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Shorter Coyne


 

For those who missed it, and since it is as yet impossible to post comments on any part of our site but the blogs, here is the gist of my latest column. In brief, I argue that Harper’s reputation as a “strong leader” (the central message, as I take it, of the Tory campaign) is undeserved, and that so far as it is earned, derives largely from his penchant for slapping people about: his party, his opponents, senior bureaucrats.

Usually, the term “strong leader” is reserved for someone who sets out a vision, sticks to his principles, takes risks, invests political capital, and ultimately prevails in the face of entrenched opposition, whether through the strength of his ideas, the force of his oratory, his own personal magnetism, or sheer doggedness.

None of these, I argue, apply in Harper’s case. He has not set out a vision: rather he has spent much effort persuading the public he has none. He has not stuck to his principles: he has abandoned them at every turn. He has not taken risks or invested political capital, but rather has stuck to sure-fire crowd-pleasers (GST cuts, tough-on-crime) and precisely targeted pandering (tax credits for children’s sports, the “nation” resolution).

He has generally bested his opponents by the simple but effective tactic of the jaw-dropping about-face: discarding convictions, breaking promises, saying one thing and doing another, even (in the case of fixed election dates) going so far as to make hash of his own law. This has given him the element of surprise, it is true, but only because of a serial inability on the part of his opponents to imagine he could be quite so untrustworthy.

None of this is to deny that Harper has the capacity to be a strong leader. Indeed, for pure talent he is easily the most impressive federal leader since Trudeau: intelligent, self-assured, strategic. But he has not yet put those talents to use in a way that would merit the title.


 

Shorter Coyne

  1. “None of this is to deny that Harper has the capacity to be a strong leader.”

    I’m sure it does. Harper has a long time and plenty of opportunity to show the type of leadership that would work for Canadians. So far, all we’ve got is Big Daddy.

    And, unlike Harper, Trudeau actually like Canadians.

  2. Actually, I think it was Canadians who liked Trudeau, not the other way around.

  3. “None of this is to deny that Harper has the capacity to be a strong leader. Indeed, for pure talent he is easily the most impressive federal leader since Trudeau: intelligent, self-assured, strategic. But he has not yet put those talents to use in a way that would merit the title.”

    He’ll need a majority to do that.

  4. “He’ll need a majority to do that”

    zing!

  5. The only real example of strong leadership has been the iron muzzle policy for the wing of the party with less than appealing policy ideas.

    And Chretien had Harper beat in the political smarts category.

  6. He would also need a mandate, as in a clear set of policy proposals endorsed by the voters. At the moment he’s running on “I’m not Dion” and “I won’t tax carbon.” A mandate to lead, Trudeau-style, it ain’t.

  7. Another way to look at Andrew’s analysis

    – a way that I suggest is founded on political realism not bare ideology, and on an empathetic understanding of the competing interests a PM has to contend with, rather than the assumption of malevolence –

    is that Harper is merely being the type of consensus builder/accomodator/”listener” that is required of a man who leads a fragile minority and being the lone voice from the right with three hostile parties to the left.

    Regrettably Andrew doesn’t see it that way. Regrettable in the sense that the level of invective and hyperbole Andrew displays suggests he’s is taking this all too personally.

  8. Actually, I think it was Canadians who liked Trudeau, not the other way around.

    Trudeau came to my desolate, wilderness town when I was 8 years old and talked everyone who introduced themselves to him. He was genuinely happy to be there.

    Harper travels in a motorcade and sics the RCMP on people who get too close to him….probably because we’re all too “proud of our Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term.”

    I don’t remember Trudeau insulting Canadians in front of a foreign audience.

  9. I don’t remember Trudeau insulting Canadians in front of a foreign audience.

    No, just flipping them a bird in front of a domestic one.

  10. Andrew – your Putin analogy was bang on. I really do think PMSH is in it for the “game”.

    Reminds me of a dog chasing a car. Once he catches it, he won’t know what to do with it.

  11. Best column ever. You totally nailed Harper for his weakness as a leader – pointing out how he’s managed to transform the Conservative party into a viable governing party. Deviously maneuvering to match Conservative principles to the demands and expectations of the voting public. He’s like that weenie, Tony Blair, but on the right…

    “It’s all a little reminiscent of Vladimir Putin.”

    Sorry, not Tony Blair, Putin. Watch out Georgia – we’re coming for you.

    “This marks him apart from…Margaret Thatcher.” No, not Putin, a UK leader from thirty years ago. Who caved to the coal miners in her first mandate and couldn’t keep her Cabinet Ministers from briefing against her in the press. Or quitting.

    And then you really sell Paul Martin short – he had no capacity to keep his opponents off balance? He went way beyond that – he kept his own Cabinet off balance…

    I think there’s a typo in this sentence though: “The American presidential candidates are engaged in vigorous debates about health care, education, foreign policy, serious issues that require serious answers.”

  12. Ti-guy,

    You don’t remember the finger? You don’t remember the spin behind the queen? Mr. Trudeau could be at turns gracious and derogatory…in other words, maddeningly human.

    As for the PM siccing the RCMP on people – I don’t recall Harper “giving the order”. The police have a specific job to do and that requires taking no chances. From the comfort of our media rooms, we criticize the police for “overeacting”.

