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.

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