Friday, June 10, 2005

Harper Liberals biggest asset

Liberals praying Harper doesn't quit over summer

A senior Liberal strategist confided over a beer earlier this week that Harper has become one of Paul Martin's biggest assets.

"Our biggest fear is that if the polls tank for them (the Conservatives) over the summer, Harper might just decide to pack it in," he said.

The first part of the equation is already happening, even before the summer begins.

A national opinion poll released yesterday shows the Conservatives are tanking, all right, and at a rate that should terrify Harper and his party.

The Decima survey taken between last Thursday and Sunday shows the Liberals with 37% support, jumping into a staggering 14-point lead over the Conservatives at 23%, barely ahead of the New Democrats at 21%.

More accurately, voter support for Harper and his party has all but disintegrated.

The Conservatives today are at least eight points lower in popular support than in April, even before the Liberals got slammed with the most damaging revelations of the Gomery inquiry.

But the worst news for the Conservatives is in the pivotal electoral battleground of Ontario, home to more than a third of all the seats in parliament, and Harper's key to 24 Sussex Dr.

The Decima poll suggests that if an election had been held in the past week, Harper and his troops would have been slaughtered from one end of Ontario to the other, trailing the Liberals by 26 points, and behind even the NDP. Yikes.

The bottom line is that voters in Quebec, apparently still mad as hell at the Grits, are now all that stand between the Liberals and a majority government.

While there are no signs Harper is even considering an early exit, he cannot escape considerable blame for his party's crumbling fortunes.

In a year when the Conservatives have successfully moderated their policies to create a kinder, gentler party, Harper has not be able to shake his image as the Iceman with anger management issues.

Analysts also say Harper is at least partly the cause of his party's yawning gender problem as polls show the Conservatives turning off women voters in droves.

While Harper is not the first leader with an image problem, he seems to be doing most of the wrong things to fix it.

Insiders say Harper has made the fatal error of trying to be his own communications guru, meddling in complicated public relations problems best left to staff professionals who are both more qualified and infinitely more objective.

Even when Harper does take advice, he is apparently not getting it from the right people --namely, some of the best and brightest in the business on his staff and elsewhere in the party.

Instead, he has made the mistake of surrounding himself with a tight circle of longtime pals of like mind (read: Defensive and angry) whose personal loyalty to him evidently trumps their professional ability to cure what ails the party.

In recent months, a parade of Conservative MPs, senators and party strategists have tried -- ever so politely -- to cajole Harper into ditching The Circle.

Instead, The Circle has tightened and the real pros have started to leave. Two of the top talents in the Conservative communications shop -- Jim Armour and Mike Storshaw -- are leaving within the next week, and more are expected to follow.

The result of all this is apparent everywhere.

Whether it was Harper's inappropriately angry response to Martin's televised grovel to the nation, or his bizarre and continuing devotion to Gurmant Grewal, voters are getting the message about the Conservatives and it is not at all flattering.

I'll repeat this, I don't think that there is a thing that Harper ever could have done that would have improved his image or ever will. The key for his replacement should he quit is that he has to come out and define himself rather then letting the media and the Liberals define him for him. Either that or follow the Mike Harris strategy and make no attempts at softening his image, but manage to almost turn it into an advantage, something that George Bush did in the last election as well when the media bias became so apparent and over-the-top that many Americans took to essentially tuning the pundits out.

However, personally, I almost feel that Harper continuing as leader and blowing the next election could be a positive. Why? Because the Liberals winning the next election will spell the end of Canada, and I'm no longer sure that I want to be in a country that is more concerned about Stephen Harper being angry that the government misused and stole 350 million dollars then they are about the the government actually stealing the money.