    BTW, you’ll recall Mr. Chretien choking a protester – ah, the good ol’ days.

  13. Wait, so you want comments? Gasp! :)

    I’ve recently been rereading Wells’ Right Side Up, and what strikes me is – even beyond the public perception – the slow, methodical, patient nature of Harper’s rise. Even though, clearly, he’s got a serious temper and detests anything but winning, he is absolutely prepared to play the long game.

    He has not set out a vision: rather he has spent much effort persuading the public he has none. He has not stuck to his principles: he has abandoned them at every turn. He has not taken risks or invested political capital, but rather has stuck to sure-fire crowd-pleasers (GST cuts, tough-on-crime) and precisely targeted pandering (tax credits for children’s sports, the “nation” resolution).

    I agree that Harper isn’t outlining grand visions and broad courses of action. He does, however, seem to articulate the “national will”, such as it is – all of those populist measures you list are, genuinely, things that people want, things that extensive analysis of polls indicate that people want to see from their government. Which, of course, is exactly why he gets votes and why we’re looking at a potential Conservative minority at the moment.

    In the column, you write that running on leadership usually is about “warmth, magnetism, oratory, vision or sheer familiarity.” Is that really more substantive than Harper’s cold political efficiency? The Conservative team understands the electorate, probably better than any other group at the moment – demonstrated by how well they can play to it. Stephen Harper, at the head of that team, translates those popular desires into policy, better than anyone else on the hustings, or so it seems. If he’s leading us “nowhere we were not already prepared to go,” well, that’s representative democracy, isn’t it?

    I agree that it’s empty and uninspiring. I would love for Canada to have a strong leader with a clearly articulated vision who could eloquently fight for it. The problem is that we don’t have anyone like that who’s running for the job. In the meantime, we have someone who basically has made themselves into a proxy for What People Want. (Which you correctly point out is Stuff. Or as I read somewhere else recently, Other People’s Money.)

    People tend to be very comfortable with a “leader” who very strongly argues for Stuff they want. That’s still a strong leader. It’s not great, it doesn’t “define a generation”, but it’s still strong.

    Weren’t Thatcher and Mulroney strong leaders themselves? Strong, but non-visionary leadership seems to be a long tradition of people who come from the right.

  14. Oh yeah, and Style reminds me – please look deeper into American politics. I respect your opinions very much, but having lived in the US for a number of years, you come off as wildly naive about how things really work down there.

  15. Hard to say Andrew…

    It seems that Harper’s view of leadership is to impose his vision at any cost. And I would argue that for him, he has no unction to prostitute himself and shelve his true desire for a few years to achieve that end. Some people view that as “leadership”.

    I certainly do not.

    Like you, I believe that true leaders do not lead by stealth or by cunning. They lead by the courageousness of vision, their selflessness to the betterment of the state, but above all, an integrity that allows people to know up front what they are about and to freely choose to follow.

    Austin

    PS. I think his actions are wholly consistent with his NCC days, and if you look carefully, anything he has done an about face on, or capitulated to, or thrown money at, or simply disregarded has the net effect of fracturing the Canadian fabric by reducing our faith in this very fabric.

  16. I remember being 8 and thinking people were genuinely happy…

    “Once Trudeau was asked by a francophone journalist to explain what he would say to Quebecers concerning his appointment of two anglophone experts to conduct a constitutional reform study. “I’d tell them to go to hell, ” he snapped. Another time, giving a speech on the prairies, Trudeau encountered a young demonstrator who heckled him throughout the speech and threw handfuls of wheat at him. His reaction this time was even more abrasive: “Cut that out or I’ll come down and kick your ass.”

    Even in parliament, he resorted to name-calling and insults when the opportunity presented itself. Once, Trudeau responded to the jeers of the opposition with a very caustic speech: “I think we should encourage members of the opposition to leave. Everytime they do, the IQ of this House rises considerably … When they get home, when they are fifty yards from Parliament Hill, they are no longer honourable members – they are just nobodies.” Surprisingly, this outburst was tame compared to Trudeau’s remarks on other occasions. For example, he once called Calgary MP Harvie Andre “a son of a bitch”. ” And then there was fuddle-duddle.

    And didn’t Trudeau sic the military on his opponents? I remember something about just watching him…

  17. What if this is as good as it gets?

    PMSH has stated in the past that he enjoys being PM – in his opinion it’s a good fit for him, or something to that effect. And he has also indicated that he’s a young man, and thoughts of retiring from politics are far off considerations.

    But, I’ve wondered to myself, where does an ex-PM like Harper end up after his reign as PM ends? I can’t picture him in a role such as Mulroney on corporate boards, or as legal counsel /consultant such as Chretien on international ventures.

    Does he become an Economics/Poly Sci Prof?

    Back into a think tank such as Manning?

    Maybe some of the other more politically wise and/or partisan have ideas, but everything I can think of would be below his current status/prestige/perks.

    Which leads me to believe he’ll do everything to stay and remain on top as long as possible – which may continue to involve compromising “principles”, and seeking widest support and consensus.

  18. Style, I’d never heard that Trudeau “I’ll come down there and kick your ass” story. Totally awesome. Beats even the “Shawinigan handshake,” which, incidentally, launched the shaken man’s political career (I think he recently ran as an Independent or Green in Gatineau – provincially?). That’s leadership, boy.

