Aloof leader bids to show he feels Canadians' pain

Wed Oct 8, 2008 4:44pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

VICTORIA, British Columbia (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- who is considered unusually cool and aloof for a politician -- is striving to shed his shy habits and show Canadians he feels their pain over plunging stock markets and a slumping economy.

If he fails, he could botch his chances in the general election to be held on October 14, a vote that he has long been favored to win.

At the start of last week, Harper's Conservatives had a healthy poll lead over the opposition Liberals. Then the markets sank and Canadians waited for Harper's reaction.

He told them not to panic, to stay the course and trust that he was the best man to run the country. Amid a widespread perception he was being unfeeling, his poll numbers dropped.

So this week he is venturing into unfamiliar territory and putting his heart on his sleeve.

"The big numbers matter less than the individual reality, of the employee concerned about her job, for the family working hard to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, or the seniors worrying about their savings," he told a rally in Hamilton, Ontario, on Tuesday evening.

Harper has cited his mother as an example of someone he knows is concerned about stock market's turmoil.

"She's the person closest to me who's most worried about the stock market these days. Believe me, I get quicker updates from her on the stock market than I do from the Department of Finance," he told reporters on Wednesday.   Continued...

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper waits to take part in a television interview in Toronto October 7, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>