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Harper newly energized on tour
He is not ready, quite, to be put out to pasture.
the Arctic tour's opening address in Whitehorse, Harper was perfunctory and flat. At the Conservative convention in Calgary last November, according to numerous reports, the same was true.
It was speculated that next year's Conservative campaign will revolve around the economy, justice, and foreign policy three areas where the Tories believe their record is strong. He names all three areas, then dwells on each in detail.
The most interesting aspect of the speeches this week, perhaps, is the prime minister's delivery.
Among the many fascinating aspects of these forays to the North is the obvious pleasure the PM appears to take in rolling out programs for innovation and development. Friday the featured topic was agriculture, and a federal program boost to local initiatives intended to create a fresh fruit and vegetable industry here, using technology being developed at the University of Guelph and the Canadian Space Agency.
It is the kind of program all Canadian governments adore announcing: innovative, commerce oriented, pragmatically helpful. In the Converse New Model 2018
Indeed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is using this year's Arctic summer tour his ninth consecutive such trip to do something novel, given how these northern sojourns have evolved into extended photo opportunities; he's test driving next year's federal campaign, and the stump speech in particular. And there is change afoot.
The meat and bone is the extended section on prudence, trade and taxes. Here Harper trumpets pending or existing free trade agreements that now encompass half the world's people; a balanced budget in 2015; more than $3,000 worth of tax cuts annually per family, since 2006; and government spending in the recession that, he says, avoided the allure of permanent new entitlement programs, but plowed capital into vital infrastructure.
The justice portion of the speech is straight up, trueblue conservatism. Here Harper waxes on at length about the Conservatives' tough on crime agenda, mandatory minimum sentences for violent criminals, and laws protecting young people from cyberbullying. What we had under the Liberals, he tells his audience, was a justice system more concerned with criminals than victims; whereas now, we have the opposite.
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our record," he says frequently, punctuating his assertions.
As a kicker, with a nod to current events overseas, Harper speaks in proud and defiant tones about Canada's new assertiveness on the world stage, his government's willingness to stand up for democracies and denounce tyrants and terrorists, in particular Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It's potent stuff, given the unfolding headlines. All of it, together, will be persuasive to the very same Canadians who voted Conservative in 2011, and 2008.
It's a persuasive mix, which he then contrasts with the Liberals' continuing lack of specific policy.
Whereas in this new speech, which he delivers without a teleprompter, glancing occasionally at notes, he is sharp and forceful. He improvises frequently, tossing in occasional jokes, but always moving back to the text a sign that he's memorized much of it. He allows his tone to stray at times into irony, using it to ease the sting of a jibe. He appears Converse Shoes Red High Tops relaxed, at ease, and utterly confident that he has a good story to tell. "That's Converse Low Top All Black
Are there the usual digs at the opposition, in particular Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau? Certainly. But they begin well down in the speech, occupy less space in it than they did a year ago, and are delivered in an almost jokey tone. Harper clearly is aware of the blowback from the attack ads on the Liberal leader, and is experimenting with ways of driving home the blade that do not make him look too negative. At times he strays almost into standup, mocking the Liberals for their lack of specifics, and what he suggests is their eagerness to please everyone with government largesse.
For one thing, the PM has made some additions and subtractions to his message that, taken together, are quite telling. For another, he's delivering the lines with more zip and gravitas than he has since before the Senate spending scandal turned Ottawa on its head, as I hear it. Preparing for retirement, or a sinecure as head of a conservative think tank, he is not.
North this week it's as though the Tories are channelling John Manley, circa 1997. It's activist government, narrowly targeted. Indeed, the economics piece is classic Jean Chrtien liberalism; balancing the books, thereby freeing up resources for investment in economy boosting programs. In Whitehorse, Harper actually criticized the Liberals for slashing social spending in the 1990s.
In other words: Far from seeming disheartened by the past 18 months of unrelenting calamities, his prolonged slump in the polls relative to the Liberals, and the enduring popularity of Trudeau, Harper appears newly energized. The polls, and the historical pattern of a decade and out, suggest the odds in 2015 are against him. He seems OK with that. He's girding for war. Dressler wanted to remain a Saskatchewan Roughrider, even though he likely could have commanded a higher salary elsewhere.
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