Opinion Editorial

Mr. Harper's dilemma

It's ironic that, in the lead-up to an imminently expected federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to win political points by accusing Liberal leader Stephane Dion of being more left-wing than former Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau.

Mr. Harper knows the memory of the late Mr. Trudeau still rankles with man y Canadians who believe the former PM took Canada, willy-nilly, further to the left than most people

wanted to go.

The irony of Mr. Harper's

accusation against Mr. Dion is that Mr. Harper has more in common with Mr. Trudeau than Mr. Dion does.

Mr. Trudeau-- love him or hate him -- had a prodigious intellect that told him he knew better than Canadians what was best for Canadians.

Mr. Harper-- love him or hate him -- is cut from the same cloth.

Both Harper and Trudeau have grasped well the reality that, in order to do anything in politics, one must first get elected. That means projecting the image and ideas that will appeal to the most Canadians.

That's not news to anybody, but both these politicians have demonstrated the ability to project an image and ideas that are far from reality.

Mr. Trudeau famously did this in the election of 1974 when he defeated Joe Clark on the issue of wage and price controls which Mr. Trudeau, in a speech given in Cobourg's Victoria Park, denounced as "snake oil."

Mr. Trudeau won that election -- and promptly instituted wage and price controls.

Mr. Harper, in 2006, ran on a platform of accountability and transparency in government and has instituted the most tightly controlled, highly scripted, closemouthed governments in recent

memory. The reason for

the guardedness -- some say secrecy -- is widely believed to be Mr. Harper's determination -- some say secret agenda -- to take Canada further to the right -- and closer to the U. S. -- than most

Canadians want to go. Mr. Harper, we remember, was

in favour, as leader of the opposition, of Canada's participation in the invasion of Iraq.

It's a position he has tried to distance himself from, ever since, at least in the eyes of the Canadian public.

Mr. Harper is a very bright man who has tried very hard to overcome his image as a right-wing ideologue heading a government of inexperienced and/or red-neck ministers.

But in so doing, the dilemma he has faced has been to project an image of openness and accountability while keeping a very tight rein on his ministers -- and himself -- to make sure everyone stays on-message, a message palatable to the majority.

Now, his election ads seek to portray him as an approachable guy-next-door, a strong leader who shares the goals of ordinary Canadians.

At least, until after the election.