The Bubble-Wrapped Campaign

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Peter Harris

It is a long way from my seat in row 25 at the very back of the plane to the very front where Stephen Harper sits – but it is not so far that you cannot see how the Conservatives are packaging Harper’s tour in layers of bubble wrap to avoid getting beaten up on the road. Only a few days in, and it is already the classic frontrunner campaign.

Distance is the first layer of bubble wrap and protecting the leader starts in the air. After bouncing across Canada from Quebec to BC over the last four days, Harper still has not been to the back of the plane to meet with journalists. This doesn’t mean we are feeling neglected, but says more about how the Tories are not bothering to project an image on this tour so the leader does not need to take that long walk to the rear seats.

In fact, when the Tories sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to one of their own during a flight, Harper didn’t even cross the Rubicon that is the first class curtain to say ‘hello.’ Long ago in a campaign galaxy far away known as 2008, Harper regularly popped back wearing cozy cardigans to soften his image. Opening up – or, at least, appearing as though he was opening up – was a critical part of the Tory playbook in the last campaign, just like closing up seems to be critical to this campaign.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen wave as they arrive in Winnipeg on March 29. Photo by Adrian Wyld, The Canadian Press.

This distance stretches to his events, too. The Tories hope Mr. Harper can find enough elbow room to throw jabs at the opposition without taking any punches. This might change down this long election road, but so far, this campaign is already into a well-worn pattern: the day begins with an announcement in the morning, followed by a quick flight and a stump speech in a second city in the afternoon. Sleep, move on and repeat – and avoid any surprises at all costs.

Another layer of bubble wrap is to limit how many questions journalists can put to Mr. Harper. Of course, this kind of control is a familiar tactic when the Tories are in power, but in theory, it is supposed to shift during a campaign. Although the Tories have opened up in the past, this time around, the Harper team is trying to clamp down.

At just five questions a day, you can literally count on one hand how many questions Harper takes everyday. The obvious intent is to restrict the range of topics (coalition, not contempt), keep him from stumbling, and stay on message to get the talking points out.

Distance, very little drama and tight control gives this frontrunner campaign some protective layers – but the big question for Mr. Harper is – will it be enough to pull in new votes and win him a majority?

Peter is one of Global National’s correspondents based in Ottawa, but currently travelling the country covering Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s campaign. Follow him on Twitter: @PeterHarris.

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