  19. No doubt, Jack. We all love watching our heroes beat on somebody. Until, like Thatcher, they beat on someone we identify with…

  20. “Usually, the term “strong leader” is reserved for someone who sets out a vision, sticks to his principles, takes risks, invests political capital, and ultimately prevails in the face of entrenched opposition, whether through the strength of his ideas, the force of his oratory, his own personal magnetism, or sheer doggedness.”

    And uniting the right-leaning parties to create a national conservative party in order to form a government does not qualify as a vision? It didn’t involve any risks? There was no entrenched opposition to it? It didn’t take a determined effort to merge the two distinct cultures of the old PCs and Canadian Alliance into a national conservative party?

    Harper’s earned his reputation as a leader. You may not like what he’s done with that leadership (I have some issues with it as well), but that’s a different argument.

  21. I agreed with everything you said Andrew until you concluded with:

    “Indeed, for pure talent he is easily the most impressive federal leader since Trudeau: intelligent, self-assured, strategic.”

    This is truly a statement from Bizarro World. What evidence do we have of this besides you just saying it? You simply can’t make this conclusion based on the last roughly two and a half years of a minority government (especially given all the Conservative pandering, incompetence and micromanaging of co-workers that has transpired), and Harper’s previous political experience.

    Frankly, given the record so far, I would easily put Chretien and Mulroney ahead of Harper for pure political talent. And comparing Harper to Trudeau is just folly.

  22. Style:

    “We all love watching our heroes beat on somebody. Until, like Thatcher, they beat on someone we identify with…”

    I think it’s a question of style, Style. What I like is a leader who gives off that “I don’t give a f@ck” vibe. So to me there’s something very endearing about the fit of Karloffian rage that was the Shawinigan handshake, whereas the “Pepper on my Steak” incident was offensive; the difference between behaving like a human being and like a Mafia don, really. That’s why I find the Salmon Arm Salute (the historical incident, not the gesture) so endearing, and actually always give Salmon Arm its salute when passing through. What a human gesture that was! How pleasant the memory of Trudeau annoying all the power-worshippers, who want to deify the politicians (“hold them up as role-models,” etc. etc. – usual Fascist crap)! Vae, vae, requiescas in pace, Trudeau! Sit tibi terra levis!

  23. I was impressed with Harper early, after I got over him cutting 17 AGW research programmes (some restored I think). I expected Canada to go into immediate deficit. Honestly. I expected abortion rights to be retested. With the decision to kill income trusts and AB’s decision to implement more taxes on oil revenues, I started to think just maybe Canada’s right could handle the AGW file, about 1/10 as important as healthcare but so negected it is now the highest ROI. He was paying off debt. Then taxcuts sunk in in year two and both he and AB chickened out against big oil…I expect Layton, Dion and Harper to be around for quite some time. Be neat to know their ideas on reforming NATO, African Union, and which R+D sectors we should really take hold of. Be nice to have someone make Medonyx or the U of T handwash reminder ceiling sensor hospital bed, the next Baxter. Zenn’s already missed 1st mover advantage. WTG Conservatives. Decriminalization is better for economy than GST cuts.

  24. In the 35+ years that I have been casting ballots for the various Prime Ministers, Mr Harper was the only PM in my view who governed with a chip on his shoulder and always appeared mad about something/somebody.

  25. Style, what the heck are you talking about? Trudeau didn’t sic the military on his enemies, but the enemies of a united Canada. The terrorists couldn’t have cared who was in Ottawa at the time, just that they didn’t want Quebec to be a part of it.

    And the other thing, while Trudeau could be extremely cutting with his wit and tongue, he never spent millions of dollars or a great amount of energy trying to neuter his opposition outside the realm of an election. Until the Rove republicans and Harper, there was a sense of politics as sport, that all players had a sense of shared purpose, despite the differing opinions. Harper has wasted so much time and money attacking his opponent; in one sense, very astute. In the other, does it indicate he doesn’t believe he could win in a fair fight?

  26. Harper is a strong leader for growing the military and dishing out corporate welfare.

    But his limited tenure has been ripe with scandal, obfuscation, corruption, repression, flip-flops and general Republican style governance. Give him free reign and he’ll govern like Bush.

    Vote ABC : ANYTHING But Conservative.

  27. Harper’s next objective is obviously to win a majority. I’ve played or watched many games and sports–chess, football, baseball–to name a few.

    And as a general rule in all these games, the favorite should follow a safe strategy (wheras the underdog should take more risks) And that’s what Harper is doing in this campaign.

    Maybe a football analogy would help … It’s early in the first quarter. Harper moves the ball to the opponent’s 20 yard line, and is faced with a third down and two yards to go. He kicks a field goal. Why take risks now, to try for a possible touchdown, when playing a mediocre opponent like Dion, who will do well just to handle the snap from his centre.

