Uncle Stephen


Several colleagues who were around the table on a familiar downtown patio last week will be my witnesses. With as much luck as insight, I called Stephen Harper’s writ-drop virage. What was certain was that he would change style radically when an election became inevitable, the better to short-sheet the Liberals. He changed his manner completely when the 2006 campaign began, and it worked. He was certain to change his manner again. What was harder to tell was which way he would swerve. I had a hunch — and it was only a hunch because on matters like this, the Conservative brain trust stops dropping hints — that Harper would exchange steely-and-dominant for warm, avuncular, reassuring. What I said, on the patio last week, was, “He’s going to run as Louis St. Laurent.” And here’s the old gent now:




We have come about a million miles from the 2004 pre-writ ads (“MY name. Is Stephen Harper”). Note that the Louis St. Laurent shtick does not nullify the other comparisons I’ve made in my continuing attempts to (a) figure the guy out (b) explain him. To recap:

  • Goal: Mackenzie King. A long term in office to implement incremental but irreversible change in policy direction and to anchor his party as the dominant electoral player for a generation.
  • Method: Richard Nixon. Define your base by class, not geography, and never be swayed by the opprobrium of commentators who will never be part of your base.
  • Manner: Uncle Louis. Not always, mind you. He’ll be a different guy indeed on his Angry Days. But I’m pretty sure the Liberals have nothing in their kitty to counter the first recorded appearance of Stephen Harper in a cuddly sweater vest.


Uncle Stephen

  1. Huh. I had just figured they were either using a stunt double or were using elaborate graphic design techniques to turn his perma-scowl into something more pleasant.

  2. “You’ve got to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society.” (Stephen Harper, Report Newsmagazine, January 22, 2001)

  3. Holy smokes, I just started crying. His acting chops have improved, that’s for sure.

    Stephen Harper, One of Us?

    (cut me some slack, I’m only thirty pages into Nixonland)

  4. Nixonland doesn’t really hold up all the way to the end, but the first 100 pages are amazing good fun and the rest is useful.

  5. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the Grits listen to Michael Marzolini won’t they be running a campaign attacking Harper in exactly the same way as the last two elections?

  6. Wow – Stephen Harper, Human Being.

    I guess now we knew why he resisted the obvious move of “showing his softer side” for so long, in spite of near-universal recommendations that he should, from friend and foe alike: it’s because he was saving it for now, to confuse the hell out of the Grits.

  7. Here’s the thing. The ads are trying to insulate (sweater) Harper against the incomings that the Libs have planned (2+ years worth of Harper’s scowls and tantrums).

    The problem is that ads are only useful when they have an echo in the news coverage. And what’s been the headlines recently? Listeriosis. Afghanistan. Plant closures. Stock market slide. Cadman deposition.

    All the paid ads in the world cannot compete with the (unpaid) media news cycle. Plus there will be the splashes from the US election.

    So, good luck to the Cons and their Harper-is-Santa-Claus routine. It won’t last.

  8. People don’t change, anon.

  9. No thanks, Steve. I already have a father. But I’m glad you’re projecting a wholesome role model for the spotty, arrested-development youth who support you so enthusiastically. Perhaps now they’ll drop the hissy petulance.

  10. What – the kittens image didn’t work?

    I think I’m going to be sick

  11. Wells you also called this in one of your blogpost wayback on a positive Mcain ad.

    I am to lazy to look.

  12. I think I’m going to be sick


  13. The man in the ads is exactly the same Stephen Harper I’ve met both before and since he became prime minister.

  14. Brilliant! The best thing would be if the expectations are interrupted. Everyone expects the CPC to go brutally negative therefore I suggest that if the CPC take the ol moral high ground and basically for my boy Stevie to either just ignore or disregard Dion completely (disregarding is better as it is harder to fight the opponent ends up looking like a whiner which comes naturally to Dion)and that would then position him to take the negative track which he has already started to do! perfect timing – I can’t wait for the writ!

