The man in the blue sweater-vest


People who have worked with Stephen Harper in previous elections say they are pleasantly surprised by the new Conservative campaign advertisements. In years past, Mr. Harper would rip up any scripts that packaged him to fit focus group expectations. “He’d simply say ‘I’m going to be who I am and I’m not doing it’,” said one campaign veteran.

Yet the new batch of ads features the notoriously private Prime Minister at the fireside at his Harrington Lake retreat talking about playing piano and card games with his son in a spot called “Family is Everything.”

John Ivison: Biggest Tory asset is Harper himself

That more or less says it all, doesn’t it? Once, Stephen Harper was who he was — a person of authenticity, that is, possessed of beliefs, and principles, and self-respect. But now they are all gone: first the beliefs, then the principles, and at last even the self-respect. And all he has to show for it is power.

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The man in the blue sweater-vest

  1. Next thing you know, Dion will be showing up in public without his backpack…Is it possible that Harper does value his family and isn’t adopting a focus-grouped persona?

  2. He’s playing chess

  3. My dear Mr. Coyne, you postulate this: “Once, Stephen Harper was who he was — a person of authenticity, that is, possessed of beliefs, and principles, and self-respect.”

    Where’s the evidence to support it? In light of this: “And all he has to show for it is power.”

    Temporary power at that.

    It seems to me Mr. Harper has always valued control above any other value. Worse, personal control above any other. Absolute control, apparently, is the only value left that Harper wishes to aspire to. Pity Canada should it fall into his hands; even the Senate may be unable to protect the nation from Harper’s exercise of it.

    If the radiance of a thousand suns
    Were to burst at once into the sky
    That would be like the splendor of the Mighty one …
    I am become Death,
    The shatterer of Worlds.

    — quote from the Bhagavad-Gita

  4. Most people do value their family and love their children, but does putting this in an ad cancel out the steely-eyed man we normally see in the House of Commons who displays his arrogance and vindictiveness, and cannot resist the nasty jab. The family man is not the side we see in how Stephen Harper governs.

  5. I think it’s a misconception that Stephen Harper exercises the control he does because that’s what he wants out of politics. He has a goal that has been explored by Paul Wells and others again and again. He controls as much as he can because he believes this goal will go up in smoke if it is left up to anyone else, ESPECIALLY other Conservatives. He might be right about that. The problem is that his goal, setting up the Conservative party as Canada’s natural governing party, depends on other people (eventually). Which is why it would be quite fascinating, if all goes to plan over the next 5 years or so, to see how Stephen Harper would arrange his succession.

  6. These ads are simply doomed attempts at framing the PM as a principled man of integrity (who, gosh darn it, loves his family and friends). Harper’s and the Conservative’s record of subterfuge and incompetence over the last couple of years speaks for itself. And most Canadians are smart enough not to be swayed by these kind of ham-fisted (dare I say, Republican-style) promos.

    Another thing about these sweater vest sitdowns: Don’t they remind you of the hilarious “Mayor Tommy Shanks” sketches from SCTV by the greatly missed John Candy? All Harper needs is a stuffed dog to feed biscuits at the end of the clips.

  7. I’ll add, in light of D’s unhelpful opinion and the dozens that will surely follow, that I didn’t post an opinion of the ads because my reaction isn’t the one that matters. My mind is made up on Stephen Harper and if you’re posting to a Maclean’s forum, so is yours. These ads are targeted at people whose minds aren’t made up, or those who like him some days and not others but might like him enough on Oct. 14 to vote for him. And the frustrating thing about election season is when I watch the parties’ ads, I have no idea what the target audience thinks of them.

  8. Ya, you’re right D, he probably hates his family…

  9. Don’t mind Andrew’s bitterness.

    Everything changed the moment Dion won the Liberal Leadership and Andrew publicly declared him to have incredible leadership qualities (correct me if I’m wrong Andrew but it was ‘Emperor like’ or something to that effect, wasn’t it?)

    Viewing the world from that prism tends to demonize those you think are responsible for “unleadering” the great leader in Dion.

    Now, if we can only figure out what sort of mind control Harper utilized to get all those Quebecers (who know Dion far better than the rest of the country) to view Dion with such utter contempt.

  10. Maybe his children will convince him Global Warming is their generation’s biggest concern?

  11. Maybe his children have more sense than that.

  12. Change must be incremental. Harper knows that. Andrew doesn’t, and appears to be sounding more and more like Jeffrey Simpson.

    The ads are fluff, but in no way do they reveal a loss of self-respect. There’s nothing in them that addresses issues of the day, but I think they will win votes.

  13. Coyne, do you still have a close relative running for the Liberals this election cycle? Harper’s a reserved private family man. He doesn’t like doing this kind of thing – but going to self-respect? Give me a break. It shows flexibility, what it takes to wage a modern campaign. Telling I think is the fact that someone like Norman Spector saying that the ads actually represent the real Stephen Harper that we would see in private. He’s normal, he prefers not to keep his private side more private.

