This Prime Minister has fans and detractors, like all those who have come before. Some say three wins is proof he’s plenty popular. Others say his wins were owing to lucky circumstances and weak opponents. Settling that debate is impossible, and maybe pointless, since the past may not be a useful predictor of what lies ahead.
Watching Mr. Harper in recent months suggests he is transforming the way he presents himself to the public. There was a time when it seemed he thought the best communications was the least communications. That only harm might come from putting himself out there to be consumed and picked over. Or that non-Conservatives might never warm to his policy agenda, so there was little purpose to explaining it in detail.
But Mr. Harper, who was never bad at communications, has become better and more agile at it.
This week’s #dayinthelife Twitter initiative is but one example of this transformation, albeit probably the most potent one so far. It was strategically clever and flawlessly executed. His invitation to witness his day drew a large audience, by drawing on the little bit of voyeurism that resides in most of us.
The pictures and thoughts he shared were hard to square with what his critics say about him: that he is cold, intemperate or governed by dark motives. Instead they portrayed a hard working fellow whose life is a unique blend of the normal and the extraordinary.
He had breakfast with a cat looking on. Met with his Cabinet.
Ate lunch from a plastic container at his desk. Got on the phone with the Japanese Prime Minister.
Drank Diet Coke from a can. Faced questions in the House of Commons.
Yes, he rode a limo home…but he was cramped and working, not stretching out with a cigar and a scotch.
While much about the communications effort of this government has in the past has seemed tightly controlled and packaged, this felt more spontaneous and genuine.
This effort is clearly neither an accident, nor a one-off.
Watching the first Question Period of the new session, Mr. Harper’s composure was steady. The answers he gave were reasoned, light on partisan rhetoric and he avoided counter-attack. If voters were watching and scoring, he would have won every round.
Of late, Mr. Harper has also seemed more comfortable opening up in long form interviews, talking about the policies his government is pursuing. In these settings it isn’t so much the detail of his position that determines how people react, but the ability to judge his motives, emotions and thought process.
By letting people know more about how he lives, what he thinks about, what lifts him up or brings him down, he makes it harder for people to believe the worst things said about him, and easier for them to see his actions in a more positive light.
For any number of reasons, it appears Mr. Harper has decided he can let down his guard and let Canadians understand what makes him tick. He knows, that whenever he has taken steps in this direction before, (think piano performances) there have been rewards, and no downsides. It’s hard not to think that this evolution will continue in the months ahead.
Bruce Anderson is one of Canada’s leading pollsters and communications strategists. He is a member of the CBC’s popular At Issue Panel, a regular Globe blogger, and Senior Adviser with NATIONAL Public Relations.
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