Problem is, deep down, Canadians don’t like Harper very much.
by Geoffrey Stevens
Pity Stephen Harper. The poor man doesn’t get much respect.
Here he is, the most successful politician on the Canadian stage. He’s fought four general elections in eight years as leader of his party and won three of them. Come February he will have been prime minister for seven years.
He’s already passed RB Bennett, Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker in years of service at the top. By the time the next general election rolls around in October 2015, he will have passed Robert Borden, Louis St Laurent and Brian Mulroney, all of whom served for nine years. Next up: Jean Chrétien (10 years).
At that point, Harper will move into more exalted company: Pierre Trudeau and Wilfrid Laurier (both 15 years) and John A. Macdonald (19 years in two stints). Only if he lasts until the end of 2027, however, will he be able to wrest the championship belt from the all-time leader, Mackenzie King, who lasted for 21-plus years.
Harper’s longevity is remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, political leaders are subject to constant exposure or over-exposure in this age of television, the 24-hour news cycle, internet and social media. Modern media can create celebrities, including political ones, virtually overnight — and they make the public weary of them almost as rapidly.
Second, deep down, Canadians don’t like Harper very much. He hasn’t grown on the country at all in his eight-plus years as leader of the Conservative party. Why do Canadians keep electing a leader they evidently hold in low esteem? It must be a perception that the Conservatives are competent, if not loveable, while their opponents don’t seem ready for prime time.
In search of answers, I turned to a report published last week by Toronto-based Environics Institute of a survey of public attitudes in 26 Western Hemisphere countries toward their governments and leaders and their satisfaction with life in general. A total of 41,000 people in the 26 countries were surveyed for the report, titled AmericasBarometer.
For Canada, the report is a mixed bag. Generally, Canadians expressed a lot of confidence in the armed forces (53 percent of those surveyed expressed confidence) while the RCMP came in at 36 per cent, the Supreme Court of Canada at 34 percent and the justice system as a whole at 26 percent. While less than dazzling, those numbers were among the most positive in the hemisphere.
It was a different story when Canadians were asked about their level of trust in Parliament and the prime minister. Only one person in six said they had a lot of trust in Parliament (17 percent) or the PM (16 percent). These numbers put Canada in the lowest tier in the hemisphere, marginally better than Panama and Honduras. In the United States, interestingly, trust in the president was 26 per cent, 10 points higher than Canadians’ trust in their prime minister.
Asked to assess Stephen Harper’s job performance, Canadian respondents gave him a rating that put him in 19th place among the 26 leaders, well below the heads of Ecuador, Nicaragua, Brazil and Argentina.
If there is good news for Harper in all this, it is that Canadians think more highly of him than they do of their political parties or the mass media. Only 10 percent express strong trust in the media and 6 percent in political parties. Sobering though those numbers are, they are better than those for the US — 4 percent for the media and just 2 percent for political parties. (It’s worth noting in passing that seven in 10 Canadians support the notion of coalition governments.)
To end on a bright note: 72 percent of Canadians express strong pride in their country; outside Quebec, the figure is 77 percent, That 72 percent puts Canadians a bit above the United States in the patriotism game, although a bit below Mexico.