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Tories attack: bad manners, bad politics

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

"Is that Michael Ignatieff on the cover of the British GQ, the upscale version of its more gamy American counterpart?"

That was the question that leaped unbidden to my lips after viewing the photo on the front page of Thursday's Globe and Mail. And, as was the case I am sure with thousands of my fellow Canadians, I mustered up a few "harrumphs" and maybe even one "pshaw" before delivering the verdict: "Well, that settles it. Not going to vote for him."

I think I'm with the rest of the country when I say we really don't want as a future prime minister someone who's not only appeared on the cover of foreign "style" magazines, but - save us the nightmare - has actually written for some of them. It gets darker. He's written for those egghead ones as well - in fact scattered his tony prose in the close print of all sorts of highbrow and middle-forehead publications on both sides of the Atlantic. I believe - I don't want to libel him here, but the truth must out - he's also appeared, very frequently, on the BBC!

Well, say goodbye to 24 Sussex Dr., Michael. The last person Mr. and Mrs. Ordinary Canadian want to be leading their country is some intellectual drifter equally familiar to the readers of The Times Literary Supplement or The New York Review of Books. And who sojourned at Harvard, ice palace of the global elitists, as well. Are there no farm boys or fishermen to lead us? Someone, who's actually stayed at home? Or, to pose another alternative, someone who fostered an unparalleled intimacy with the vast range and diversity of our great country, got his hands dirty and mixed with the rest of us, by toiling, say, at the gatehouse of the common man, the National Citizens Coalition? Or someone who had such a full appreciation for the glories of our great confederation that he once argued with great vigour for the concept of a firewall around Alberta?

The picture I'm referencing comes, of course, from the Conservatives' latest batch of anti-Iggy ads. This is getting very tired. As was done to Stéphane Dion so must it be done to Mr. Ignatieff. The Harperites are back at what they do best, or - let me try to be more precise - back at what it seems they really like most to be doing. Attacking the other guys' leader. There are a lot of cards in the political deck, but the attack card seems to be the one that most fits with the Conservatives under Mr. Harper.

They are not good at reaching out. They are not good at broadening the tent. They are not good at getting beyond the bristling, mean way they view everyone who is an opponent. Even after their victories - they are in power, remember - the Conservatives of the Stephen Harper party, still radiate the sullenness of a party denied, a party - even though it is in power, is making the big calls, setting the agenda - nursing a sense of injury that they haven't been fully acknowledged, fully appreciated for the wonderful folks they are.

Can they not at least understand that it is precisely this attitude, more than any other factor, that has kept them frozen in the polls near the low 30s - that has denied them any measurable, sustained growth - from the moment of their first victory?

It comes mainly from the edgy, mean spirit that predominates in how they choose to present themselves. We saw it in the attempts to cut public financing for political parties last December. Any chance to kneecap their opponents and Mr. Harper's men start to salivate. It was surely present in the blitz of attack ads on Mr. Dion, which were unnecessary, and mean. Whatever those ads did to undermine the already weak Stéphane Dion is debatable. What is not debatable is how much they underlined the Conservatives', and Mr. Harper's, mean streak. There is some quality of the Conservative Party that gives the impression that they are always just about to have a temper tantrum.

Canadians don't like mean. It's bad politics and bad manners. And so, this latest batch about "snob" Ignatieff, Ignatieff the intellectual nomad - they will undoubtedly cheer the frozen base of the party. But they will also, as did the Dion ads, reinforce the impression of many Canadians, who are not Tory partisans, that this crowd is only at its best when its being mean about the other guy.

There is an unacknowledged element in all attack ads. They say as much about those who design those ads, as about their ostensible target. These ads may well remind Canadians of something they already know - that Mr. Ignatieff was a long while before he chose, or deigned, to become a full Canadian. But they will also remind Canadians of something they know just as well, and do not like in the main: that the Harper Conservatives are a brittle, humourless and by-default-mean congregation.

The ads, I predict, will hurt the Conservatives, far more than they will trim the rising Ignatieff Liberals.

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