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Average Joe: Candidate

By Jackson Murphy
web posted January 12, 2004

Last year the two competing right of center political parties in Canada decided to end the rift that split them apart. So now that the right wing has put Humpty Dumpty back together again, they are desperately seeking a new leader.

The campaign to fill that job will begin in earnest this week as Stephen Harper officially throws his hat into the ring. It is fitting that Harper should try his hand at the new party the same week as Donald Trump's new reality show "The Apprentice" takes the airwaves by storm. Fitting because Harper looks like he might go to the same strange barber as Trump whose unusual hairdo is one of his trademarks.

Donald Trump Stephen Harper
Tale of the hair: Donald Trump and Stephen Harper

Trump's hair, which appears at times to come flowing out of his skull directly above the eyebrows, does wonders in the key hair demographics of toupee users and those who insist on having a "Trump sized" comb over. But the point of Trump's hair, like everything Trump, is that it is larger than life. Now Harper's hair, while somewhat resembling a painted on helmet, isn't as hideous as Trump's but it certainly isn't as much fun or inspiring either. If it was more over the top you might be able to stand listening to him for more than about a minute.

In all fairness to Harper, and his hair, there are many who think he is the guy to lead this new party. Diane Francis, writing in The National Post, believes he is "the only viable leader for the new party. He has experience, he has made no mistakes and he will fare better than anyone can imagine against the Liberal's current prime ministerial replacement. For starters, the combined entity should ensure success in the 30 ridings where vote-splitting cost Conservatives seats in the last election."

If only politics were about experience and policy. The reality is that if it were simply about which candidate is the greatest master of policy; conservatives would have won the day three elections ago. There are plenty of people who would like to think that we, as Canadians, are above superficial popularity contests. But that is what these races are primarily about. It is certainly not like any of the candidates for this party or during the recent Liberal leadership race ignited a powerful national debate.

Thankfully Donald Trump also hangs over this campaign in the form of Magna CEO Belinda Stronach. She is about as close to a female Trump as you could get, minus the terrible hair. She's a young, ambitious, and successful businesswoman who has worked the back rooms of politics but is probably more suitable to being front and center. And it is easy to see why so many conservatives are simply giddy about her entering the leadership race. She's not a politician but remains the ultimate insider and could bring plenty of new people to the party.

The power of "The Donald" is that his life, and new show, is all about reality TV. To appeal to voters at large, not just current party members, the new party is going to have to sex up its image. In the past conservatives took this to mean wet suited stunts, which obviously didn't work. So if they think a Stephen Harper quickie marriage to Britney Spears in Vegas will do the trick they are also mistaken. But the reality TV theme isn't such a bad idea. That doesn't mean I want to see Harper, Stronach and the other candidates selling lemonade on the street in some elimination challenge (Well, actually I would).

It's probably better if you think of this leadership race like "Average Joe". You see a bunch of loveable losers competing to see who'll end up losing to the dashing Paul Martin. More than just part of you actually enjoys seeing a bunch of dumb pretty boys or Paul Martin steal away the beautiful girl that is the Canadian electorate. The other similarity is that following leadership races in Canada, for the vast majority of people, is really about watching. But the guilty pleasure of watching, for example, the coronation of Paul Martin, doesn't compare to the latest over-the-top reality show.

One thing conservatives in Canada are going to have to do is start having more fun. The addition of Stronach to the leadership race is good place to start. They are going to have to start appealing to more people or they will become the permanent Bob Dole of Canadian politics. The right continues to be consumed by running against their version of the Liberals, and like the Clinton hating conservatives in the late 1990's, the voters sometimes don't see the same thing.

Perhaps Martin is the equivalent of Al Gore circa 2000, but to get the election close enough for conservatives to win they are going to have to find someone up to the challenge of beating Martin.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is a senior writer at Enter Stage Right and the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7.

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