  15. I can’t wait for the writ!

    Apparently, the Conservative party can though. This idea of pre-writ advertising leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  16. If I were the libs, I would try to make the dominant image of Harper the House footage of him standing up in the commons, smugly crying “promise made!” to a rousing return of “promise broken!” from his cacus. Only this time, I’d intersperse it with certain other promises….

  17. The eyes. There’s always the eyes.

  18. Hey look, I just remembered I can now post my messages here where everyone can ignore them and not just Paul! (Not a dig at Paul, whom I ignore regularly especially when he blogs about jazz.)

    Just wanted to say that this isn’t Louis St. Laurent; it’s Ralph Klein circa the 1997 Alberta election. Ralph in a cuddly sweater. (Ralph Listens. Ralph Cares.)

  19. The man in the ads is exactly the same Stephen Harper I’ve met both before and since he became prime minister.

    Norman, was the guy holding the cue cards sitting on your knife or your fork side?

  20. And btw, who wears vests in the middle of Summer?

    Sleeveless ones no less. In Canada.

    I’m not making this up.

  21. scott m: then go raise some money.

  22. Everyone had to know that softer kinder Stephen Harper ads were coming. I’m sure there will be more, likely with a focus on the wife and kids, and maybe a kitty..a kitty named Canada!

  23. Why is he wearing a sweater during the summer?

  24. The man in the ads is exactly the same Stephen Harper I’ve met both before and since he became prime minister.

    There’s no way to be sure. Some of the decoy-bots are outstanding. I hear that for fun he sometimes sleeps in and sends one of them to the PMO.

  25. Next ad:

    “Stephane Dion is Not a Father”


  26. Still–people who don’t like him, don’t like him a lot.

  27. The good part, from the Liberal point of view, is that he doesn’t say his name or the parties. People will have to be paying attention to really get the message.

  28. The good part, from the Liberal point of view, is that he doesn’t say his name or the party’s. People will have to be paying attention to really get the message.

  29. This is daft. If they run this concurrently with negative ads, the cognitive dissonance will drive many people to beer and popcorn.

  30. And I don’t, I just don’t want to see Layton one-upping him on this angle.

  31. He likes playing cards with his kids, great, why doesn’t he stop pimping them for political gain. Did they pick up this vulgar shtick from the Yanks? Watching coverage of the conventions I was left wondering whether I’d vote for Obama’s or Palin’s kids on the basis of who was cuter. Who gives a shit about the prospective PMs family, let’s have some policy and an election for grown-ups only.

  32. Jack Mitchell,
    No, running this with the negative ads is perfect…in fact, the more negative the better for them. It is the cognitive dissonance that will drive the liberals round the bend, not the voter.

  33. Harper needed to counter his nasty conniving image with sweaters and kittens.

    If this works you can put lipstick on a pig.

  34. I just got a sick feeling that a CPC majority is on its way.

  35. I feel terrible — all along, I’ve thought of harper as a cold and calculating bass-turd…

  36. Kenneth, it’ll be really hard for Harper to get a majority. But this ad is exactly what you run when you’re *trying* to get a majority. When you think it’s worth a shot.

  37. Take a good look: I think the close-ups are of George Costanza’s hands.

  38. The man in the ads is exactly the same Stephen Harper I’ve met both before and since he became prime minister.

    Yup, probably socially…and never worked for him.

    I think this was done quite some time ago….just in case, hence the sweater. It also hides the big tum tum….and face it, he’s lost weight. Look at the pictures….obviously in his chubby days.

    Wowie, imagine that…we have a PM with kids. Unbelievable, exciting, just makes my day.

    Let’s see Mackenzie King wasn’t married with kids, Kim Campbell not married/with kids, Dief married – no kids….all the rest of them had kids.

  39. Hey Paul (or Kady) : though this is off topic I can’t help it. A friend of mine (NDP) and I were sitting around discussing a variety of scenarios that might or at the least could occur with the election. He posited to me what would happen if us conservatives lost to a liberal minority to which I had a somewhat humorous flash of insight that some might find amusing = one thing that would happen is that conservatives would chair some committees – ROFL LMAO! – I can see it now poor Kady! Ask her what if Van Loan was Chairing the Circus … Thank god it is not very likely but might be almost worth it! I can see the line up of liberals and ndp beginning to position themselves and man the shredder as I type this.

