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Andrew Steele

Mr. Angry and Mr. Happy Add to ...

The Liberals have had some fun (and some success) trying to brand Stephen Harper as " Mr. Angry."

As with any decent brand, there is something to it.

Stephen Harper lapses into sourpuss mode a little too often.

His time as an opposition leader and head of the National Citizen's Coalition coloured his introduction to most of the public, leaving early impressions as an outraged critic of all and sundry.

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The 2004 campaign was lost by the Conservatives in part because Harper vented his spleen too much and violated Wells's third and fourth laws of politics.

Harper circa 2004 was in a poor mood most of the time and ran like he was auditioning for opposition leader. As per usual, the guy who ran for opposition leader got the job he auditioned for.

Harper circa 2006 was both more upbeat and more visionary, putting forward popular campaign planks with a smile on his face.

Since taking the corner suite at Langevin Block, the Prime Minister has exhibited occasional lapses back to Angry Steve.

There were the culture cuts and accompanying accusations against selfish artists that proved some devastating in Quebec.

There was the recent speech in Sault Ste. Marie with the PM accusing women and judges of being left-wing fringe groups.

Most importantly, there was the spiteful economic statement aimed at killing the opposition when they were down, a petty-minded miscalculation that sparked the coalition crisis and left his government his chaos.

This angry Harper is red meat for his base, but a vote killer in swing ridings. Mood matters to your average swing voter, and whining is never a winning argument to average folks.

But the weekend saw a glimpse past the bitter, Nixon-esque Stephen Harper to a much more confident man.

The sight of a happy Stephen Harper playing the Beatles with Yo-Yo Ma at the National Arts Centre is a big deal.

It wasn't Brian Mulroney singing to Ronald Reagan at the Shamrock Summit, an event that sparked historian Jack Granatstein to say that the "public display of sucking up to Reagan may have been the single most demeaning moment in the entire political history of Canada's relations with the United States."

Instead, it was reminiscent of Jean Chrétien's brilliant waterskiing photo-op before the 1993 election.

Branded as "yesterday's man" and up against a new and fresh-faced PM, Chrétien's team invited the media to photograph le Petit Gars doing a little one-ski slalom at his Lac des Piles cottage.

The resulting Macleans cover featured a grimacing Chretien carving water and looking young and vibrant. Almost immediately, it erased Canadians worries that the 61 year old cancer survivor would be too old for the job.

The image of a smiling Stephen Harper playing the Beatles goes directly against the grain of his primary weakness, and could force a lasting reappraisal by Canadians, particularly if it is the beginning of a trend.

Politics isn't just about policy. It's about approach and attitude and how a leader makes you feel.

Considering the UN just declared Canada one of the four best places on Earth to live, we are doing pretty good.

It's nice to have a Prime Minister who - even if just for one night - acts like Canada isn't "content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status."

So play it again, Stephen.







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