Be Conservative, Steve

By:  Rachel Marsden

Ask any Canadian what conservatism is, and he'd be hard-pressed to tell you. And when you're mid-campaign with no brand recognition, you're in trouble.

Liberalism has its own bumper-sticker slogan: "Health care, education, multiculturalism." Their marketing campaign has more than compensated for all the post-Gomery product recalls.

Liberals rarely deviate from course. Meanwhile, Harper seems intent on circumnavigating the globe, changing direction with the wind -- which might impress Richard Branson, but not Canadian voters.

Harper responded to a Washington Times story this week pegging him as pro-American, pro-Iraq war and socially conservative with a letter to the editor that left this conservative once again questioning what this guy's really all about.

While Harper once chastised Jean Chretien for not sending troops to help liberate Iraq, he's now saying he would have taken the same position.

Harper trotted out the leftie hymn about being disappointed "at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction." This week, Iraqis are choosing their very first four-year democratic government -- which would have been impossible if George W. Bush had the intestinal makeup of Stephen Harper.

Harper says in his Times letter: "While I think that the Kyoto Treaty is deeply flawed, I support developing a plan, in co-ordination with the United States and other countries, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing new technologies and energy conservation." Who knows what that means?

What he should have said was: "Kyoto is a joke, and if I get elected, Canada's pulling out. What 'trend'? Did cavemen have thermometers? We have a historical climatologist here in Canada, Dr. Tim Ball, who argues that the 'trend' is really one of cooling. Only self-centered tin-foilers would ever conjure up the idea that we could possibly be the ones to destroy the planet. Get over yourselves -- you're a mere pimple on the buttocks of Father Time." Clear enough?

If you want proof that no one knows what Harper is really saying, check out this week's online Toronto Star poll. Nearly half of respondents said Harper's TV ads vowing tougher sentences for violent criminals would make them "less likely to support the party." We're at the point now where Harper is basically saying, "I'll lock up for life the thug who would show up at your doorstep and blow away your family," and the reaction of voters is, "Hmmm, I don't like that idea."

The Star also offered Harper some tips from Ontario PC Party leader John Tory: "Put out the welcome mat to all different groups ... inviting them to be part of your deliberation on policy." Tory recommends a warm and fuzzy focus on what unites us rather than things that divide us. Awwww.

Forget John Tory. Harper needs to take the advice of a conservative woman, for once. Former British PM Margaret Thatcher once said "there are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics. I regard them as Quislings, as traitors ... I mean it." She also declared that "being prime minister is a lonely job ... you cannot lead from the crowd."

Canadian conservatism is like "New Coke." Remember that? It traumatized some people so badly that they still specify that they want "Classic Coke." Conservatism in this country is a disaster of a brand -- and a two-month election campaign is unlikely to change that.

After Jan. 23, it's going to be time to start over with a better marketing director. As Thatcher said, "The facts of life are conservative." Selling it shouldn't be this hard.

PUBLISHED:  TORONTO SUN (December 15/05)