  28. My God but there is something in the Coyne DNA that just can’t get enough Trudeau, or perhaps Trudeau DNA?
    “He has generally bested his opponents by the simple but effective tactic of the jaw-dropping about-face” “Zap! You’re frozen”. Liked it then, AC, not so much now?
    “He has not taken risks or invested political capital, but rather has stuck to sure-fire crowd-pleasers” The mind reels. AC, the NEP was nothing if not a crowd pleaser, Quebec and Ontario are far more crowded than the west, tell me with a straight face it happens if the demographics were reversed.
    Quebec as a nation needs the test of time, but from the state of the sovereingty movement, it looks alot better than any thing the the object of your Onanizing managed.
    Just what did this man do that that has earned your undending fealty?

  29. Peter: NEP might not have happened, but Alberta’s economy hitting the dumpster still would have, because that was the result of falling oil prices, not the NEP. It’s just a funny kind of thing that happens when you base your entire economy off of a single export resource.

    Some might go so far as to call that pretty stupid.

  30. I liked the following quote that TVO’s “The Agenda” display on screen:

    “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”–Bill Gates.

    Being a boss where someone tells other people what to do is not the same as being a leader. Leadership requires someone to trust the people who work with him, to let them make important decisions. I don’t see Harper trusting his cabinet, fellow MPs, and the Canadian peopole. If Harper cannot trust us Canadians, why should we trust Harper with the power of being prime minister?

  31. I posted on my blog yesterday my one day support for Stephen Harper’s “Blue Sweater” Party. Thankfully, it’s not CRAP. Click on my nickname above for more info.

  32. Mr. Coyne, will Macleans’ editorial board endorse Harper’s Conservatives? Do you think pro-market and conservative leaning news outlets should pull their endorsements of Harper? Two out of three Canadians oppose his party and even his supporters can not honestly deny his duplicity and policy reversals, his massive spending sprees and his disregard for the customs of our democracy. Is this not enough for you and your colleagues in the centre-right and right-leaning media to call a spade a shovel and remove your support form the Conservative Party as lead by Harper?

  33. Brammer:

    “Reminds me of a dog chasing a car. Once he catches it, he won’t know what to do with it.”

    Steven Harper is the Joker?

  34. Exactly. I hope you mention this point on the “At Issue” panel to give it some exposure and maybe get people to really stop and think about it for a minute.

  35. Leader is an overused word…..Putin, Mugabe, Bush – considered strong leaders. Hmmm….they stick to what they believe.

    So, if you’re travelling down a country road with your kiddies in the back seat and find out you’ve taken the wrong direction that may put your kids in danger….do you continue on or do you turn back and go in a new direction? Harper, et al would stick to their beliefs, unflapped, have made their decision….which would mean carry on in the same direction.

    You can be a leader and decisive for the good and for the bad.

  36. With all due respect Mr. Coyne, this is not a particularly insightful article.

    This much we can say about Harper’s accomplishments:

    1. He has played a key role in uniting the right of the political spectrum in this country. Arguably the most important role. This is no small thing. Canada was on the verge of becoming a one party state with all the negatives that that entails. We saw it, and still see it with the Liberal Party of Canada. They started to identify their party with the state. That’s one of the reasons we got Adscam. By uniting the right, Harper will force the Liberals to better themselves – clearly a work in progress at the moment.

    2. Since his election, the PQ has plummeted to third party status in Quebec and has put the sovereignty project on ice. Meanwhile in this election, the beady-eyed Gilles Duceppe and his Bloc cohorts are having an existential crisis. They are questioning their very existence. Stephen Harper has handled the unity file with adept adroitness. We know your personal preference for the white-knuckle brinksmanship that the Trudeau Liberals brought to the unity file. Guess what Mr. Coyne, Canadians prefer the quiet, placid and peaceful Canada/Quebec relationship that has taken root in the last two and a half years.

    3. With the one of the weakest numerical majorities in Canadian history, Harper marshalled through legislation largely in accordance with his campaign promises. The GST, the Criminal Code amendments, the open federalism towards Quebec… In other words he lead and Parliament followed, reluctantly to be sure, but followed nonetheless. Again, considering the circumstances of a weak numerical minority, no small thing.

    What’s the alternative in this election? Have the Liberals learned any lessons after being voted out of office by Canadians in January 2006? The passage below reported in today’s Toronto Star suggests that the answer is no:

    “Things are so bad in Liberal circles, a story making the rounds describes a policy meeting in which Dion insisted on doing things his way because, “I was elected to lead the people of this party to leave a better planet.”

    “No,” said Bob Rae. “You were elected because you’re not me and you’re not Michael Ignatieff.””

    A leader who honestly (and weirdly) thinks his leadership mandate is to save the planet leading a party which still has yet (will it ever) to come to terms with his leadership.

  37. “What I like is a leader who gives off that “I don’t give a f@ck” vibe.”

    Who doesn’t. Not caring is essential to great leadership. I think it’s cute that you and Coyne wish Harper were more abusive of his opponents.

    But Coyne goes too far when he compares Harper to Trudeau – implementing wage and price controls, after mocking the PCs for proposing them, and adopting the same tax measures he defeated the Clark government over. Those are policy reversals worth remembering. Income trusts. Not so much.

    The military searched the homes and seized the address books of many Quebecers who’s only offense was to publicly support sovereignty. All Harper can offer is the RCMP asking some photographers to leave. Come on, Steve, Macleans demands you kick it up a notch!

