For years Conservative MPs and members of the media referred to Stephen Harper as a strategic genius; now some of them are not quite sure. There is no doubt that the PM is tactically brilliant but increasingly his strategic competence is being called into question.
Many people confuse the two. The easiest way to differentiate them is to think of tactics as what is needed to win a battle; strategy is what you use to win a war. Tactics will let you take that hill; strategy determines whether that hill is worth taking in the long run. Tactics require cleverness and trickery but strategy is a matter of vision and wisdom.
I have long believed that Stephen Harper has no vision. He has a few amorphous goals – smaller government, more people in jail – but his vision? Well, it’s unclear. Which is why so many of his hard core followers are wondering why he seems to have drifted from the firm principles of the old Reform movement. Where has the man who seemed so arrow straight gone exactly? Well, perhaps he was never there.
Whether it is Senate reform or fiscal accountability or even his law and order agenda, Stephen Harper has been thwarted over and over by events outside of his control. That’s what happens to tacticians; strategists expect things to turn against them and take such possibilities into account. Tacticians are by nature cautious – as Harper has been – choosing to fight the battles they know they can win rather than risk losing a battle to win a war as strategists often must.
Still, he can be cagey. There is a reason why he is avoiding debating Trudeau and Mulcair in the coming election. As for Mulcair, he was experienced his incisive debating style in the House. While it hasn’t been a knockout every time, Mulcair is almost always ahead on points. As for Trudeau, Harper’s whole strategy has been to say: the PM’s job is not an entry level position – you’re not ready. He doesn’t want to face the obvious rejoinder: Tell, me Mr. Harper, other than being a politician and a political hack, what real job have you ever had? Wasn’t PM an entry level position for you? Because Stephen Harper never has had a real job; he never was a ‘working Canadian.’ And, if you’re honest, you can’t say the same thing about Trudeau.
I think Mr. Harper is running scared and I think his MPs are running scared too. There is an air of desperation about them. And it all goes back to a strategic victory scored by Justin Trudeau a few years ago. You may recall the charity boxing match he had with Senator Patrick Brazeau. Brazeau wasn’t the first Conservative Trudeau challenged – both John Baird and Jason Kenny turned down a chance to go in the ring. Baird and Kenny are both combative but no-one would mistake them for athletic. That was a tactic. The Conservatives needed a champion. Who better than Brazeau – 5 years younger than Trudeau and way more muscular? And a mixed martial arts champion in his army days. The Conservatives smelled blood – Brazeau, they claimed, would wipe up the floor with Trudeau.
As it turned out, Trudeau had been secretly training every day for the fight. Brazeau was exactly who he wanted to fight. It was a risk – Brazeau almost won in the first round. But he didn’t and by the third he was exhausted – the ref stopped the fight because the Senator could no longer defend himself. And that, my friends, is how strategy works – using tactics, taking chances, to draw your enemy in. And then delivering the knockout blow.
It should be an interesting election.
And that’s slightly more than ten minutes.