Friday, June 17, 2005


Stephen Harper: Old Dog - New Trick?

The Conservative Party announced this week that Stephen Harper would spend the summer gladhanding Canadians in an effort to improve his interpersonal skills. A noble objective certainly but why should it be necessary for Harper to be doing this? You'd think that in order to get where he is, that he'd have had to demonstrate the requisite qualities of a political leader long before now. No matter what job a person does, certain talents and aptitudes are essential to success. Communication is arguably the most important talent or skill of any leader, political or otherwise. Harper's efforts this summer will certainly be a litmus test of whether or not it's possible to teach an old dog new tricks.

Democracy can't work without a strong, viable opposition. For that to occur in the present circumstances, Stephen Harper must be able to inspire both Canadian voters and the members of his own party; to convince everyone that he is unquestionably the man to be our next Prime Minister.
But the truth of the matter is that he has been involved in politics for many years. He's a seasoned veteran and until now has either refused to acknowledge that he has to change or even worse, thinks that everyone should just shut up and accept him as he is.
History shows that the most successful politicians, in addition to whatever other qualities they may possess, invariably have some undefinable quality which allows them to almost magically 'connect' with the voters - at the very least, charisma. Frankly, I don't hold much hope that a summer of barbecues will make the difference for Harper in this regard. A talent can be refined but it's not learned. Either you have it or you don't - and shaking hands with hordes of what Harper probably perceives as intellectual inferiors is only going to exacerbate his shortcomings - not resolve them.
Imagine how Winston Churchill or Pierre Trudeau or Brian Mulroney or even Jean Chr├ętien would surely have turned the events of the past few months to huge advantage. It wasn't a question of miscalculations or missed opportunities. It was a matter of Stephen Harper being totally out of his depth - of not having what it takes to inspire and lead people - of instinctively rising to the occasion.

The $64,000 question is why the powers-that-be of the Conservative Party encouraged and permitted Harper to lead the party. If this is the best they've got to offer Canadians, there's no point in hoping that an election will make things better. Although I hope that Stephen Harper will prove me wrong, judging by his past performance, it seems highly unlikely that this old dog will learn any new tricks.

As a small point of interest, neither Stephen Harper nor Stockwell day was born in Alberta. They were both born in (yes it's true!) Ontario.


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