An editorial published in the highly regarded British magazine The Economist accuses Prime Minister Stephen Harper of "playing fast and loose with the rules" and suggests his opponents could capitalize on what it describes as his negative image.

The editorial both criticizes and compliments Harper, saying he has protected the Canadian economy during difficult economic times and will go down in history as a brilliant tactician, but at the same time he has a long list of negative traits.

"Mr. Harper has acquired a reputation for playing fast and loose with the rules. He twice prorogued Parliament, once to avoid a censure vote and then apparently to duck embarrassing questions from a parliamentary committee," the article says.

"Though the prime minister once campaigned as a crusader for accountability and openness, he has acquired the habit of secrecy."

The editorial lists the following transgressions, among others, that the writer says Harper and his government have committed:

  • The introduction of a massive budget bill that included changes on everything from Old Age Security to environmental reviews -- many of them seemingly unrelated to the budget.
  • The fact the government is "intolerant of criticism and dissent," according to the editorial, which points out that those who opposed a move to give police easier access to Internet records were branded as supporters of child pornographers.
  • The fact environmentalists concerned about the impact of the oil sands were branded as "radicals laundering foreign money."
  • The fact the government is investigating the charitable status of some environmental groups.

The Conservatives' opponents may be reaping the benefits of the party's apparent missteps, the article suggests.

"This strategy of polarizing the electorate, playing to core supporters and vilifying opponents has been effective. But there are signs that it may be wearing thin," the article states.

The writer goes on to point out "tentative" indications that the opposition under New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair is becoming more credible. The editorial acknowledges the party’s improved reputation is largely due to the work of Mulcair's predecessor, Jack Layton, who finally brought the NDP to Official Opposition status just a few months before he died.

"His replacement, Thomas Mulcair, has started well, imposing party discipline, dropping leftist talk and moving towards the centre," the editorial says.

"He has called for a balanced approach to developing the tar sands, taking more note of environmental worries."

The editorial also points out that Mulcair is venturing deep into Conservative territory this month, Harper's home province of Alberta, to take part in the Calgary Stampede and try and win over some longtime Conservative supporters.

The article adds that recent polls show Harper is still considered a "more impressive" leader than his rivals.