A good plan for an election—an election Harper truly may not want—offers offer more sizzle than just promising to keep a steady hand on a fragile economic recovery. Managing the economy and surviving five years with a minority has given Harper one precious asset—a reputation for competence. However, that reputation has to be put to work or his unlovable personality will be the issue.
The case for the opposition was effectively framed by Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star:
“The Conservatives will play on this by presenting Harper as the Buckley’s cough syrup of politics — hard to swallow but good for you. The opposition parties will showcase a different view.
Which leaves it to us. How much do we dislike him? How much do we mistrust him? Do we dislike and mistrust the other party leaders more?
Is he the strong Prime Minister required by perilous times? Or is he just nasty?”
The logic of making Harper the issue appropriately reflects electoral circumstances. He’s so close to a majority government now that it is fair to ask: do you want more of Stephen Harper in your face? Do you want to give that wilfull man even more power?
Here’s a proposition for the Conservatives to consider. Competence is a two edged sword: as merely a prize for surviving, it leaves Harper looking like a bully. However, as a tool to get big things done—to break down opposition to change—it makes the promise of leadership possible.
Harper could make a winning case for a majority if he put his reputation for competence behind a new agenda. Whether negotiating a constitutional amendment to democratize the Senate or a new deal with the US or the provinces, Harper could make iffy good ideas look like they’d have their best chance under his leadership.