The Harper Index

Public understanding of Harper's extreme agenda keeps him from total power

Hidden agenda is no longer an issue, which is what keeps Cons stalled in low 30s in public opinion.

Harper at the Golden Temple in India, micro-targeting, as ever.( was planned for introduction in early 2010 but has been delayed... Please stay tuned – but, in the meanwhile, enjoy our archives.)

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To a real extent, has outlived its original purpose. When it was introduced, in May 2007, Stephen Harper was still difficult to read for many Canadians. That no longer is the case. When was launched, we believed Harper had a hidden agenda intended to downplay his extremist political roots so as to attract urban and eastern Canadians.

At this point, his agenda seems less hidden. As a result, his party has developed a pattern of moving toward majority territory in opinion polls (close to 40 percent) only to move back in the wake of news events that reinforce the distrust that Canadians in swing ridings feel for him.

Harper's brand as Conservative leader has been unmistakable and different from almost any previous federal government in many ways:

  • It is Canada's first Western government, driven by Western Canadian interests, principally but not solely the Alberta oil industry. As a result of these loyalties, Harper's party has made Canada the world's leading foot-draggers on environmental protection and world action on climate change.
  • The evangelical populist Christian right is Harper's other main stream of core support. Although Harper likes to portray himself as an "economic conservative", rather than a social one, his caucus has Western evangelicals in many top staff positions (for an analysis, see Linda Diebel in the Toronto Star) and is in constant coordination with many others such as top corporate lobbyist Ken Boessenkool.
  • Message control obsesses Stephen Harper's team. Backbenchers and even Cabinet ministers are required to stick closely to the party line and avoid scrums and debates. Freelancing is strictly forbidden. Harper and his closest advisors believe deeply that reporters have a liberal bias, and that they will take advantage of any communications slip-up to crucify conservatives. Harper closely watched the torment of his predecessor Stockwell Day and intends not to repeat his mistakes.
  • Micro-targeting is key to Harper's strategy to win a majority. He does not have to get a majority of Canadians to trust him if he can win pockets of support from groups such as new Canadians or religious groups, two areas in which he has done well. Attempts to micro-target Quebec have been undone by other problems.
  • The Conservatives' fundraising and database work is substantially ahead of its competitors, enabling the party to out-fundraise and out-organize them. Their superior database work enables them to strategically target messages and campaign resources to win over key voters.
  • Rooting out enemies and defunding the Left have always been imperatives for the Harper Conservatives. From canceling the Court Challenges Program and the Law Reform Commission at the very beginning of its rule – not to mention grants to women's equality-seeking organizations – to arts funding cuts, to recently canceling funding for the ecumenical world development group KAIROS, the Conservatives have gone for the progressive jugular, methodically eliminating programs and people from government or publicly-supported activities that don't fit with their ideology.
  • Shrinking the role of government has always been a main tenet of belief for Harper, whose repeated cuts to corporate taxation have left the government without revenue to invest in national programs. A highlight of Harper's early political career was being co-author of the notorious 2001 "Alberta firewall" letter which urged Alberta to beef up its fight with Ottawa by building a "firewall" around itself and take greater control over its own affairs. In keeping with his long-held philosophies, he made sure that his reluctantly-offered stimulus package made no commitments to ongoing programs or funding.
  • Expedience over principle has been a repeated pattern with the Harperites. They legislated a fixed election date, then broke their own law calling a snap election in September 2008. In opposition, they called for democratic reform. In government, they've prorogued Parliament to avoid debate and stacked the Sentate with unelected cronies on rich expense accounts.
  • Bullying and meanness are hallmarks of Stephen Harper's government. A gentle rebuke is much less common than a broadside. From Linda Keen, the nuclear safety watchdog, to Richard Colvin, the whistle-blowing diplomat, Harper's team has never shied from attacking all who threaten or disagree with them, which is one of the reasons that after nearly four years of government, they enjoy no more support than when they were first elected.

Posted: December 22, 2009

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