a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Like Trudeau, Harper the man we love to hate

Their admirers may be far apart. But Stephen Harper and Pierre Trudeau now have something in common.

With the publication of Harperland by journalist Lawrence Martin, Harper’s personality will likely become a dominant issue in Canadian politics. Much the same thing happened with publication of Shrug: Trudeau in Power by the late Walter Stewart in 1971.

Stewart’s book, published three years after Trudeau was elected in 1968, served to validate all those who said he was arrogant and disconnected from most Canadians. In fact, Stewart’s book likely was a contributing factor in the 1972 election, which reduced Trudeau’s huge majority to a minority government.

Martin’s just-published book likely will publicly brand Harper once and for all as a secretive control freak four years after taking office.

But before Harper’s many critics get too smug, they should be mindful of one thing. Trudeau may have been permanently cast as arrogant and aloof. But he was still our prime minister from 1968 to 1979, and then, after a nine-month hiatus, from 1980 to 1984.

Those who attacked Trudeau’s personality may have helped keep him in power.

There is something in human nature that is attracted to a domineering, take-charge leader. Trudeau owned that franchise in his day. Harper appears to now.

Robert Stanfield may now be remembered as the greatest prime minister we never had. But in his years as Trudeau’s chief opponent, he was derided much in the way Michael Ignatieff is now.

No one could accuse Harper of being charismatic like Trudeau. As a result, Harper may not dominate our national psyche quite as Trudeau did.

Trudeau was swept into office by the then-emerging and idealistic baby boomer vote, fed up by years of minority government. He was also kept in power by the baby boomers.

Harper crept into office, helped by an angry, aging and fading baby boomer vote.

With this difference in demographic scenarios, Harper could be swept out of office by the children of the baby boomers, should they become just as fed up with minority government.

But at this point, that is just another maybe scenario.

Harper may never win a majority. But he will be tough to dislodge just the same.

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