Stephen Harper has made two contributions to changing Canadian politics.
First, Mr. Harper reunited the right, driving the union of two parties to produce a strong and effective Conservative Party that has won two minority governments. Today, the Conservatives remain competitive with the Liberals, no mean feat in a recession.
Second, Mr. Harper introduced negative television advertising between elections as a staple of Conservative politics.
Parties had deployed attack ads, very personally aimed at other party leaders, during election campaigns. That they should now be featured between elections is Mr. Harper's contribution.
The ads are not universally popular, even in the Conservative caucus. Some MPs hear from Conservative constituents that they reinforce the party's image under Mr. Harper for thuggishness and excessive partisanship.
But Doug Finley, the party's national director, and Guy Giorno, the Prime Minister's chief-of-staff, tell squeamish MPs that the ads are "working" to frame negatively Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, just as the party's previous televised assault on former leader Stéphane Dion framed him as a nerd and a weakling with crazy ideas.
The current ad campaign costs around $3-million. The ads appear on radio and television, with target "buys" on sports programs, including the Stanley Cup playoffs. Only a party that raises large sums of money can afford television ads between elections, and the Conservatives are the masters of fundraising.
The ads reflect the Harper idea/ideal that politics is a never-ending war in which no quarter is asked or taken. No stoop is really too low for the Harper Conservatives.
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