Is the Stephen Harper ‘brand’ broken?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean KilpatrickStephen Harper, believe it or not, used to rail against government waste, plum patronage appointments and lack of government accountability.

"It's all part of the pattern. This is a story of scandal and corruption, investigations, refusals to take responsibility," Harper said about the Liberal sponsorship scandal in 2005.

"If this government continues in office, this will continue."

Harper's anti-establishment shtick was of the main reasons he was elected as leader of the Conservatives and eventually prime minister.  It was, for lack of a better term, his brand. It also became the party's brand. First there was the 'Harper Conservatives' and eventually the 'Harper government.'

But as one pundit recently opined: "Would the  Stephen Harper of the 1990s recognize Stephen Harper of 2012?"

What would have the Stephen Harper from the National Citizen Coalition days said about Bev Oda's $16 orange juice? How would he react to the boondoggle that is the F-35 procurement process? If he wasn't prime minister what would he have said about the senate appointments to friends and insiders?

Does the old Stephen Harper still exist?

A new poll suggests that recent events have put the success of the Harper brand in jeopardy. The Nanos Research study still has the Tories ranked slightly ahead of the NDP in terms of popular support, but it shows Harper's leadership quotient dropping dramatically.

When Canadians were asked two months ago to name the federal leader they believed to be the most competent, 38.1 per cent said Harper. In the latest poll, that score dropped to 24.2 per cent.

When asked which leader they trust, 31.7 per cent said Harper in February compared to just 20 per cent in April.

And, in terms of who Canadians believe has the best vision for the country, the prime minister's numbers fell by 11 per cent.

"It's pretty clear that Stephen Harper's brand has taken a hit in the last month on all of these measures. This is a new low for him over the last four years," pollster Nik Nanos told the Globe and Mail.

"I think this has to be of big concern for the Conservatives because a big part of their brand has been built around Stephen Harper."