Liberals have themselves to blame

The Globe and Mail headline describes a "surge in popularity" for Harper's Conservatives. It's true; the chess master of politics has managed once again to turn adversity -- recession and an initially dismal record thereof; standing to the right of everyone -- to achievement.

Or has he? In fact, two factors have brought our nation within reach of a "Reform" majority, and both were engineered by the loyal opposition itself.

Back in 2004, the Martin Liberals painted Harper as a scary neo-con -- which he may in fact be. Martin won that election, and lost the next playing the same card. And Ignatieff Dion lost the next playing the same card, all the while Harper governed almost like a Liberal. I believe the 1993 Tory ads poking fun at Jean Chretien's facial disfigurement -- and Chretien's historic speech following -- defined Chretien through three mandates. It reinforced his "little guy" image and endeared at least enough Canadians to the "untested" future Prime Minister. In a similar vein, while not many people feel endeared to Harper, the smart people that make up this country know when they've been told a story; and they hate being fooled twice, three times or even a fourth time?

This feeds directly into what happened this late summer and early fall, when Ignatieff decided Canadians would go the polls (and then decided not). In simple terms, Ignatieff had nothing to sell. Again, the smart people that make up this country know that we've had an easier recession than countries we care about, like the U.S. and those in Western Europe. So what was the election to be fought over -- a technical matter concerning employment insurance reform.

In fact, the Conservatives had succeeded brilliantly in striking at Ignatieff's weakness -- his presumed ugly ambition; his desire to be Prime Minister as a personal feather in the cap, not as a continuation of a lifelong pursuit of ... some policy goal.

Ignatieff was not sincere. Sure, he's new on the national stage, but he's also an experienced TV broadcaster, and, like Reagan or our most recent two Governors General, his charisma should be dancing on the television screens. It does not.

For Ignatieff to have a hope, he must follow this approach:

  1. though you came late to the party, recognize that last-fall's near two-for-one election campaign taught Canadians to seek a resolution to the string of minority governments. the reasons for not choosing Harper have diminished since 2004, and amendments to EI reform are not going to overturn everything since. be a real policy alternative.
  2. stop thinking you're smart. you are in close quarters and on typewriters, but -- perhaps unlike the U.S. -- Canadians en masse tend to act more intelligently than their average IQ. We can smell a lie, so tell it to us straight.
  3. attack Harper on his systemic failures. Most critically, you should take credit for Canada's relatively light recession, given Harper's abysmal blindness and inaction on the issue just 12 months ago. He had to be led to the policy he now takes credit for. Exploit that.
  4. take a charisma pill; we'll excuse you for being smooth. We won't excuse you for handing the charisma crown to Stephen Harper.