Is not his image, but his supporters.
I don't even mean Conservative Party members per se. No, I speak of the near http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifhysterical paranoia that many CPC supporters seem to have regarding the media and its treatment of Stephen Harper.
A brief tour through parts of the Conservative "blogosphere" is really quite revealing. There are entries galore lately ranting about how the media is engaging in a character assassination of Stephen Harper. Postings from Western Canadians go so far as to attempt to resurrecting the tensions that existed between Western Canada and Central Canada in the waning years of Trudeau's tenure as Prime Minister.
I will accept that media which is based out of Toronto (CBC's national news, The Globe and Mail, The National Post) are going to reflect a Toronto-centric perspective on things to some degree.
This is borne out by the equally Calgary-centric view that The Calgary Sun and The Calgary Herald present. While I do expect the CBC and its ilk to stand to a higher standard, I cannot expect them to preside over the news with near-judicial impartiality.
However, what I see in parts of the blogosphere borders on a near-hysterical ranting that Central Canada's out to "get" Harper. They routinely point to articles that paint Harper in a less than favourable light, interview comments and questions that they deem to be 'sneering' or condescending in tone. (Apparently not sufficiently "respectful" enough of Harper's enlightened genius, I guess) A psychiatrist would probably diagnose these people as paranoid, or at least suffering from a persecution complex of some sort, given the hysterical tone of their rantings.
Lately, I'd be hard pressed to say that the media is 'out to get Harper' so much as Harper is out to shoot himself in the foot. He has been handed opportunity after opportunity to seriously damage the Liberal government, and he and his party have succeeded only in shooting themselves in the foot. (The Grewal Tapes Affair, Harper's 'double-about-face' on the budget, the childish handling of Stronach's defection...among others) A reporter would be hard pressed to sound overly positive towards Harper lately - and his dour, taciturn expression doesn't help matters either.
I think it's actually very much to Harper's credit that he is setting out this summer to perform an 'image makeover'. I'm skeptical about how well it will play outside of Alberta, but at least he has recognized that his demeanor hasn't been playing all that well outside of his core constituency.
From what I've seen, the Conservatives have suffered for a couple years from some very bad listening skills. First, the so-called "grass roots" model for policy direction has left Canadians feeling ill-at-ease with a party whose internal factions squabble so publicly. Even if the policy goes in on direction on election day, nobody is sure that some ongoing squabble isn't going to change it. The party has been fishing for favour for so long that nobody's sure just what it represents any more.
Second, party leadership doesn't seem willing to look beyond its core support and listen to what other groups are saying. The deafening silence of MP Jason Kenney's office to any attempt to contact the MP on constituency business is a not-so-subtle hint in this regard. Even my "died-in-the-wool Conservative" neighbor has been met with a wall of silence from Kenney's office.
With a history of "loose lips" in the party, with both candidates and party members saying things that can only be called "ill-advised", it's awful difficult for voters to believe anything the party claims to believe. I don't expect the party to be a monolith of opinion, but rather to have enough collective wisdom to realize that there are times to grit your teeth and move forward with a united platform.
Oddly, if Harper isn't careful, he's going to find his best efforts undone in the blogosphere, where it seems that even those who support the party do so in ways that reinforce the widespread unease which the party is held in.
The party will only develop trust among an uneasy electorate if it can establish a sense of consistency in policy, and an openness to approach from the electorate. A wall of silence is essentially a closed door, and it makes the party appear to be populated by single-minded ideologues whose sole interest is in imposing their idea of political utopia upon the voters of this nation.
Harper's summer BBQ circuit run will be scrutinized like no other before it. Unsurprising since he leads the party that is officially supposed to be the 'government-in-waiting', and is probably seen as even less trustworthy than Brian Mulroney was at the end of his second term. (Or Marc Lalonde at the end of the Trudeau era, for that matter) I wish him well, but it will be a long, hot summer for Mr. Harper - one that an ant under a magnifying glass wouldn't envy.