    You want an example of loss of self-respect – why don’t you review some footage of Paul Martin during the 2004 and 2006 federal elections. If you can watch it without cringing you’ve got a strong stomach.

  14. Harper isn’t the only one who brings out a sweater vest to look folksy and just like a “regular guy”:


    No, I am not claiming this is a Republican/Conservative sweater vest conspiracy. I just find it amusing that the Cons don’t understand how cliched, contentless and ineffective the new Harper ads are.

  15. Well Coyne.. if your wisdom is anything like your first Palin post, I think Harper is cool.

    But it is funny reading an ottawa elite whinning about Harper…

  16. Not that it has anything to do with this, but Deborah Coyne lost her bid for the nomination in Don Valley West (currently having a – cough – by-election on September 22) on . . . March 2nd.

    If she’s being tapped to run in another riding, I haven’t heard about it, but I would hardly be in a position to.

  17. I get why AC is mad about the policy direction of the Harper government, but running ads talking about the fact he likes being a father is somehow selling out his “self-respect”? Why? Because Harper’s opponents were stupid enough to set the bar so low for him that all he needed to do was put on a “human face” to win?

  18. Next up: Dion visits a petting zoo, gets his face licked by a fawn; Layton has an ad on why we all love birthday parties, how warm it makes him feel inside; Duceppe talks about how much his grandfather meant to him.

    Get the picture? It’s cheeeeeeesy to put an ad on TV about how much you love your family.

  19. Interesting that Coyne and Wells have both opined that Canadian unity is the most important thing, yet we have a PM who is running the Bloc through a giant wood-chipper, and does he get any credit? Nope. Nothing but sarcasm and sanctiomony.

    It’s almost as if the fact that it helps him politically makes beating up the Bloc a bad thing.

  20. Hey! What’s wrong with sweater vests we are a tight knit political community so you better be careful! Oh and by the way Peter giving a sitting PM any credit for anything goes against the punditry credo as it is much like reporting good news – the media hate it their credo is – if it bleeds it leads!~ God forbid if they started to actually report on the list of good things Harper has done.

  21. Jack – it doesn’t matter if it’s cheesy. It matters if it works.

  22. We heard there’s a federal election in Canada. We guessed the governing party’s strategy. They’ll want to frame the ballot question this way: Who’s a better leader, me or the scrawny guy to the left doing the Maurice Chevalier impersonation? We didn’t guess a crying game. More on that in a moment.

    We had a look at the ads. Sure enough the message is leadership. We took a closer look at the four spots that do intimate and interactive with Stephen Harper.

    Standard issue “image softening” setting and wardrobe. What’s not to like about the guy sitting in front of the stone fireplace in an ordinary chair, looking cosy and warm in a blue v-neck sweater. The leader speaks, uninterrupted, slowly about themes that matter to his government. It’s understood his audience on the couch agrees with him.

    Some things about these ads are strange. There’s a curious close-up on The PM’s hands, as though the camera suspects he’s hiding something. He evidently adlibs his rehearsed lines once or twice, and the rephrasing is retained. All fine, and the overall effect delivers positive, candid reassurance. Just what the spin doctor ordered.

    But wait – rerun “Lest We Forget” – the predictable homage to Canadian veterans. Those are tears around his eyes. His eyes are wet, messy. This is not what we expected from Stephen Harper. Was there a PA on set holding a plate of fresh cut onions? Almost certainly they are real tears. Questions swirl through our head: Was this planned? Or, if not, what conversations took place at Campaign HQ before editing and releasing the ad?

    There’s a controversial history of tears in politics.

    Ed Muskie, running for President of the United States in 1972, cried before the press in defence of his wife and was forced the abandon his campaign as a result. He claimed afterwards to his death the tears were melted snowflakes in his eyes.

    Sometime afterward, the liberation of gender role stereotypes allowed a man, and famously President Clinton, to routinely cry when he ‘felt the pain’ of his wounded constituents.

    That liberation, reversely, still does not permit a woman to cry freely. When Hilary got misty-eyed in New Hampshire campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, the media spent days analysing whether the tears had been calculated (probably yes) and the impact it would have on voters (mostly positive).

    Presently we are confounded by Harper’s tears. He may present managerial competence, but he certainly does not “feel our pain”. His image may require softening, but this is going too far. That uncomfortable, avert-your-eyes no look more closely feeling is the result of an ad whose message has confused, not persuaded us.

  23. Is the media deliberately overlooking the obvious? There are numerous photos showing Harper using a vest to cover up. You may recall the time he landed in Afganistan for the first time. The first images showed him in a cotton tucked in dress shirt with this enormous pot belly bouncing with each step. The following images showed him with a big heavy vest on (not a bullet proof one) and here he was in 40 C climate! More pictures showed him with both Mexican and US presidents wearing the same vest his counterparts wore light cool cotton shirts. This is not a new image at all. It is his the results of his image consultants constantly at work. They could not be happier that the media has taken the view they have as it detracts from the fact that Harper is not the picture of health one would expect from a leader.

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