In the onset of their provincial election battle, the Ontario Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are both playing a dangerous game.
It all started with a Liberal trap.
But to understand the trap, you first need to understand the Grand Liberal Strategy.
And that strategy is pretty basic: Sinking in the polls, and burdened with an unpopular leader in Dalton McGuinty, the Liberals really had only one realistic option: go negative on PC leader Tim Hudak.
After all, if you can’t increase your poll numbers the next best thing is to drive down your opponent’s numbers.
But how should the Liberals attack? Hudak doesn’t have much baggage to readily exploit.
Well, the answer was to paint the PC leader as some sort of Tea Party-loving, scary, right-wing extremist.
And this is where the trap comes in.
In their recently released platform the Liberals announced they would give give a tax credit to skilled “new Canadians” to help them get work experience.
Whether or not this plan was a good one economically is beside the point; it really only had one purpose – to draw out a Tory attack.
In other words, the Liberals wanted the PCs to denounce this plan because it would perfectly fit the political narrative they were constructing: “You see,” the Liberals would exclaim, “The Tories are right-wing bigots! They are anti-immigrant. They are intolerant.”
And, for their part, the Tories eagerly took the bait.
The PCs, in fact, lost no time in denouncing what they called McGuinty’s plan to subsidize “foreign workers.”
So now with the trap sprung, the Liberals are in full attack mode, with McGuinty demanding Hudak apologize for using the politics of division.
Some in the media see this as a huge victory for the Liberals.
But is it?
Although the Liberal plan was a tactical success, it could ultimately end up a strategic failure.
The fact is the Tory complaint about “foreign” workers, although not politically correct, will likely resonate with many
Why is this?
Well to be blunt, xenophobia is what you might call a default mind set for human beings; instinctively we are suspicious and wary of outsiders.
That’s why one of the most powerful forces in politics is tribalism.
Voters will self-identify themselves as members of various groups and they don’t like it when politicians favour “Them” (outsiders) over “Us.”
And in this case, the way the PCs are defining it, they are standing up for “Us” (Ontarians/Canadians) and the Liberals are standing up for “Them.” (Foreigners)
That’s a vote getter.
But the Tories have to be careful. If they come across as too strident on this issue it could generate a media-fuelled backlash. (Nobody considers themselves to be in the “bigot” group.)
Like I said, both sides are playing a dangerous game.