On the campaign trail, many a politician has learned to his detriment that image is everything. And if there’s one thing that Stephen Harper has done this week, it’s fumbled the ball.
A classic front-runner’s race, is what the pundits have said he’s up to. Stay out of the public eye; keep a close rein on interviews, say as little as possible. Avoid making mistakes.
To maintain that kind of control, Harper allows only five questions a day from reporters. The visuals of those questions were quite astonishing — reporters forced to stand 43 metres back, behind barricades, while Harper ignored the questions he didn’t want to answer. It was reminiscent of the G20, only this time it was reporters that were kettled.
(The Canadian Association of Journalists, by the way, have complained about this and other restrictions on access and information by reporters as a genuine and widespread threat to the public’s right to know.)
So why did Harper throw down a debate gauntlet to Michael Ignatieff to have a one-on-one debate, and then run away from it? Not a single reporter/column/editorial has found his idiotic explanation (that his preference was for a one-to-one debate but the Liberals insisted that the other parties be involved) credible. And why? Because Ignatieff’s immediate response to the challenge was ‘name the time, name the place.’
He went further: “Perhaps I can make this easier for you,” Ignatieff wrote. “I will meet you at the time and place of your choosing. There is no need for complicated or convoluted debate formats. Just two podiums – and you and me. A true, honest-to-goodness battle of ideas and visions.”
Last night, Rick Mercer offered to host the Liberal-Conservative smackdown. Ignatieff’s response was “I’m in.” Harper’s? Complete silence, followed by a comment today that the debate “train had left the station” and that it was all the networks’ fault.
The press is starting to report that Harper’s approach is coming off as cowardice, which of course, it is.
But then, bullies are cowards, when push comes to shove. It was a very long time ago that Junius said, “It is the coward who is insolent.” I like Mickey Mantle’s description the best when it comes to the differences between Ignatieff and Harper. Mantle said “A team is where a boy can prove his courage. A gang is where a coward goes to hide.”
Peggy’s regular blog posts on writing and getting published will resume on May 3rd, after the Canadian election.