Remember Don Newman, who once hosted a TV politics show? Don enjoyed asking partisan strategists to offer serious advice to other parties. I always tried to answer seriously. Here’s what I’d seriously say to Stephen Harper today:
You’re in big trouble but you seem to think can get out of it easily, as in the past. I’m not so sure. Check those recent polls showing you at around 27 per cent and Trudeau miles ahead at 40 per cent. I know, I know: I feel the same way about him. But a whole lot of Canadians don’t agree.
Then there’s the media, wallowing in schadenfreude, getting even with you for years of being scorned. And your backbenchers, fed up with being nothing but talking points. And even Senators you appointed have turned against you! There’s also, of course, that many-tentacled DuffyWright scandal, none of it remotely resolved. You can be confident that The Full Duffy, when it’s finally revealed, will not help your cause one bit.
So what to do? A shake up the cabinet and the PMO? Seriously? Nigel Wright was brought in as chief of staff to fix things. How did that work out for you?
No, more of the same is a recipe for electoral disaster. You need a major make-over. To begin with, you either start seeing your government the way most Canadians do, or you’ll have all the time in the world to finish that hockey book you’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.
What you need to be, in a word, is more prime ministerial and less hyper-partisan at all times.
You must stop insisting that you and yours are always right and your opponents always wrong. You need to summon the grace and decency to acknowledge that your government sometimes errs, as all do. You must stop smearing anyone who criticizes you. Yes, you may hurt your target. But you also demean yourself.
For example, though most Canadians see you as the least transparent government in our history, your minions repeatedly insist that you’re the most open government in history. That assumes we’re all stupid.
Everyone knows how serious DuffyWrightGate is. Yet your team insults the public’s intelligence by pretending that Tom Mulcair driving through a stop sign is somehow the equivalent and shows the NDP to be too untrustworthy to govern.
Don’t you understand there’s a time for simple, dignified silence, not perpetual negative attacks?
How can you expect respect from Canadians when your team so regularly insults their intelligence? You just undermine your own credibility.
Allow me to add some international examples. You and John Baird have been rational and persuasive on refusing to recognize the rebels in Syria. But I’m afraid that happens rarely.
Go back to when Canada was humiliated at the UN by losing a vote to sit on the Security Council. First you outrageously blamed Michael Ignatieff, then you claimed the UN had proved it’s not good enough for your exalted government. It was a response unworthy of Canada. Or take several incidents just in the last two weeks. Instead of joining with most of the world in congratulating the people of Iran and their relatively moderate new president, why would Minister Baird immediately dismiss the election result as meaningless? What possibly was the point? Canada looked like a chump when Baird was forced to eat his words?
At the G-8 meeting, why did you, alone among your peers, need to insult Russia’s Putin and accuse him of backing thugs in Syria. Is this your idea of diplomacy? As everyone else understands, the world needs to work with Putin on Iran, Syria and countless other matters, not to isolate him. And anyway, no one who fought for the Afghanistan government is in a position to be self-righteous about backing thugs.
And what were you thinking when you denounced new US attempts to talk to the Taliban because they refuse to renounce violence. Now you’re saying you’re more righteous than the Americans? Unless you have a single positive thing to say about ending Afghanistan’s strife, silence would be a good policy. Canadians don’t appreciate an outlier government that brings humiliation to our country.
To sum up: If you want to win back the country’s respect, you need to treat Canadians with respect. That’s what they expect from their politicians, especially their prime minister.
As a partisan, of course, I hope you ignore this advice, and I expect you will. Leopards really can’t change their spots, it seems. But if you blow the next election, don’t blame me.
Editor’s Note: The earlier online version of this article incorrectly identified Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, as "Neville Wright". This online version has been corrected.