  38. I agree that Harper does not merit the reputation of ‘strong leader’ in the traditional way we understand the expression but …

    1) In Canada, a PM who governs the way Harper is at the moment is usually considered a successful leader. I always think of Scott’s poem about Mackenzie King when thinking of what makes a strong Canadian PM:

    He blunted us.
    We had no shape
    Because he never took sides,
    And no sides
    Because never allowed them to take shape.

    2) I don’t believe proper conservatives should have ‘visions’ for anyone or anything. Unless reducing the State, and granting us more freedom is a vision, than Harper is governing as he should.

    However, I do agree that he’s abandoned his principles and the best that can said of Conservative policies at the moment is that they are less socialist than the other parties, which doesn’t exactly thrill us conservatives.

  39. Andrew – you’ve also abused the “Shorter” format somewhat. In the classic dsquared approach, the summary should be only one or two lines. I’ve come up with a couple of options for you but others may have better ideas.

    a) Stephen Harper can best be understood by comparing him to Putin, Thatcher, Mike Harris and Pierre Trudeau. The only one he resembles is Putin, but he has the potential to be another Pierre Trudeau.

    b) Harper is disappointing because, unlike Thatcher, he is unwilling to confront the coal miners. Or Argentina.

  40. Spot on, Andrew. It’s rather a shame that die-hard neo-con supporters cannot fathom that their great ‘leader’ isn’t really a leader at all.

  41. Andrew,

    I understand where you’re coming from when reading your column on leadership, and Harper’s leadership in particular. But perhaps the most important thing to remember is the underlying expectations: where you are coming from. And that counts for all of us.

    Yes, I was extremely disappointed when Harper chose to bend the rules around fixed election dates. Specially around the issue of fixed election dates because the rules seemed so clear to all, and seemed so purposefull besides. Not? Maybe not.

    (I do not want to make excuses for Harper’s undermining of the fixed election law, because I still think his stand and approach were wrong on that. Other approaches could have, and should been taken.)

    Maybe the rules around what we understand to be leadership have changed also. And that I think is the surprise effect you so highlight at the end of your column. But this surprise element does not merely reside in Harper himself, nor is it isolated within Harper’s form of leadership. The surprise element also comes forth out of changing times. Can we still compare leadership dated within Tatcher and Reagan if the world we live in has in fact changed? And I don’t say this lightly.

    I will say this much: perhaps he is considered to be a good leader under present circumstances, and that some of those circumstances can clearly be marked as being that of the shifting kind. Perhaps Harper is trying to find – together with the citizens at large – what this shifting ‘new world’ is all about, because frankly I don’t think most citizens around the world have fully come to terms with this pivoting of positions.

    But if you have a person like Harper who can think reasonably, who is not willing to go in one strong direction over another but is indeed trying to find a middle ground which can then draw as many citizens into the well being of a nation, then perhaps that is all we can expect from a leader at this point in time.

    It is the public at large afterall who are also, for the most part, confused. Not so much confused about Harper, but confused about the shifting state of our wider world.

    Personally, I don’t think you experience this shifting world as a problem perse. Perhaps you feel that our environment is always of the shifting kind, and, of course, it is. But you are a strong thinker yourself and you have a fundamental way of looking at things. But many, many voters in many, many countries no longer possess this sense of self. How then is a man like Harper (or any other leader) to address that situation?

    The opposition parties, while being operative in parliament, certainly didn’t give away any signs of real leadership, that’s for sure. Except for Jack Layton. I must admit that Jack Layton has his moments when he decides to stand on his fundamental foundation. But when a man with such potential steps down from that platform and starts talking like the man who I meet in the elevator sometimes, a man who fervently believes that 9/11 catastrophe had been orchastrated by the US administration, then I seriously think Mr.Layton should pause and reflect for a moment: Is it wise to take advantage of the voter’s state of confusion, or is it wiser to admit that not all problems are to be so easily understood, and are therefore not so easily fixed.

  42. “Yes, I was extremely disappointed when Harper chose to bend the rules around fixed election dates. Specially around the issue of fixed election dates because the rules seemed so clear to all, and seemed so purposefull besides. Not? Maybe not.”

    This is a complaint I don’t understand. Harper introduced the legislation because he was tired of Liberal leaders launching snap elections when they thought they had the best chance of winning. Why would he respect that law if doing so returned that power to the current Liberal leader? I don’t see this as a betrayal of his principles, I think it fits in with your broader description of him adapting to shifts in context. Here, he expected teh government to fall much earlier so felt it was safe to put in place an election law that would bind the next majority government.

    That said, Andrew is right to push Harper to take on the coal miners.

  43. comment by Style on Tuesday, September 16, 2008 at 2:59 pm:

    This is a complaint I don’t understand. Harper introduced the legislation because he was tired of Liberal leaders launching snap elections when they thought they had the best chance of winning. Why would he respect that law if doing so returned that power to the current Liberal leader? I don’t see this as a betrayal of his principles,

    *******

    Where’s Ti-guy when he’s needed most?

  44. Andrew,

    I think you’re the canary in the coal mine for the collapse of this new Conservative party. Harper is neither conservative, nor visionary, and as such his party is collapsing. Canadians of all political stripes want a balance between a strong safety net, forward planning, and short term profit. Harper has concentrated only on maximizing short term profit for a few select industries, while making only minor attempts in the other two areas. Its hard to imagine where we could be, if we had a visionary leader, and were 3 years into the transition to 21st century.

