This article in the Globe (shame on them for endorsing Harper!), asks "Will Harper Regret the Strategy of Running Not to Lose?" It is an interesting article that makes some very cogent points.
As I was reading the article it struck me how similar this strategy has been to recent events in high profile Chess tournaments. Realizing that the game had reached an almost inhumane level of complexity, chess masters began to play a very defensive game. Playing such a game makes it very difficult for your opponent to win because you concentrate on building a highly defensive position that is difficult to assail. It is a little bit like old time war in which a Lord (read Harper) and his forces could hunker down in a Medieval Battlement and it would become extremely difficult for an attacking army to score a victory.
To add to the attractiveness of this strategy, contemporary chess tournaments have a scoring system which guarantees a point (or a half a point) for a draw, and thus a player can conceivably win a tournament without ever having won a game. This actually led Bobby Fisher, one of the greatest, most innovative chess players ever, to suggest new rules for the game of chess to save it from the defensive corner into which it painted itself.
The problem with this set of circumstances should be obvious. It lowers the level of play overall and inhibits innovation, as well as rendering the overall effect boring for players as well as observers. In politics the result is essentially the same. Now, many of us may not mind politics being a little bit boring. After all, the most effective government is bound to be a little boring because success seldom generates controversy to the degree that failure (or even perceived failure) does. However, the reduction of innovation and the lowering of government's effectiveness is surely a major concern. And this is precisely what Harper and his 'playing not to lose' strategy has sought to do. By minimizing their public political plan to a couple of policies around which they believe their base can rally, such as prisons and fighter jets, Harper seeks to do the very minimum possible in order to appeal to just enough people and not be publicly so offensive that it will be counter productive. A corollary of this strategy has been to legislate in stealth as much as possible while in power and alienate as many people from the process of democracy as possible. The problem is, of course, that this is a strategy for running a campaign, not for running a country.
Real leader stand out front of the crowd with new ideas, innovative spirits, but also with human compassion and a love of engagement. A real leader does not live by scripted events, nor does he or she avoid of the press and the people. The strategy of a real leader is not to avoid losing but to go out on a limb to win! And the goal of winning for a real leader is not to win for him or herself, but for those very people that they lead.
Campaigning not to lose is already the greatest loss you can suffer. It means you have lost the very reason that you sought to run in the first place.