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Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday May 7, 2014 . (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday May 7, 2014 . (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

John Doyle

This is the age of the abrasive and inappropriate politician Add to ...

Some recent news, revealed in a poll from Angus Reid, struck me like a thunderbolt.

The poll has Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives slightly ahead of the Liberals and NDP with both “eligible voters” and “likely voters.” How did this happen? For months, since young Mr. Trudeau became federal Liberal Leader, the Conservative Party was slipping in popularity.

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And then it struck me – Our Glorious Leader (OGL) hasn’t been on TV very much. Hidden from the TV cameras, almost. That must account for it, because OGL is terrible on TV. When he does appear now, he looks the same as before. He still looks like he puts his hair in the fridge every night. He still has an air of smugness that suggests a petulant, know-it-all adolescent. He still doesn’t know what to do with his hands or his legs when in front of the TV cameras.

It matters little, it seems, if he isn’t on TV very much. People forget. They forget that OGL gives the impression he’d welcome the return of public beheadings. The spectre of public beheadings would, you know, be a sobering reminder to certain uppity people that you thwart Our Glorious Leader at your peril. Uppity people at Elections Canada and the Supreme Court, for instance.

When OGL did appear on TV recently, making his allegations about the Supreme Court of Canada, it was a carefully staged event. He stood at a podium surrounded by men in hard hats – guys who look like they actually toil for a living and are tough. The signal being sent was, “Me and the boys here don’t care for certain people meddling with the agenda.”

It was odd, must have been off-putting to many viewers, and the snarl in the message wasn’t hidden. It was abrasive and vaguely inappropriate.

The obvious lack of subtlety raises some questions about what’s going on in Canadian politics. It used to be an axiom of political communications that some affability on TV was required. A politician could be tough-minded and direct, but a tincture of amiableness was required so as not to frighten undecided voters. You don’t want people scared of being in the same room with the politician.

That dictum about affability seems to have been abandoned by conservative politicians and their handlers. Perhaps it’s because we all live in the digital age of constant online snark. Thus, TV skills don’t matter as much. Who cares if somebody seems unnecessarily nasty on TV when you, me and everybody – simply everybody – is being snippity and mean-spirited online?

And this brings me to the curious case of Tim Hudak. There is a provincial election under way in Ontario and the three main party leaders are out there canvassing for support. Photo ops and sound bites for the TV news. That kind of thing. PC Leader Tim Hudak makes OGL look like a genius at the nuances of TV and he makes OGL seem as if he were a little ray of sunshine. And he doesn’t seem to care.

Watching Hudak on TV is like watching Ricky Gervais do David Brent on the original version of The Office. You’re gripped by the cringe factor. You watch with your fingers covering your eyes while thinking, “Oh no, he’s not going to smile again, is he? Is he? Make him stop.” Hudak does this reflexive smile about 50 times a minute, no matter what subject he’s talking about. It’s unnerving.

Just before the election was called, Hudak was on TV, busy being outraged. His topic was the alleged refusal, by the provincial Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, to pay for a particular cancer drug. The woman who needed the drug had died. Her family was upset. Hudak was upset too, but after every sentence he uttered, he smiled a quick smirk at the cameras. You’d think somebody would tell him to stop doing that. But, no. He’s on TV doing it every day. As far as I can tell, neither he nor the handlers care.

Hudak is abrasive and inappropriate as Our Glorious Leader is. Both like to get abrasive and blame somebody. It’s the style of political communications now. Maybe it works. Maybe it explains the seemingly bizarre success of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

We can only speculate with “maybe.” But if public beheadings return, the news won’t strike me like a thunderbolt. It would make sense.

Airing tonight

The American Comedy Awards (NBC, 9 p.m.) is a franchise revived by NBC after fading away on ABC in the 1990s. It is, apparently, loosely structured and has no host. NBC says, “It honours those who have achieved new heights during the past year in both film and television, and pays tribute to some of comedy’s most enduring personalities. The telecast will acknowledge the work of stand-ups, those who specialize in movies and the actors and actresses who are seen by millions on TV every week.”

Okay, but is it funny? We need the funny.

All times ET. Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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