid a leadership review at the LPC convention in Vancouver in December.

End result: Harper gets an election shortly after a convention-producing bounce.

Calgary Junkie

Blues Clair said...


I look forward to the grassroot's demands at the Conservative policy convention as well.

JimmE said...

Calgary Junkie
"Harper prorogues Parliament...."

This might work, but the issue will then become: This is twice you've let stuff die without passing it into law, - so why do you want to be in office again, & some stuff".
Depending on how the summer is for M. Dion, he may be double-dog daring the Present PM to an election
As for a convention bounce it might be the same kind of bounce that eggs make. Reporters asking uncomfortable questions, like the one above or why the House hasn't been in session for nearly 1/2 a year? Rather the optics would be of a government running scared.

Steve V said...

"Well, Steve I think you have to let things play out on the carbon tax and other fronts. Some premiers, such as Danny Williams, still have to weigh in."

Yes, I'm sure Danny will side with Harper on this one.

Gayle said...

"I also think it is too early to know whether the Con ad campaign will or won't be effective. Lets not forget all the negative press and polling they had when they released the Dion is not a leader campaign. No one can deny that ultimately it has been very effective."

I believe the "not a leader" thing had wings mostly because of those unnamed "senior" liberals who fed it.

It would have died if the liberal party itself had not given it life.

wilson said...

''Conservatives probably scored their biggest tactical victory, pre-defining Dion before he could define himself.''

More so:

Quebec is a Nation within a United Canada


The Manley Report on Canada' mission in Afghanistan.

Blues Clair said...

The Conservatives did a decent job defining Stephane Dion, but
the Liberals defined Stephen Harper many moons ago and he is still haunted by it.

"Quebec is a Nation within a United Canada"

That doesn't mean a thing. Remember when Jean Chretien declared Quebec a distinct society? Neither does Quebec.

Steve V said...

"More so:

Quebec is a Nation within a United Canada"

You're kidding right?

Calgary Junkie said...

jimme, there is no doubt that proroguing Parliament until mid-November is controversial, and will be spun negatively by Harper's opponents. But on balance, and considering the timing of the CPC and LPC conventions, I think it's the right thing to do.

There is one more consideration--the U.S. election. I'm convinced that Harper does not want Parliament in session while their election campaign is on. He doesn't want to give the Opposition a Question Period platform to create US election mischief.

But let's wait and see what happens.

But here are some questions I have for you guys:

1. Do you want a leadership review during the LPC convention ?
The LPC Constitution requires some pro-active work by riding associations to make the vote happen before the convention.

2. What is your best guess as to what percentage of a favorable vote Dion will get ? My guess is 62 %. Note that if Dion gets under 50 %, then he MUST resign. (see Section 54(1)(c) of your Constitution)

Tomm said...


Sorry but you're wrong.

The "narrative' may be misplaced, but it ain't wrong.

Harper is not "pedestrian". Just like I don't think Dion is. Layton is "pedestrian".

Some examples of Harper's off-centre views include his response to the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. His speech at thew United Nations. His realization that climate change is not something
Canada can destroy its economy over. His immediate recognition of our mission, our troops, and our commitment in Afghanistan, before all others. His instinct that the cozying up to the media was death. His low key response to the Martin "soldiers with guns in our streets" caricature. The Residential School and Chinese Head Tax The Quebec is a Nation resolution.

He is unique, interesting and worthy of some respect regardless of political stripe. Those that cannot, are just too filled with bile and partisan ugliness.

Anonymous said...

A massive fuel tax at the height of historic (and economically crippling) fuel cost highs,

and its Harper's criticism of this

that makes him tone deaf???


Next election we'll see who's tone deaf.

Anonymous said...