  40. Notice that Haper closes his eyes when he says being a dad is the greatest thing in the world. People often do that subconsciously when they’re hiding the truth. Poor kids.

  41. No big deal Wayne, we already know what happens if conservatives chair committees… they run away.

  42. Paul: I’m deeply confused, what happened to the predicted attack-ad armada, these all seem so wholesome, and not-attack-ad.

    Is it a change it strategy or just the calm-before-the-storm

  43. Ok, Wells what’s with the tease…

    “Manner: Uncle Louis. ”

    We better be getting a good artcle like “Nixonland” and the “man who could be King”.

    Also, could the Dief be somewhat part of the “manner”?

  44. I just saw this ad for the first time. I couldn’t stop laughing when it came to the end…”warm and cuddly” really doesn’t suit Harper. It looks forced, awkward and hilarious.

  45. JK, Diefenbaker had his virtues, but he wasn’t calming. I think Harper wants to be calming, at least part-time, during this campaign.

  46. (as opposed to nutty professor with wacky experiment he wants to try on us but changes the particulars of the experiment every other week depending on who he lets talk to him)

  47. I’ve been a big fan of Diefenbaker ever since I saw the Avro Arrow flick with Dan Akroyd and the way he so generously donated his bomb shelter to the Hells Angels to grow dope.

  48. Am I wrong, or was the imminent election call that was supposed to come Friday just put off till Sunday? Is there really going to be an election, this time for sure you promise and pinky swear?

  49. Can someone estimate the Conservative ad budget in this pre-writ period?
    Doesn’t it strike anyone as against the spirit of the law if not the letter?
    Doesn’t it come across as rather unTrustworthy?

  50. Can someone estimate the Conservative ad budget in this pre-writ period?

    Sour grapes from someone who supports a party with no money..or they’d be doing exactly the same thing.

    These commercials are going to bring the CPC up and over 40%. Forget about Harper, Dion..he’s gone. Watch out for Jack..he’s in your rear-view and closing fast.

  51. The Conserva-boys really like the sweater vest.

  52. Darren Trent
    Perhaps you are correct about Liberals doing the same if they had $$ – cause Harper has changed the game.

    But do we want this as a society – the left won’t be broke forever … do you want 4 years of nasty ads attacking a sitting PM let alone an opposition leader?

    * the constant non-election attack ads
    * published instructions to disrupt Parliamentary committees
    * attacking world renowned Elections Canada
    * firing wheat B. chair, Nuclear safety chair etc
    * very questionable use of 10%ers
    * in and out tricks to skirt spending limits
    * taking advantage of a pre writ period (and yes a large war chest) to skirt spending limits

    very un-Canadian

  53. “do you want 4 years of nasty ads attacking a sitting PM let alone an opposition leader?”

    yeah, I think we do. The more we can do to engage the public in political debate the better. Ads will reach people that other mediums don’t.

  54. I’m totally with you, Northern PoV. Think about it; since the Conservatives can somehow (how??) raise so much money, there is NOTHING preventing them from running these ads FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES.

    I want to vote for whichever party will promise (hah!) to bring in political party advertising only during an election period.

    BTW, the one I heard on the radio yesterday morning did state at the end something to the effect that the message was brought to us by the official agent of the Conservative Party of Canada. So my question is why don’t these TV ads say something about that, or alternatively, why did this radio ad spend the time to mention it?

    Surely they don’t intend to run non-election advertising during an election period? How would the production expenses show up on the books?