  45. Where’s Ti-guy when he’s needed most?

    Off looking for pictures of Harper picking his nose and eating it to counter the non sequiturs and sophistry the Conservatives drag into these discussions, especially when they explain how Harper didn’t break his own election law.

  46. Andrew said “None of this is to deny that Harper has the capacity to be a strong leader. Indeed, for pure talent he is easily the most impressive federal leader since Trudeau: intelligent, self-assured, strategic. But he has not yet put those talents to use in a way that would merit the title”

    Harper has reshaped the political landscape in Canada. He takes firm positions on foreign policy. He has cut taxes and although he has increased spending, he is STILL running a surplus — with promises of holding spending to inflation. The nation has never been more united.

    If strong leadership means the Trudeau way – increasing the country’s debt by 1000%, smoking cigars with dictators like Fidel Casto and nationalizing the economy – then I don’t want strong leadership.

    Give me the not-as-strong-of-a-leader Harper anyday. Harper knows exactly what happens when ideology trumps everything in policy-making — a divided right-wing that is full of good ideas they will never implement because they will never win power.

    We shouldn’t put a lot of stock in what you’ve been predicting lately, given that you:

    – proclaimed that recognizing the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada would destroy the country, and

    – endorsed Stephane Dion for leadership of the liberal party, and

    – are Pierre Trudeau’s cousin through marriage.

  47. are Pierre Trudeau’s cousin through marriage.

    Typical personal attack. They really have nothing else at all.

  48. Ti-Guy said: “(I am) off looking for pictures of Harper picking his nose and eating it”

    and then five minutes later, he’s disgusted that I would stoop to the gutter of a personal attack.

  49. “Harper is neither conservative, nor visionary, and as such his party is collapsing.”

    This statement is even more ridiculous then Andrew saying Harper has accomplished nothing with his leadership. According to most polls the CPC is going to be picking up seats on Oct. 14 and the party’s fundraising is healthy which suggests the base is at least content. Not exactly a collapsing party.

    “Harper has concentrated only on maximizing short term profit for a few select industries”

    You’re right. Harper’s corporate income tax cuts are directed solely at industries that are making profits and are economically viable. It’s definitely not in the national interest to encourage those industries to expand and create jobs. That’s terrible forward planning.

  50. Ti-Guy and I actually agree! I also believe that Harper’s nose-picking is a valid explanation of why it was reasonable to call an election now. But I do not accept the insinuation that Dion, or any other political leader, has a filthy, congested nose. That kind of talk has no place in our political discourse. Shame on you Ti-Guy.

  51. Style,

    Yeah,: “That said, Andrew is right to push Harper to take on the coal miners.”

    Perhaps Harper did call them to come above ground, at least.

  52. Style,

    yes, of course, the opposition was really taking advantage of the fixed election laws, because afterall they could vote against the government.
    But perhaps Harper could have started the parliamentary session with proposing just that: a motion that the Liberals could not possibly have agreed to. That then would have triggered an election upon the opposition’s call.

    What are you saying, that the opposition (the Liberal party in particular) would have gone to any lenghts to vote WITH the government?

    But that would have drawn out the leadership aspect from an interesting angle, not?

    I personally think Mr.Dion was…. well… on his way!

  53. I gotta say something about this fixed election law so-called “broken promise”. Appealing to Andrew Coyne’s exquisite sense of logic:

    1. Either the law fixing the election date to October, 2009 applies to everyone or to no one.

    2. That it applied only to the government and not the opposition, apparently the view of Andrew Coyne and Stephane Dion, is illogical.

    3. I’ve never heard of a law that constraines some but not others.

    Isn’t that it in a nutshell folks? The law could not apply in a minority context. If it was meant to, then the opposition could not force an election until October, 2009. But the opposition’s position had always been that it could bring the government down on a confidence vote. Would that have breached the law Andrew Coyne? No, I didn’t think so. Nor then, was the government calling the election. Let’s have a little bit, a modicum of, intellectual rigour here.

  54. I think that maybe the word ‘leader’ as a descriptive is being confused with the word ‘boss’. Harper may want to called himself a “leader’ but his style and approach to management is that of a very traditional boss, many of us who have been in the workforce, as I have for well over 40 as a women in the construction industry can attest. I think that his attitude and his approach is that of many “boss” lead by giving direction and imperatives that are to followed.
    No questions asked, no credit to others who contribute. A very dysfunctional approach for many of us who have graduated to an leadership model that takes into account respect, and consulting of others who make up the team approach to decision making and finding solutions.
    But then again, there are still a great many people who would rather have someone else do their thinking and analysis for them and tell them what to. These people I am sure see Mr. Harper as their “leader” who can direct them and manage them. This may include some of the media as evident in how they are doing their research and reporting on the issues.
    Thank you, Mr. Coyne for taking the time to use your words to say more that pat and sensational catch phrase that I am far to often hearing in the National News these days both in the French and English media.

  55. I still have a problem accepting the election lie of the past election where Harper promised that income trusts would not be taxed, making them a good investment until he devastated them by announcing a tax.
    Unfortunately there no other good leaders to form a strong gov’t.
    A minority government is our only hope.

