Harper, the campaign, and the economy
I had planned on writing an entire post panning the Liberal campaign as lame; the keyhole approach of rooting through blog postings of party candidates and googling portions of Harper's speeches to detect plagiarism has likely reinforced more Canadians' cynicism about politics than it has drawn voters to the party. But now an issue - the economy - is battering the Conservative campaign, and it's completely a result of Harper's handling of the issue.
I should add a disclaimer that I am actually quite sympathetic to Harper's position on and particularly his campaign stance toward the economy. The worst thing about Canadian election campaigns is the parties' attempts to draw attention and create momentum by announcing slews of new programs and initiatives that simply aren't needed and that all entail new spending. Every Liberal campaign since the 1993 national election drove me batty because of this: The incumbent government suddenly discovering during a month-long campaign that new programs were desperately needed and the world would be engulfed in flames if the party wasn't re-elected to provide them. What's wrong with a campaign that promises, as Harper has, to stay the course?
Well, the problem is that Harper has come off as either unaware or unconcerned about the relaities of these (relatively) new economic problems for Canadians. Just as journalists need their daily campaign gainesburger, so too do voters. Harper seemed to know this in the 2006 campaign, but has forgotten this time around. That's a shame because Harper could have played on his image as a strong leader and economic manager to have turned the coming crisis to his advantage. Instead, he overestimated the trust that Canadians have in him.
The economy section of the debate could not have gone worse for Harper. The other four leaders hammered away for his unwillingness to address the issue, leaving the impression that they were all standing at the ready, plans-in-hand, to solve the economic crisis the moment they were elected. But what are their plans? A carbon tax or Layton's plan to reverse Harper's corporate tax cuts right at the outset of a recession? Thin gruel to be sure, and Harper fought back, but it was four-on-one and the defining moments of the debate for me turned out to be Layton's "under the sweater" comment (Harper doesn't have a plan) and Harper arguing that lost jobs in the manufacturing sector are unlikely to return (Harper doesn't care).
The solution may be for Harper to unveil a vast "strategy" or "plan" or "framework" or whatever other Paul Martinesque word you can think of to address the crisis. It might be too late, but it wouldn't hurt to try.