As Paul notes, “fish or cut bait” is the headline—the Globe, the Post (whose Don Martin got the gist a day early), the Star, the Citizen all lead with the line. And as our astute readers noted, it’s a line the Prime Minister tried nearly ten months ago. And as I’ll note—if only to make myself somewhat useful—it’s a line Mr. Dion’s already responded to.
Kudos then are surely due to the Prime Minister’s braintrust. His new press secretary must be realizing the job is far easier than one might presume.
While we wait to see if the Liberal leader will re-respond to Harper’s re-challenge, conceivably compelling the morning paper’s to re-report the whole thing, a few notes on what was actually otherwise an interesting speech for the PM.
—If you’re keeping score at home, the Prime Minister managed to mention Mr. Dion, by name, no fewer than 13 times. Gilles Duceppe was name-dropped twice. Similarly, “Liberal” gets 10 mentions, “Bloc” four. The NDP and Jack Layton escape all notice.
—About 500 of the speech’s 2,000 words are devoted to directly addressing the Liberal carbon tax.
—If you’re Jacques Gourde today, you’re probably walking with a little extra swagger. The diminutive member for Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière boasts one of the least-inspiring biographies in Ottawa (“Mr. Gourde has an interest for provincial and federal politics.”) and lacks even a parliamentary secretary’s portfolio, but was hailed last night as nothing less than the personification of all that is good and right about the Conservative party. Gourde is a fierce little speaker—think Christian Paradis without the stiff shoulders and erratic hand gestures—often dispatched to denounce the Bloc’s blight on Parliament. And, granted, the speech was being delivered in his riding. But Harper clearly went above and beyond the usual platitudes about work ethic and responsible representation generally bestowed upon the local member whenever the leader makes a visit. Note, for the sake of comparison, the passing mention Lynne Yelich received when the Prime Minister visited Saskatoon last month. Make of this what you will.
—The PM described Gourde last night as having a “degree in agricultural management.” Gourde’s official bio claims he has a diploma. This is almost certainly insignificant, but would probably be cause for great online investigation if Gourde were, say, an American congressman running for re-election.
—Slightly more significant and possibly more suspect: the Prime Minister’s claim of having paid down more than $37-billion on the national debt since coming to office. This is, it seems, only true if you include the $13-billion or so of debt repayment that was included in the Martin government’s last budget. (Mr. Harper was sworn in on Feb. 6, 2006, less than two months before the end of that fiscal year.)
—At one point, Harper referred, if somewhat indirectly to the importance of family values. It is perhaps testament to something (progress? apathy?) that this will likely result in next to no public consternation.
—Unquestionably, the finest line from the prepared text: “We have restored fiscal imbalance.”
—Unquestionably, the finest word from the prepared text: Scupper. As in, “The Bloc, whose dream is to scupper the country.”
—Harper has settled on a speaking style you might term “insistently practical.” For sure, it’s a bit eye-glazing when compared, say, with that well-dressed Illinois senator running for president. But even while wonkish and cold (“We’ve dropped the lowest income tax bracket and raised the basic personal exemption!”) and generally bereft of loftiness or even optimism, there’s a certain clarity. Or at least a sort of claim to competence. Which, in his particular circumstance, is probably close to a genuine expression of who he wants to be or at least how he wants to be perceived. Note his most personal attack on Mr. Dion last night, “A Carbon Tax—especially when it’s explained by Stephane Dion—can seem complex, even incomprehensible.” Harper’s hope clearly is to be perceived as the opposite of that—simple, straightforward, unscary. It is perhaps the luck of timing or an astute reading of the situation, that that might be enough to get him another mandate.