  55. Darren Trent, you just came really, really close to getting banned. Smarten up.

  56. PW said “Kenneth, it’ll be really hard for Harper to get a majority.”

    A second Quebec-only poll came out today showing the Bloc and the Conservatives tied at 30% each, the Libs in the dust. In 2006 the Bloc had 42% and the Cons 25%. At 30% plus in the polls, the Conservatives start winning significant seats. On the eve of the election they are already there. Also today an environics poll with a 2,500 sample came out with the Cons at 38% and the Libs at 28%. That poll appears to have underpolled Conservative support in Quebec compared to the CROP poll and the Leger poll out today.

    Harper is on the verge of a majority as the campaign begins. A tough campaign lies ahead but the majority appears quite doable.

    These latest polls, especially the Quebec ones, are breathtaking.

  57. At 50% CPC support in the Quebec city region (according to Leger) they’re going to sweep the area code for some major seat gains.

    Combine that with the “Harper would make the best PM” numbers in the rest of Canada, particularly Ont. and the suggestion that a majority is not within reach sounds like wishful thinking.

  58. These latest polls, especially the Quebec ones, are breathtaking


    You guys *really* need to get out more…make sure you wipe the keyboard when you leave too…


    BTW…polls reflect the opinions only of those willing to participate…anyone would be foolish to think any poll as a definitive picture of the voting public

  59. “Did they pick up this vulgar shtick from the Yanks?”

    Stephen Harper is a Republican. Remember that, and all the rest falls into place.

    (He’s a bit less jowly than the sort of Republicans America’s been led by lately, but other than that, he’d be well at home on Fox ‘n Friends.)

  60. Jenn: Conservatives the world over get their money from pretty much the same place: direct mail that warns of dire consequences (generally at the hands of the “lesser classes”) unless you send in money.

    (Progressives, these days, pretty much get it from people on the internet saying “aw hell, it’s only ten bucks, I’ll click the button.”)

    (Or at least Dems do. Damned if I know why the Libs seem singularly unable to.)

  61. Duceppe’s Quebec separatist seem to be on the verge of losing many seats the voters won before Harper and his Conservative government awarded the province Nation status within Canada. We all hope the endorsement of a Quebec nation within Canada will not lead to a First Nation, Asian descendant, former European, and Afro-Canadian nations within Canada. Maybe it will spawn the idea of an Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Maritimes, Newfoundland-Labrador or Saskatchewan nations within Canada. If any of those scenarios happen to surface Canadians would not need a central federal government possibly leading to the breakup of the nation just as the Quebec separatists fought for through civil insurrection and two referendums.

  62. OK so no one I know in real life seems to agree with me, but does the background music remind anyone here a little bit of Bryan Adams’ “Everything I do, I do it for you”? Especially from about 15 seconds onward?

  63. Demosthenes : are you serious when you ask that you can not understand why the Liberals can’t fundraise like they used to? As far as I can see what happened is that for many years the Liberals raised most of their money from the Bay St. gang and other large assorted corporate entities. However since us Conservatives took over the reins this changed and the party’s money is coming from the regular workin joe a few bucks here and a few bucks there and membership dues (new memberships by the way incidentally are way up) as well as effective use of the Internet. The Liberal Party is suffering a hangover of sorts with an ineffective leader, a backroom full of old boys that keep thinking they can collect all they need on the eighth tee and MP’s who just can’t seem to adjust to the new ways of fundraising and last but not least the public doesn’t give a lot of money to a party it thinks is going to lose. Now add to this the perception of the general public that has never been a big contributor re: small donations like us Conservatives and NDP too – and presto add water shake well and you have a killer cocktail.

  64. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the slogan,”We’re better off with Harper.”

    Although generally the commercials seem to work for me, they don’t exactly touch on the policy perspective as much as they do on the emotional side, which is ironic because, for the last 2.5 years of governance, there has been more of the former than the latter.

    I guess that’s the reason why the Tories decided to try and soften Harper’s policy-wonk image to attract women voters and right-leaning Liberals.

    I think the attack ads from the Tories are going to be better, and probably more effective. Many Canadians have already internalized the M.O. of this government as being stern, disciplined, and cold, and I don’t think spending money on ads a la Martha Stewart lighting will push them into majority territory.

