Friday, 5 December 2008

How did Harper miscalculate so badly?

Stephen Harper is known as an accomplished political strategist, his ability so great as to overcome an almost total lack of personal charisma and make of him the most formidable opponent on the Canadian political scene. I will confess to being highly amused at the way he ran circles around the opposition parties in his first mandate, taking maximum advantage of their aversion to a new election. The improbable knots they had to tie themselves into to avoid triggering election calls rivalled anything a Chinese circus can display. Petty of me, I know, but one has to admire talent when one sees it.

I had my thoughts on why his normal perspicacity had abandoned him, and then I stumbled across this article from the Globe and Mail which articulated very nicely what I had suspected.

It is one of the habits of truly great leaders to surround themselves with people who compensate for their own weaknesses. Harper might be forgiven for not recognizing his, because they have been very useful to him, particularly his ruthlessness and tendency to go for the jugular of his political foes. He over-reached a time or two in his first federal campaign, and learned to moderate the tendency a bit. But it remains a besetting sin for the Prime Minister, and one which he hasn't sufficiently guarded against.

What he desperately needs is a powerful advisor who lacks that trait, who is capable of respecting the opponent and who does not mistake political bluster and posturing for reality. And this, he does not have. Instead, he has Guy Giorno.

Stephen Harper and Guy GiornoCaught in a political echo chamber, he made the very dangerous mistake of underestimating the opposition, calculating that they would run away from a game of chicken. Not. This is what Michael Valpy and Daniel Leblanc said in their analysis:

... Mr. Harper's determination to destroy the Liberals borders on the pathological.

It has become a blind spot in his judgment, with no one in his office to put the brakes on his impulses.

His chief of staff, Guy Giorno – once chief of staff to Ontario Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris and one of the icy architects of Mr. Harris's Common Sense Revolution – is not the ying to Mr. Harper's yang. Rather they are two yangs together.

Mr. Lyle recalled Friday the story told of Clifford Scotton, who was a key aide to Manitoba NDP premier Howard Pawley. Mr. Scotton's job was to say four words to Mr. Pawley whenever the need arose: “I think not, Howard.”

Mr. Giorno is not the Prime Minister's Clifford Scotton, said Mr. Lyle.

It sounds like Harper's advisors are politically inbred, with all the inherent weakness that implies. It's time for some fresh blood.

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