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.