Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Conservative Crest

While I’m loath to admit it, even in the face of adroit hustings maneuvering, the Conservative party is running a near flawless campaign. And yet, I must vouch my Liberal allegiances before they are metaphysically revoked. So here goes. Stephen Harper will never earn my trust (his eyes, particularly in those egregious excuses for political ads the Conservatives are running, betray an evil of the worst kind; or there’re just tragically misshapen – ed.) however, the Conservatives have been nothing less than spectacular. OK, I’m being a tad facetious. But altogether, they have been ably up to the task of deliver the goods day in and day out, offering fresh idea after fresh idea.

Apropos, yesterday’s announcement of a $500 tax-credit for families with children under 16 involved in sport and physical activity was just another example of their growing appeal. And to name it a Sports credit? Pure genius! Along with the proposed GST percentage point cut and the income tax shelter for seniors, among others, the Conservatives have not only charmed the message much like a snake charmer but have also managed to stroke some psychological sweetspots that can’t but arouse interest among even the most liberal.

There have, no doubt, been a few hiccups, like Brian Pallister infelicitous gaffe regarding women and their inability to firmly answer questions. When asked to clarify his comments, which weren’t taken out of context primarily because they were delivered in front of a camera to an interviewer, he gave the predictably pat and therefore predictably flimsy response that is characteristically know as a mea culpa – he said he was taken out of context. But the story, your run-of-the-mill ‘Conservatives are out of touch with the mainstream of Canadian social values’, a story so quickly amplified by our ‘Liberal media’s’ journalistic aplomb, had no legs.

The Conservatives, it would appear, are getting a fairer shake this time around, if only because the country is in the throes of an insurgency of lethargy. People are simply tired of hearing anything the Liberals have to say. Anything! It’s the curse of being electorally successful for too long, the point at which returns begin to diminish. Aside from Paul Martin’s intention to ban handguns, which would be momentous if it weren’t so after-the-fact, the Liberal campaign has been a woefully tedious mess.

Communications Director Scott Reid’s fine contempt toward what families would spend their childcare dollars on under a Conservative plan -- beer and popcorn, as he sees it -- was met with the necessary opprobrium from all sides. And for all their public relations acumen, to counter Mr. Reid wry remarks the Liberal's took a descent into gay marriage demagoguery; a tired and unqualifiedly uninspired tactic. It was so incongruous to hear Mr. Martin fulminate about the threat the Conservatives posed to gay marriage. It was so 2000! Isn’t same-sex marriage already the law of the land?

Recent polls have been fairly static, The Liberals still manage to hold a seven to eight point lead over the Conservatives nationally, and in Ontario the Liberals are polling relatively well. But the trends seem to show a gradual warming towards the Conservative message in general, which has meant a virtual bottoming out of NDP support in Ontario. NDP support usually shifts to the Liberals strategically in an attempt to hedge Conservative gains. So now the question can’t help but reveal itself: Wither the Liberals?

* * *

A banishment to the political wilderness may be exactly what liberalism in Canada needs, in my opinion. I’m all for some type of political time-out to allow the Liberals to get their shit together. Or just get a breather at least. As a result of the dearth of ideas, an utter lack of principle, of direction, and, more prominently, of leadership, a programmatic and intellectual refashioning of liberal ideas is badly needed. And though I may be contradicting what I wrote in my last post, which was intended as pure political strategy, Stephen Harper is no more a leader than Paul Martin is. Paul Martin is a leader only because of his experience -- and by default.

A Conservative minority government wouldn’t necessarily be a horrible thing. The de facto Prime Minister Harper would be de jure powerless. In this scenario, the balance of seats in the house would be held by a generally centrist and social democratic rabble of MP’s. The Liberals will have an opportunity to go sit in the corner and think about of what they’ve done to the county.

Monday, December 05, 2005


The Canadian federal election is fully underway with hardly a step being missed by each political party, both in tone and message. Out of the gates first are the Conservatives, whose consistency and discipline has enabled them to frame the debate thus far.

