We have had our differences with the Tory boss, to be sure -- most notably, when we wondered in print last fall whether Canada still had a "conservative" party, given Mr. Harper's endorsement of Liberal deals with the provinces on health care and transfer payments, and the party's failure to come out boldly in support of ballistic missile defence. (He grumpily shot back that Canada had a conservative party -- "what it lacks is a national conservative newspaper.") All in all, though, we have probably been as supportive of Mr. Harper as any mainstream newspaper in Canada. But even we must conclude that now may be a good time for the Tory leader to contemplate his future.
We are not calling on Mr. Harper to resign. But recent events have put into question whether he is the man who should be leading the Conservatives. In particular, the failure of the party to surge ahead of the Liberals in popular support, even as the government has been buried in scandal, and Mr. Harper's misplaced trust in Gurmant Grewal's claims regarding his jobs-for-votes tapes, suggest this is a good time for reflection.
Still, for all he has accomplished, we cannot say with confidence that Mr. Harper is the man to take the Conservatives to power. With all the Liberals' troubles, the Conservatives should be far ahead of the ruling party in the polls. They are not, and have not been, even at the height of the Gomery commission's revelations.
The problem lies not, as Red Tories would have us believe, with the party's socially conservative roots, or its alleged failure to create a "big tent." Mr. Harper has moderated the party's stance on the most contentious issues. Indeed, as his feeble postures on health care, missile defence and the Iraq war demonstrate, his party is, if anything, too similar to the Liberals.
Rather, we imagine the trouble lies with how the message is being delivered. Mr. Harper is a glum, moody figure who has shown little enthusiasm for the rituals of mass-media politics and for the simple glad-handing expected of party chiefs. And instead of hiring communications staff who make up for these weaknesses, he has hired glum, clannish people who reinforce them.
Glad to see that the Post has finally picked up on themes that have been circulating through the blogosphere for months.
The MSM will always be hostile to the party, no matter its policies or its leadership. There is always a way to cast the Tories in a bad light.
We've all suggested that Mr. Harper replace his communications team. But with whom? Communications staff are usually drawn from the ranks of former journalists, public relations officers and advertising people. These professions have now become the domain of people educated in journalism schools and communications programs where liberal groupthink works to exclude people who do not share the same political and social opinions.
A strong parallel right-of-centre media industry, from which a top-flight communications team could be drawn, simply does not exist yet in Canada.
The Liberal Party has drawn on the talents of many mainstream journalists for their communications staff; like tends to attract like. The talent pool the Conservative Party must draw from is much more shallow. That isn't to say he can't put together a competent team, but he has much less to work with.