The Harper Index

Symbols like hockey support Conservative frame

National sport represents toughness and discipline.

Hockey emphasizes Stephen Harper framesHockey is an important part of the frame of Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Since breaking from Reform, Harper has strived to court the vote of the urban working middle class — people earning under $50,000 in trades, service industries, small business or sales. Establishing himself as a hockey-loving tough guy is intended to play to this demographic. The guy Harper particularly wants on his side is "Dougie."

According to columnist and author Paul Wells in his 2006 book Right Side Up, Harper's 2006 pollster Patrick Muttart gave names to the different categories of voters. "'Dougie'.... was the Conservatives' fondest hope. Dougie was Muttart's hypothetical tradesman, perhaps a construction worker in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Dougie didn't usually vote. But promise him a tax credit on the tools he needs to do his hypothetical job and his ears might prick up."

Harper plays up his hockey obsession to attract the attention of Dougie: the hockey photo-ops with his own and other peoples' kids and soldiers. He claims he is writing about hockey. He attends the opening NHL game in Toronto. He shows up at Senators games in Ottawa. He appears in October 2006 at the Total Hockey Museum. The federal budget promoted photos of treasurer Jim Flaherty buying his kid new skates. General Rick Hillier takes the Stanley Cup to Afghanistan. In March Harper pals around with Jean Béliveau. He gives Afghanistan President Harmid Karzi a Sens jersey for his four-month-old son. The staging around news events concerning hockey and the prime minister or hockey and soldiers is worth noting.

By emphasizing his enthusiasm for hockey, Stephen Harper taps into powerful national symbols. Hockey projects masculine images of toughness and discipline that appeal to the Dougies of the world. Canada's mission in Afghanistan and the Conservative's handling of parliamentary committees reflect the Don-Cherry "rock'em, sock'em" approach to the world. Cherry would say there is nothing wrong with a good hard body check or parliamentary obstruction, as long as it's legal. There is some irony in Stephen Harper using the symbolism of Canada's national game to build support for a more American style of government.

The Stanley Cup finals offer tempting framing and photo opportunities for Stephen Harper. By projecting a tough-guy, hockey-loving image, his positions on environment, Afghanistan and the management of parliamentary affairs may make more sense.

Harper Conservative vs. Public Values Frame
  Toughness / Consensus, working together
  Discipline / Bully
  Canada's sport / Aggressive, Bush-style, American

Links and sources
  Romeo St Martin, Harper Night in Canada, PoliticsWatch, May 9, 2006

Posted: May 29, 2007

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