Time travelling with Tom Flanagan
I've lately been rereading Tom Flanagan's 2007 book, Harper's Team, which, according to Lawrence Martin's book, was published over the protests of Harper himself. I came across this part in the story, and thought it worth reprinting here. Nothing strange or startling -- just some perspective. Note especially the snippet about poll numbers and compare to this story, earlier this week.
Flanagan is writing about the state of Harper's Conservative party in 2005, in the months before the election that came late in the year.
While staff reorganization was taking place behind the scenes, the biggest public news was Stephen's summer tour. He was determined to travel all summer, to do the barbecue circuit across the country, as a way of showing that he was not giving up despite his spring setbacks. In fact, he took no holidays that summer; Laureen, Ben, and Rachel accompanied him much of the time on the tour. It was the right thing to do, to show the flag in spite of being wounded; but it did not gather much favourable publicity. Our communications people said things that led the media to interpret it as an image makeover -- finally Stephen Harper was going to learn how to do retail politics. Thus the national coverage -- when there was any national coverage -- was all about whether Stephen had really changed, and reporters could always find some one, like John Crosbie, in the following quotation, to say he hadn't.
"Among our friends, the women think he's scary. Christ Almighty, Paul Martin is ten times as scary. But they believe Harper's cold. And he is cold. He doesn't have human warmth. He's not able to even work a room. He doesn't want to meet people. The thing that saved the Pope (John Paul II), who had some pretty reactionary policies, was that he genuinely wanted to meet people. Unfortunately, Harper needs that, but he hasn't got that at the moment."
At times, the press seemed deliberately malicious, as in the headline on a Brian Laghi story in the Globe and Mail, "Majority Want Harper Replaced, Poll Shows." According to a Strategic Counsel poll reported in the story, 59 per cent of Canadians wanted Harper replaced as leader of the Conservative Party. But the same poll showed that 52 per cent of Canadians, also a majority, thought Paul Martin should be replaced as leader of the Liberal Party. Harper may have been marginally worse off than Martin in public opinion, but to single him out in the headline without mentioning Martin was grossly unfair.
There was also a lot of pressure at the time for Harper to release the platform for the coming election campaign. Much of that pressure came from the Mike Harris Tories, who remembered how they had won in 1995 by releasing the Common Sense Revolution a year before the election. But Stephen has always believed in holding back the platform until after the writ is dropped, so opponents cannot steal the best parts or adjust their own policies to counteract it. If the platform is kept secret till the writ drops, the leader can make new daily announcements during the campaign, whereas it is harder to speak daily about something already in the public domain.
Given that the institutional memory of Ottawa has shrunk to the time span of approximately a week, it's always interesting to go back a few years, get some perspective, and in the case of the drama-queen Liberals, get a grip. I've also been around here long enough to remember a time when reporters openly laughed at Jean Chretien (not with him) in his opposition-leader days. The one difference between Chretien and Harper, as far as I can tell, is that Chretien let this all roll off him, shrugged it off when he came to power, but Harper appears to have stored up every slight and carries it around to this day.