Stephen Harper has seldom hidden his disdain for the conventional
wisdom that successful politicians have to smile for every photographer,
kiss every baby in sight, and glad-hand with as many
people as possible. Since becoming Canadian Alliance leader in March,
Harper has done little to dispel the impression that he's
more comfortable debating policy than making himself better known to
However, it's one thing to project an image as a
politician of principle and another to vanish from the political
radar screen. Any momentum Harper may have gained from his
leadership win was lost when he retreated from the public
arena this summer.
Harper evidently thinks that his low-key strategy will appeal to
voters who are increasingly cynical about politics and politicians, but
that's a dangerous gamble for a party struggling to regain
its credibility and relevance.
Judging by the dismal showing of the Alliance in a
recent poll, a low-profile leader is a ticket to oblivion.
National support for the party dropped to 13 per cent
in August from 18 the previous month, and to 9
per cent from 15 in Ontario. Liberal heir-apparent Paul Martin's
popularity makes life difficult for all opposition parties, but to
be backsliding with a new leader is an ominous trend
for the Alliance.