Stephen Harper: Canada's answer to Sarah Palin
Joanne Chianello, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, September 29, 2008
What's the difference between Stephen Harper and Sarah Palin?
The two 40-something hockey parents trying to position themselves as your average mom or family man, looking to exploit the cult of personality that has become so crucial to modern election campaigns. OK, Harper is trying to establish that he has a personality, but close enough.
They are both known for their eyes: hers, sparkling behind her designer rimless specs; his crystal blues shooting lasers at opponents and media alike.
Neither had any foreign policy experience when they hit the national stage. When Harper became leader of the newly formed Conservative party, he'd never travelled outside North America. Palin's international experience amounts to being able to spot Russia from her house on a clear day.
They're both seen as frontier-style renegades. While Palin has bagged a defenceless moose, Harper has gunned down an innocent public servant trying to do her job. (Remember Linda Keen? She was fired as president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for keeping a nuclear reactor shut down because she said it wasn't safe enough.)
And both of them, looking to win the second-highest and highest offices in their respective countries, have a history of, shall we say, "regionalist" sympathies. Palin's husband was a member of the Alaska Independence Party, and the couple attended the separatists' convention in 1994. And after she had been elected governor, reports the New York Times, Palin recorded a video greeting that the party played this year. "Good luck on a successful and inspiring convention," she said. "Keep up the good work, and God bless you."
In 2001, Stephen Harper co-wrote a letter urging then-Alberta premier Ralph Klein to take steps to protect the province from the federal government's predations. "This means resuming control of the powers that we possess under the Constitution of Canada but that we have allowed the federal government to exercise." The fact that the letter talked of building a "firewall" around Alberta didn't help dampen suspicions that Harper and his poli-sci buddies were closet separatists.
And in different ways, Palin and Harper are both looking to woo female voters.
Palin is drawing Republican female voters who suddenly think it's a great thing for a mother of small children to be seeking public office, while Harper is wooing female voters with a sweater vest and an expanded mat-leave program.
But last week, the clearest parallel between the Palin and Harper camps was the impenetrable bubble they've created around themselves.
Since being tapped as the John McCain's running mate, Republican campaign organizers haven't let Palin speak spontaneously to reporters -- which is unheard of in a national campaign. Last week, while in New York for a crash course in foreign affairs, Palin met with international leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- and was again shielded from the media. That changed only after CNN anchor Campbell Brown flipped her lid on air, charging that protecting Sarah Palin like "she was a delicate flower" was sexist. On Thursday, Palin met with select reporters -- not the entire press corps -- and fielded only a few questions.
Stephen Harper's not quite that bad, but virtually none of his events during this campaign have been open to the public. Instead, he appears before handpicked groups to make announcements. On Thursday, Harper justified the unusual cocoon around him by noting that during an era of "global terrorism," the leader of any country "faces strong security threats."
Even more disturbing, many Conservative candidates have been shielded from the media. Of particular note, the RCMP were called upon last Tuesday to block reporters from speaking with B.C. Conservative candidate Dona Cadman, wife of the late MP Chuck Cadman.
Closer to home, John Baird has turned down an invitation to a public forum organized by City Hall to discuss issues relevant to the city, while Hull-Aylmer Conservative candidate Paul Fréchette declined to attend a Citizen editorial board meeting, and was a no-show on CBC's Ottawa Morning show with other area candidates.
And we're all waiting with bated breath to see if Cheryl Gallant, the controversial MP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, appears at the all-candidates meeting scheduled for this evening. Infamous for comparing the beheading of a prisoner by Iraqis to abortion, Gallant routinely refuses to speak to the media.
For a brief moment, there seemed to be signs that Harper's camp might have been willing to make pinpricks in the iron-clad bubble around the leader.
This weekend, Harper attended the 50th anniversary of his west Toronto high school, a decision his aides say was spontaneous. According to a reporter in attendance, the atmosphere was much different than the super-controlled appearances the prime minister has made so far.
When Harper took the stage, there were a few boos. While he spoke, instead of rapt attention from the crowd, some people kept chatting at their tables. After the speech, one heckler yelled, "What about the environment? What about global warming?" Another guy responded, "This isn't the place for that, (expletive)."
So maybe Harper's team isn't ready to change its strategy just yet. In case there was any doubt, another reporter who snuck into the reunion Saturday night to interview people was caught and kicked out. After all, who'd want to hear what the people really think?
Monday, September 29, 2008
Posted by Fillibluster at 6:58 AM