Maybe they're thinking of a different Stephen Harper
Maybe it's the influence of Conrad Black in the UK or maybe it's hypnosis or maybe, just maybe the following writers don't know what the hell they are talking about.
"However, voters don't seem quite ready to trust Mr Harper, a brainy Conservative who is battling an image problem. He can come across as angry and intense, and is working hard to appear more likeable."
"Stephen Harper, the Conservatives' leader, is an aloof, cerebral figure, disparaged well beyond Liberal circles as a neo-conservative importing dangerous ideas from the United States. Though hardly radical by most of the world's standards, Mr Harper has alienated many Canadians by his opposition to gay marriage and his reservations about abortion. "
"Brainy" "Aloof, cerebral" -- Who the hell are they talking about? Because it sure as hell isn't the doofus that is head of the Conservative Party of Canada -- I mean, just look at the guy. Maybe he is a secret genius at quantum physics or a brilliant scholar of ancient Norse or something, and his "head of the Moose Jaw junior chamber of commerce" routine is a clever disguise, but I'm inclined to doubt it.
Note to The Economist - the patronizing tone of this cover story is unlikely to make you many friends in the Great White North
"Since it is a peaceful, prosperous—dare one say provincial?—sort of place, it rarely makes much of a splash in the world."
No, one dare not say "provincial" - not when, as indicated by your own surveys, Canada has a far more consmopolitian attitude to immigrants, minorities and damn near everything else than our former colonial masters. So "take off, eh!"
And while I'm at it, the fact that Canada is having its second federal election in 17 months does not mean the country is unstable or that democracy is in trouble or that national unity is on the rock or any other such thing. Most of the coverage I've seen in the U.S. and British press seems to hint at this (see The Economist stories) Canadians are used to this. We often have minority governments and some people prefer them to ruled by a bunch of ideologues with a death grip on the reins of power.