  56. Jarrid,

    you bring up some good points, because really, in essence, the fixed election law had left something to be desired, namely that within a minority government the opposition parties could call the shot. But in that case, the government does have an equal say as well, namely that in order for the opposition to call the shot, the government could set up the shot, so to speak.

    So, in that sense the government does have equal opportunity under the fixed election law. It becomes a game of chicken then, sort of, whithin a minority government. I think the PM didn’t want to take that particular route, and perhaps with good reason.

    But I think he could have found another way, I don’t know. Perhaps an amendment to that fixed election law could have been enough, either for all parties to remain in the house untill Oct,09, or by not agreeing to it and thereby vote the government out.

    There is one other thing I want to mention here about the so-called reasons for calling an election. It has been commented upon that Harper did not want the dirt to rise up out of the committee meetings. But if you consider some of the issues under investigation by the ethics commission, one could easily argue that some of these issues should never have gone to commission to begin with. I mean, how many times can taxpayer’s money be spent on clearing or smearing a name such as Mulroney? Didn’t he have enough time as head of government to establish a reputation for whatever it may have turned out to be?

    Why try and link so underhandedly a connection between the doings of Mulroney with that of Harper’s doing? If Harper can be accused of playing dirty politics by trying to circumvent ongoing committee work, then why not call it dirty politics by placing issues like that on the ethics committee’s agenda to begin with?

    I believe that such underhandedness by the opposition parties is not being covered enough by our media.

  57. “Perhaps an amendment to that fixed election law could have been enough, either for all parties to remain in the house until Oct,09, or by not agreeing to it and thereby vote the government out.”

    But that would require a chess-playing-like level of tactical genius…

  58. Margaret Thatcher caved to the coal miners?
    What perverted history source were you reading Style?
    Try and find a coal min in the UK these days?
    Try and find a miner for that matter!
    If you want your history in an entertaining form – with great Brass Band music as a bonus – watch Brassed Off – a movie about what Thatcher did to miners in order to ideologically break their union.
    Same Margaret Thatcher that privatized everything – now water is privatized in the UK – and boy are people paying for it…
    That’s the Margaret Thatcher that Stephen Harper (and I suspect Andrew Coyne) still reveres..
    even though her economic model is totally discredited…

  59. Jarrid: The law specifically made allowance for non-confidence votes. And there are a great many laws that apply to some people and not others, based on their positions and the circumstances. Emergency workers and the police, for example, are allowed to speed when required. People who work for the movie industry can ignore land use bylaws in some areas while working on a movie, etc.

    That said, I’ll agree that no law was violated. However, the spirit and promise of the law — where conservative members specifically pointed out that the law would have the effect of preventing a PM (not a united opposition) from calling an election merely to suit the political clime — that was certainly broken.

    The breaking of the fixed election date promise should be angering to conservatives on three separate fronts. First, it’s a betrayal of the words that the Prime Minister promised to all of us as Canadians(although apparantly conservative feel that betrayal by one of their own is acceptable.. almost expected). Second, it’s a betrayal of the idea of electoral reforms that I thought conservatives in general supported, however, I could be wrong about whether they support it or not, although if they didn’t, I’m not sure why Harper would promise it in the first place.

    Third, and perhaps most strange to me, conservatives should be upset about the passage of this law, now shown to be meaningless as the opposition parties pointed out, was nothing more than a waste of taxpayer dollars — in government resources, and in paying the elitist politicians of all parties when they were crafting and debating this meaningless piece of electoral pandering. That we don’t seem to see any conservatives upset that their own government proposed meaningless legislation and wasted their taxpayer dollars on the passage of it demonstrates to me how hypocritical conservative supporters really are. Oh sure, they’re all about not wasting.. until it’s their guy that does it. Then it’s perfectly alright, because hey, at least it wasn’t those dirty hippies wasting it.

  60. Margaret Thatcher caved to the coal miners?”

    Thatcher’s confrontation with the miners came iafter her re-election in 1983. In her first term, she caved to their demands to avoid a strike she thought they would win. “A strike nearly occurred in 1981, when the government had a similar plan to close twenty-three pits, though the threat of a strike was then enough to force the government to back down.”

    You can read all about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UK_miners'_strike_(1984–1985)

    Accompanying brass band music from “All Brass Band Radio”:
    http://www.allbrassradio.com/playlist.php

  61. Love your stuff, Andrew.

    I’ve always thought that Harper has enjoyed the great fortune of seeming like such a wonderful leader because of the shortcomings of the opposition, not because of merit.

    I am disappointed that Canadians are buying his nice-guy, centrist marketing campaign in such numbers. In my opinion, this guy calculates his every move, relies on the stupidity/lack of involvement/reliance on sound-bytes of the masses to fire them up with rhetoric, and gift-wraps social conservativism as fiscal conservativism. He is patient enough to play the game hoping for an eventual pay-off of power.

    Harper is an economist by training (this fine publication notwithstading, I suggest reading the Walrus article of a few years back ), and yet he really has no plan for steering Canada through our economic paradigm shift away from manufacturing. The 21st century service economy? How can retail jobs possibly compete with the spending power of manufacturing jobs? And who will SPEND at retail, anyway, if we all live on subsistance incomes? And cutting the GST was, as one economist put it, “not the best way to spend 10 billion dollars” (5 billion tax revenue waived for each percent cut).