    I think the ads will simply do a good job of deflecting Liberal and NDP criticisms of coldness as opposed to gaining new votes.

  65. I wonder if the Mounties will stay out of this election. Maybe they can look into the Cadman Affair.

  66. I can tell where they’re trying to go with this TV ad, but I think it won’t work. My main bone of contention is that it looks about as contrived as can be.

  67. Does anyone else find that a hunched over, genially-smiling Harper uncannily morphs into Stevie the ideologue Panda?

  68. 1. Why do you leftists always refer yourselves as “progressives” ? Why can’t you have the conviction to just stand up for what you are ?
    2. So if a far left guy like Obama (the messiah) do a poseur on TV and on Oprah, you all jump with joy in a chorus and you all drink the cool aid!!! And his acting is not contrived and superficial
    3. Mounties will come to the picture by election time… Further investigating Gaglieanus and his cohorts in the adscam…
    4. Perhaps the sultan of shawinigate will own up to his misdeeds during that investigation… Lieberals: you should blame him for not being able to secure your ill gotten wealth from the Bay Street boys. It was his law that will ultimately kill your party!!!

  69. Just saw the Veterans ad. Ah yes, Stephen’s boomer generation’s parents fought died and suffered in WWII so he could leave his children the legacy of cancelling Kyoto and stomping Dion’s Green Shift.
    The emphasis on children in the other commercial is ironic as Stephen cancelled Chretien’s daycare legacy. Ahhh Stevie the family guy, as long as the kids aren’t poor I guess.

  70. Given how much mileage the Tories got out of sponsorship, which really involved a handful of greedy people (who had also made a boodle of money from the Mulroney government), I think the Liberals should hammer on accountability. Don’t get taken in by Mr. Cuddles. Someone so contemptuous of Parliament should be held in contempt of it. If Canadians want integrity in their leaders, they are going to have to exhibit some of it themselves and bring the Harpers of the world to book.

  71. Gee – maybe,just maybe he is actually like that; it is just he has been portrayed as a “scowling,controlling, bully” by the opposition and the media.

    I know, I know, I am just a “partisan hack” spewing “CPC talking points”. Except, I am not.

  72. Going through this comment thread, one individual, Norman Spector, says he’s met the guy in private and says the guy in the ads is exactly like Stephen Harper he’s met in person. I’ll take his word for it.

  73. Great dad…but you’ve cast the wrong actor in this role…He’s not believable…

    …A good father would not have cancelled Canada’s first National ChildCare agreement with the provinces – brought to us by Prime Minister Paul Martin
    …A good father would put an end to the meaningless death of our children (our unprotected soldiers)in Afghanistan (97 to date)
    …A good father would not block solutions to greening our country so that children will one day ‘breathe’ clean air (undoing Canada’s leading role on the environment.
    …A good father would not model for his children ‘schoolyard bullying’ antics as this father has done in ousting Canada’s only female party leader, Green Party leader,Elizabeth May
    …A good father would not lie, then claw back the life-savings of our grandparents through his actions on Income Trust Funds – set aside for their grandCHILDREN’s education!
    …A good father would not “ACT” but take action on all of the above!

  74. Warm and fuzzy? Just who does this man take Canadians to be? He might be able to pretend that he is one of us but his policies against culture, arts, natives, families and the provinces are saying something else.

  75. All what I read from the previous comments of the crying leftist babies so far is that they are very upset that Steven Harper stopped feeding them from the public trough. They were used to be paid for producing crappy “Art” that no one wants to see or hear. Having government pay to babysit and change the diapers of their children so that they can engage in self-serving “activism”.

  76. I’ve got no reason to doubt Mr. Spector. Politicians don’t succeed unless they can be fairly warm and fuzzy one on one.

    Of course, whether Mr. Harper knits little slippers for kittens so they don’t get cold feet or whether he skins them alive and eats them doesn’t really affect me. What matters are his promises, his policies, and how the two match up.

    The disappointing answer is.. they don’t.

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