Andrew Coyne: Harper speech a parody of a parody of an empty cliché
You have to understand: He is not ever going to change.
He is not ever going to admit error or show contrition or "let people
see his heart" or "share his vision" or do any of what the dimestore
philosophers in my chosen trade advise him to do.
Every time Stephen Harper comes to a moment where he's supposed to "pivot" or "raise his game" or "reset," he responds with ... more of the same. Every speech that is supposed to be an opportunity to broaden
his message or show a new face or signal his concern or confront an
issue, he gives us ... this. He simply will not given them the
satisfaction - the media, his critics, the elites, choose your devil.
so we get this damp recital of past slogans, this parody of a parody of
an empty cliché of a speech, this 4,000-word migraine. A strong, stable
national government! Protect our economy amid global uncertainty! For
those who work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules! For our
children! And the generations to come! If you thought he was going to
take the opportunity to level with Canadians about the Senate scandals -
to explain what happened, to tell what he knew, to clear up the many
contradictions and gaps in his story, even to acknowledge it's an issue,
beyond the sins of a few miscreant senators - you should have known
better. If you were one of those who thought he might even, in a bold
flourish, call for a national referendum on Senate abolition, well, you
must be the kind who still believes in flourishes
He will not do
any of what is urged upon him, what conventional wisdom or common sense
would dictate you do when you're in the kind of fix he's in, not just
because he is stubborn and unyielding, but because to do so would be to
consent to being judged by others' terms.
If you say you are
sorry, you are not just conceding that you did something wrong. You are
conceding the possibility of wrongness. You are accepting that you might
be held to some standard not of your own choosing: not only ethical,
but rhetorical, strategic, managerial, democratic, any of it. You are
acknowledging that you need somebody else's approval, beyond those you
have carefully selected and groomed to approve you. And so he will not
If you never act as if you expect to be held to any
standard, he calculates, you won't be. If you never act as if you're
guilty, you aren't.
It's entirely possible he is correct in this
analysis. The long, triumphant, disgraceful career of Jean Chrétien, on
whom he increasingly seems to model himself, is ample evidence of
crude efficacy. Chrétien made all kinds of messes, was caught in all
kinds of scandals. But as he seemed so visibly not to care, neither did -
could - anyone else. He lowered everyone to his non-standard. A grander
experiment in this vein is under way in Toronto.
Is it working
for Harper? It's a little harder to see evidence of it, just at the
moment. His party is in third place in some polls, and south of 30 per
cent in nearly all of them: an extraordinary rebuke for a governing
party in relatively good economic times. His own approval numbers are
now the worst of any major party leader. Where once he was the rock on
which the Conservative party was built, now he is at risk of becoming
the anchor that drags it under.
this refusal to change, to pivot, to reach out, to inspire, to do
anything but what he has been doing is simply a display of Harperian
sang-froid, the legendary long game - an ability to see past transitory
difficulties, without the sort of panicky thrashing about that consigns
other party leaders to the deep. But it's also possible he just doesn't
get it: how deeply his party is loathed, how narrow his base has become,
how unnerved his party is by the rolling sixmonth knife-fight that is
the Senate scandal.
Andrew Coyne - National Post
And so, slowly, tentatively, the race to
succeed him has begun. It is not an open challenge to his leadership,
yet. But it is not quite the loyal "aye aye sir" he might once have
expected. There is no other way to interpret the glaring departure from
the prime minister's line - or rather his latest line - with regard to
Nigel Wright, first by Jason Kenney, then by Peter MacKay: where Harper
had condemned his former chief of a staff as a deceiver who had betrayed
his trust, both of these senior ministers vouched for his integrity, as
many in the party would. Yes, he had made a serious error of judgment,
but an uncharacteristic one.
More significantly, perhaps, neither made any attempt to bridge back to the PM's position, when asked.
isn't that Harper is going anywhere soon, either by his own volition or
someone else's. But the more his stature shrinks, the more real the
possibility becomes - and the more the smaller fish in the party start
to look around to see which of the bigger fish they need to get behind,
in preparation. And the more different sections of the party line up
behind one or another of these undeclared candidates, the less acutely
they will be harkening to the voice of the leader.
explanation or a show of contrition or an abrupt change of direction -
something, anything - would only have exacerbated this. Possibly it
would look weak, uncertain, rattled.
Or possibly he is caught, unable to move one way or the other, trapped in his own body.