  62. Oh, and I highly recommend Brassed Off, too! Great movie, excellent cast, with a very young Ewan McGregor and a cute Tara whatsername.

  63. “I’ve always thought that Harper has enjoyed the great fortune of seeming like such a wonderful leader because of the shortcomings of the opposition, not because of merit.”

    I’ve thought this of every PM except Turner and Campbell.

  64. “None of these, I argue, apply in Harper’s case. He has not set out a vision: rather he has spent much effort persuading the public he has none.”

    And still almost a third of voting Canadians are content to let him govern when we have Dion, May, and Layton who have given us platforms of vision? It’s almost depressing.

  65. Fair enough, Style. It seems we Canadians always elect based on what the guy ISN’T.

  66. So wait a minute…Harper’s policy advisor is Seinfeld?

    The comedy escapes me…

    Austin

  67. What is the mindset of an organization whose “heavy weights” call the grass roots “turds” and “idiots”. I think that this is the mindset of the PMO and CPC. It speaks to the “true leadership” of the Prime Minister.

  68. If Harper were running instead as Liberal leader, he’d probably easily get that majority.

    Interesting to think why that is.

  69. Where your analysis falls short is in your assumption that Canadians are willing to elect a strong leader.
    Real leadership, of the kind that you identify scares us. What we want most in our leaders is an implicit undertaking that they will pander to us–that they will validate our prejudices, deny the unpleasant realities that we cannot bear to face up to, and re-assure us that we will not have to make any real sacrifices to accomplish anything. That is not to say that Candians don’t appreciate a politician with a leader’s style, and we do like to think that if, God forbid, we are faced with a crisis that we cannot ignore, such as the FLQ crisis of 1970, that the shameless panderer that we have put into office will have some inner resevoir of strength that will pull us through. And once we are throuigh it, then of course, evey respectable Candian opinion leader will immediately commence explaining to all of the rest of us just how awful and unnecessary the strong measures that we temporarily embraced–e.g. the War Measures Act–actually were. Thus the Liberals, who have rarely been accused of standing for anything, and whom we all knew would pander to us, have almost always had the advantage over the Conservatives, who ever since the death of John A. Macdonald have been suspected of standing for something. Harper has used his time in office so far to re-assure us all that he can be depended upon to pander to us. His opponent, on the other hand, although he is now trying to back away from it, is suspected of standing for something that may require sacrifice. He seems to really believe in this “Green” stuff that we all want to be seen to be associated with, but don’t want to really want to have to sacrifice for.
    What then can we hope for? If Harper gets his majority I think we can count on him continuing to pander to us on almost everything, but we can hope, that just like Trudeau and Mulroney before him, he will decide on one big thing that he will actually show some leadership on and get accomplished. I’m not quite sure what that might be, but I have enough faith in his instincts to hope that he gets a shot at it.

  70. “He has not set out a vision: rather he has spent much effort persuading the public he has none. He has not stuck to his principles: he has abandoned them at every turn. He has not taken risks or invested political capital, but rather has stuck to sure-fire crowd-pleasers”

    Uh, could that not be because he only has a MINORITY, and so at this point his overriding (virtually only) strategy is to stay in power long enough that Canadians, having developed a trepidation toward conservative government after 30 or 40 years of social engineering by Liberal Orthodox media, educational establishment, and other institutions, can get used to him, and see that he is not in fact a reptilian kitten-eater from another planet? Wells analysis was much better.

    “he is easily the most impressive federal leader since Trudeau”

    True, but that’s not saying much. The Great Helmsman Trudeau was only an intellectual standout in Canadian politics because the pond is so small – in any major European democracy, or the US, Trudeau would have been seen for the mediocrity and dilettante that he was.
    (there, I feel better now, my daily PET vent is done)

  71. The best disection of Harper’s term in government I’ve seen yet. The real question, however, is will Canadians see it this way, and if so, what will they do about it.

  72. Harper is not a Vladimir Putin type leader. He is a Sir John A MacDonald type. He is a “builder” not a “boss” (or “bully”, a word used alot to describe him but recently not very much).

    In fact he is more than just a Sir John A MacDonald. He is also his own Georges-Etienne Cartier. He has set out to restore the Canadian national ideal, to ensure that francophones in Quebec truly feel that their “national” identity is in Canada. Politically, we wants to make the Bloc obsolete and irrelevant as the vehicle for Quebec francophones’ national aspirations, and to restore the Conservative Party to its traditional strong position in francophone Quebec as it was before the hanging of Louis Riel.

    Making Quebec an integral part of a united and prosperous conservative Canada has been Harper’s almost single-minded purpose from the beginning. He is a visionary in this respect. He is overcoming great odds, but he is transforming Canada in much the same way Sir John A MacDonald, with powerful assistance from Georges-Etienne Cartier, did more than 150 years ago.If he succeeds, Harper will be the father of Canadian Reconfederation.

    I guess this makes me more of a “wellsian” than a “coynite”.

  73. “If he succeeds, Harper will be the father of Canadian Reconfederation.”

    LOL!!!

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