But the economy is a different thing, Mr. Flanagan said. If Mr. Harper comes across as pessimistic or discusses the spectre of a depression, Canadians will eventually agree with him that things are bad. Then, they will look to somebody else to replace the Tories.
"That can only help your opposition," Mr. Flanagan said. "If you keep saying how bad things are, eventually people are going to say, 'Well, hey, let's get a government that can fix it.' "
The Prime Minister's approach is also reminiscent of a change in tactics adopted by U.S. President Barrack Obama, who only a few weeks ago began injecting more hope in his speeches. The President and his advisers had picked up that Americans might be blaming Mr. Obama, in part, for the unprecedented collapse of the stock market. Mr. Harper has apparently concluded the same.
First off, the Obama example is a non-starter, because he was running against an incumbent, he had no responsibility for the predicament, "hope" relative to the current administration. If the Conservatives are trying to mirror Obama, it's a mistake, because there is no similarity, in terms of circumstances.
Flanagan argues that by articulating doom and gloom, you help the opposition, but I have to question that logic. When you paint a rosy picture, and we've already seen this before, then you effectively set yourself up for failure, should the indicators not match the optimism. In this way, you actually arm the opposition, because they can paint you as out of touch, not recognizing the true severity. Case in point, just watch for the reaction on Friday, should the employment numbers look bleak- they will surely contrast the reality with Harper's misplaced optimism. Given the unknowns, raising expectations leaves you vulnerable. Fast forward a few months, if things deteroriate further, with little evidence of recovery, Harper's speech yesterday will make for a nice contrast ad, he will look the fool.
In addition, the venue Harper chose for his optimistic assessment is completely inappropriate. Harper basically went to ground zero to offer an upbeat picture, which is strange, given Ontario is experiencing every bit as severe a downturn as the other jurisdictions he used for perspective. I doubt the Harper line resonated with people losing their jobs, if anything he highlighted a disconnect.
I would argue, the best strategy for the Conservatives would be to lower expectations. If a pessimistic view turns out to be accurate, Harper can argue that he accurately understood the situation, and his government moved within this reality, nobody is surprised, you've softened the ground for more bad news. If the economy were to perform better than assumed, Harper can then take credit, his policies are working, light at the end of the tunnel. What Flanagan doesn't seem to articulate, Harper does have some latitude, because people do understand that this is a global phenomenon, nobody realistically thinks we're immune, a political buffer exists for ultimate responsibility. Better to use that reality, rather than trying to paint Canada as poised for a strong rebound, when that is merely a theory at this point. The current strategy voluntarily sets the Conservatives up for future failure, which makes it a curious decision at best.
A couple early assessments, that point to the "gamble" in Harper's position:
Economists said they're not forecasting Canada to recover significantly ahead of peers.
“That's the part I am not so sure about. That's certainly not what we forecast,” Toronto Dominion Bank chief economist Don Drummond said. “We see a fairly similar pace of recovery as the United States. In fact, under the great economic principle of what falls the most usually rebounds the fastest, the U.S. would actually have the advantage.”
Added BMO Nesbitt Burns deputy chief economist Douglas Porter: “I don't think we're going to be a quarter or two ahead of the U.S. I think we'll turn at roughly the same time. And I don't think we're going to come flying out of this.”
Of note, both these economists were also predicting a recession, at the same time Harper was telling people he didn't see one coming, it would have happened already, we would have a surplus and they should buy stocks.
Less than 24 hours later, that pesky Kevin Page is undermining the Harper delusion:
He says an even better indicator is gross domestic income, which measures Canadians' purchasing power, and that shows a plunge of 15.3 per cent in the fourth quarter over the previous three months.
...that it is far worse than the 1.5 per cent contraction in the U.S. during the same period.