Stephen Harper and his outfit have done an excellent job getting out message faster than the Liberals. For example, the proposed GST cut is undoubtedly a policy chestnut the Conservatives have been holding on to a for while now, and in the midst of the holiday shopping season functions more as a psychological boost than sound economic policy.

Jack Layton has stuck to the tried and true NDP hobbyhorses, health care, the environment, and education. But his electoral fortunes look to be much worse than if he continued to prop-up the minority Liberal government. Mr. Layton is no longer the most powerful man in Canada.

In the sponsorship scandal’s fallout, Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc are polling strong in Quebec, and no less a character than AndrĂ© Boisclair, the PQ's newly elected leader, makes the prospect of Separatist resurgence very real.

Paul Martin’s Liberals are doing what sitting governments mired in corruption allegations do, staying out of the headlines.

And it’s not exactly hurting them either. In a CPAC-SES poll conducted last night (Random Telephone Survey of1200 Canadians, MoE ± 2.9%, 19 times out of 20) the Liberals have 38% of decided voters’ support, a pick up of 4%, while the Conservatives have 29% of decided voters’ support, a drop off of 1%. This even despite last week’s strong campaigning by the Conservatives. Even more troubling for the Conservatives is the strong polling for Unsure, 20%, for Best PM, surpassing Stephen Harper’s 19%. And when it comes to trust, competence and vision on a Leadership index, it’s not even close: Martin is 30 points ahead of Harper, who seems to be losing ground.

This brings me to what Iwanted to say -- prefaced and couched as it is with the skeletal of bare journalistic requirements. Earlier this morning, Paul Martin gave what I think was a terse and piquant speech that should crystallize the Liberal message for the remainder of this election. His essential point was that leadership matters, or leaders matter – which ever way has more purchase. For all his otherwise charming deficits, Paul Martin projects the characteristics most closely associated with leadership better than Stephen Harper. One simple metric could be who wants the job more. Stephen Harper has always been a reluctant leader, quick to cut himself from party doyens. Paul Martin, on the other hand, has wanted this job since lord knows when. Another metric is international visibility, which Martin wins hands down – this isn’t a fair match for Harper.

So if the Liberals want to do well, I believe, they have to change the scope of their message. Healthcare is a dead metaphor, literally. There is a fatigue and growing malaise anytime the subject to brought up. It’s neither comprehensible as a general election question -- it’s too over wrought -- or palatable for reasonable dialogue. It is the stuff of antiseptic bromides and ridiculous tautologies. (“Fix HealthCare for a Generation”) Leaders, in light of our particular historical situation, matter. When international tumult threatens to damage the already threadbare international order [fill in obligatory analogy] who we elect reflects what we believe. Our Prime Minster must not only lead Canada, but represent Canada to the world. Now here there are obvious undertones of Bush and America’s perception throughout the world. (This tact must be navigated adroitly and great expense must be taken not to directly critique Bush – oblique criticism is permitted) Martin and the Liberals win this way. Liberal Message needs to raise the altitude coming into January.

I felt very strongly about getting this idea to the Liberal party, so much so that I called the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) which is a listed number on the Government of Canada’s website, and asked to speak to David Herle, a Liberal campaign strategist. To my amazement I was put through, or at least I assumed I was. His assistant informed me that he was on the other call and would get back to me when he was free. I was slack-jawed, although still very skeptical. Not to appear of bad repute, even though in their eyes I most certainly am, I left my real name and real number.

It turns out that my call may have been transferred to the PCO (Privy Council Office) which ‘provides public service support to the Prime Minister’, and security no doubt. Why do I think this? Well, it turns out that a recent visitor to my site works at the Privy Council Office and was likely checking the nature and content of my blog; this hardly bothers me – I welcome all eyes.

They justifiably assumed that something was amiss. A man calling the PMO and asking for a Liberal strategist? As if that’s possible. That I could call and be transferred to the Liberal War should be a testament to the accessibility of our country’s political machinery. But that’s too much to ask, and a service no political party should even entertain. Yet, there is something to be said about taking to pulse of the common man. To the PMO and PCO, no harm was intended. To David Herle, give me a call sometime, I have some good ideas.