Recent polls indicate that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s approval rating is essentially unchanged since election day; a reading that scarcely jibes with what I’m seeing and hearing.
I would suggest that the quality of Tory approval has indeed been changing—perhaps the words “ripening” or “deepening” would best capture the sense—in ways that such polling can’t measure. While Harper may not be winning new converts to the Conservative cause—yet—I’ll bet I’m not the only Canadian who voted Conservative on Jan. 23 as the least disappointing option who is now saying, “Woah, this is going better than I thought it might.”
I feared the amount of compromising the newly forged party had imposed on long-standing Reform party platforms had placed it beyond the pale of anything remotely deserving the mantle of “conservative.” Burdened further with a precarious minority status, I wondered how much room would be left for flexing whatever conservative instincts they retained. Worst-case scenario was that the Tories would ineffectually hobble along for a year, underwhelming Canadians from coast to coast who would then deduce, “Right. That was the Tories’ turn at bat. Now let’s bring back the Liberals with another fat majority for another decade or two of uninterrupted smugness and sleaze.”
But so far, things are going much better than that. The utter disarray of the still leaderless Liberals undoubtedly helps. Interim Liberal captain Bill Graham can purse his lips all he likes and threaten to topple the government, but everyone knows he’s bluffing. The Liberals are so discombobulated they won’t be able to find their bottoms with both hands before next spring, let alone select a capable leader and muster the unity, the will and the gall to drag this country to its third election in three years.
Realizing he has a limited window of opportunity, Harper’s first move was to stop all the irritating and unnecessary chatter that so characterized Paul Martin’s prime minister-ship. This has incited weeks of sulky sniping from miffed media unaccustomed to dealing with a leader who’d frankly rather not talk when there are no issues of national importance to discuss.
Then Harper shrewdly zeroed in on the one area where the Liberals (and every other party, for that matter) are disgracefully inept—foreign policy. Not counting those deranged Liberal ads that talked about Harper’s plans to impose a theocracy complete with jackbooted thugs on the streets of Canadian cities, the question of Canada’s military readiness or its foreign policy goals scarcely came up in the pre-election debates.
With his surprise visit to the 2,200 Canadians stationed in Afghanistan and currently leading the nearly 10,000-strong multinational coalition forces deployed there, Harper restored a note of pride and support for our military that was long overdue and made it clear that abandoning the mission was not an option. He followed that up with his participation in the Canada-U.S.-Mexico conference in Cancun where he insisted the long-festering softwood lumber imbroglio with the States be resolved. And then he announced the cutting of all Canadian funding to the new Palestinian government until it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
If three such decisive actions are what we can expect from a prime minister who shuns distractions from the press gallery, so be it. The press has only underlined the apparent wisdom of Harper’s approach by cranking out an absurd amount of commentary on such meaty issues as the size of Harper’s waistline and his taste in utility vests. For a few offended editorialists, the most provocative words in Harper’s astonishing Afghanistan speech were the last three: “God bless Canada.” Hey, that’s George W. Bush talk, they whined. And then there were those who admonished him for setting a bad example for Canadian youth by sipping a can of root beer in photos with the troops.
My own hunch is that Harper’s less-talk/more-action approach is going down well with most Canadians. Can it be just a coincidence that in the very same week he visited Afghanistan, that truest of all Canadian commercial bellwethers—Tim Hortons—announced it’s opening its first shop in Kandahar to serve our troops? I think not.