Stephen Harper’s been pinned
Alex Marland (Memorial University) has published about political marketing in the Journal of Public Affairs, political talk radio in Media, Culture and Society, and about Newfoundland nationalism in the International Journal of Canadian Studies.
Pierre Trudeau famously sported a rose in his lapel. Sometimes politicians wear political ribbons. Women often wear broaches. Stephen Harper? He wears a Canadian flag pin. Look closely: it’s there. You probably didn’t notice it before, but you will now. The book cover of Harperland is a good example.
What does this little piece of metal symbolize? The Harper brand. At least, the brand of Harper that his handlers are trying to convey. Specifically, that Stephen Harper is a patriotic Canadian. His flag pin is a subtle reminder that only he stands up for Canadian values. Or, at least, the version of Canadian values that the Harper Conservatives value.
Here are some of the many ways that the Conservatives try to position the party and their leader as defenders of the Canadian way of life:
- Stephen Harper is regularly surrounded by Canadian flags. Jean Chrétien was a pro at this. The flag is now so entwined in Conservative images that they appear to be on a mission to edge out the Liberal party' brand as the foremost choice for national unity;
- Conservative policies support the Canadian military and thereby 'support the troops' and they feature a defence of Canadian sovereignty including the Arctic;
- Harper spends time at Tim Hortons coffee shops, a business whose own marketing has branded itself with Canadian identity;
- He hangs out at Canadian sporting events such as curling, the Calgary Stampede, CFL games and of course hockey and the Vancouver Olympics;
- His ties often include the colour red and during the campaign Harper has been wearing a jacket emblazoned with “CANADA”; and,
- The Conservative party campaign slogan is strategically titled, "Here For Canada", their platform document features a Canadian flag, and their newest TV ads are full of Canadian iconography.
This nationalist positioning is really only a Conservative party strength if it is a corresponding weakness for the Liberal party. So Conservative advertising positions Harper’s main adversary as someone who ‘came back’ and is ‘just visiting’. In contrast, Harper quietly works at his office desk with the Canadian flag positioned behind him. His handlers have used flags for a long time, but not the flag pin. It wasn’t there in the 2005-06 campaign; that’s when promoting his young family was a good way to contrast with an older Paul Martin. But the Harper flag pin was prominent during the 2008 coalition crisis when he was defending national unity, for instance.
Sure, nationalism is prevalent in all elections, and not just in Canada. Flags are the most common way to convey this. They are present at protests, at leaders’ summits and at sporting events. Different ones are used depending on the audience, especially where Quebec's concerned. In Newfoundland, where I’m writing from, there are people who do not vote who have branded themselves with a tattoo of the Newfoundland independence flag which symbolizes their political identity. Flag tattoos are common elsewhere too. Maybe our PM even has one.
I would say he does – it just happens to be a highly symbolic piece of metal on his lapel.
(Incidentally NDP advertising is noticeably wrapping Jack Layton in the Canadian flag. So does the Bloc Quebecois with Gilles Duceppe... just a flag with slightly different symbolism)