Thursday, March 31, 2011

Did the Tories trigger Coalition attack too soon?

Beware the reckless Coalition!

That’s been the Conservative Party of Canada’s main message from the onset of this election.

The Conservatives believe raising the specter of a possible Liberal-NDP-Bloc Quebecois coalition forming the next government will translate into voters opting for a “stable” Conservative majority.

In other words, the Conservatives are pinning their hopes on fear.

It’s not a bad strategy. Fear works in politics.

But, in my view, the Conservatives played the “Coalition fear card” too aggressively and too soon for maximum effectiveness.

Indeed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was blasting the Coalition even before the writ was dropped.

On the day the House of Commons was dissolved the Conservatives sent out a news release with the headline: “Only Stephen Harper Can Deliver The Stable National Government That Canada Needs To Complete The Economic Recovery and Keep Taxes Low.” The subtitle read: “The alternative is Ignatieff’s reckless Coalition backed by the Bloc Québécois.”

In the short term, of course, this worked like a charm.

The media, which is always more interested with the “politics of politics” than with boring policy issues, eagerly latched onto the Conservative’s Coalition spin and played it up.

Thus in the opening days of the campaign, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was peppered with media questions about whether or not he would form a Coalition.

Fortunately, for the Conservatives, Ignatieff’s initial response was poor. Rather than just dismissing Harper’s Coalition stratagem as a “phony issue” designed to distract voters from the “real issues”, he opted instead to deny, deny, deny.

Going on the defensive like that is never a good idea. Consider Richard Nixon’s famous, “I am not a crook” defence.

As they say in the communications business, “when you’re denying, you’re dying.”

Plus Ignatieff’s denials about forming a Coalition were couched in terms that were just vague enough to leave room for interpretation.

More importantly nobody believed him anyway.

All this, no doubt, did make Canadians wary and fearful for a lot of reasons.

 Coalition governments are not the norm in this country. Many Canadians would be uneasy about the socialist NDP having a say in running the economy. Most of all, Canadians would instinctively reject the idea of a federal government propped up by the separatist Bloc.

However, the important question is this: can the Conservatives sustain the fear of a Coalition government over a six week period?

That’s a long time in politics.

Certainly, it’s enough time for Canadians to get used to the idea of a Coalition.  It’s also enough time for voters to get bored with the Conservative’s “reckless Coalition” refrain or possibly to generate a backlash.

More importantly, it’s enough time for the Liberals to figure out a way to change the channel and to go on the attack.

That’s why it would have been better for the Conservatives had they waited until say a week before Election Day to hammer away at the “Be very afraid of the Coalition” theme.

They could have blitzed the TV airwaves with ads saying things like, “Do you want Jack Layton as Canada’s next Minister of Finance?” or “Michael Ignatieff wants the Bloc Quebecois to run Canada!”

That would have certainly stirred things up and perhaps driven undecided voters into the Tory camp.

The point is holding off your most lethal attack to the last minute works because most casual voters only start paying attention to the campaigns in the last few days before they vote.

Plus by holding off, you don’t give the opposition enough time to formulate a counter-attack.

None of this is to say the Conservatives current strategy won’t work.

But it would have worked better had they held their fire a little bit longer.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Green Rant

An argument is raging over whether or not Green Party leader Elizabeth May should be included in the leaders’ TV debates.

This, of course, is the same argument we had during the last election.

Here's my take.

Seems to me the TV stations should have the right to determine who is and who isn’t included in the debates. If the Green Party and their supporters don't like being excluded let them form their own TV network.

That’s point one.

Point two is you have to draw the line somewhere, and I believe these debates should be reserved only for the leaders of actual bona fide parties.

And to my mind, the Green Party is not a real party.

It’s just the creation of a fawning media.

For years, the media, who love the trendy idea of an environmental party, have given May a free ride.

She’s their darling, an unconventional politician who does politics differently.

Good media coverage then translates into good polling numbers.

And by the way, one other big reason the Green Party gets good polling numbers is because pollsters have been bullied into naming them as an option.

How many times do you see the Libertarian Party or the Communist Party or the Christian Heritage Party listed on a polling survey?

They are just listed under the “Other” category.

Yet, the Green Party is right up there with the Conservatives and Liberals.

And another reason the Green Party polls well is that a lot of Canadians simply like the idea of helping the environment. If you had a Health Care Party or a Let’s lower Taxes Party on a polling survey I bet they would get more than 5 percent support too.

Yet, when it came time to actually vote most Canadians still would rather support a traditional party.

That’s why the Green Party never does as well on election night as its polling numbers indicates it should, much to the surprise of its media cheerleaders.

Indeed, the Green Party has never elected a single MP to the House of Commons, this despite getting May in the leader’s debates and despite all the positive media coverage.

No, the Greens are not a real party.

They are just a travelling road show for Elizabeth May, who figures the best way to save the environment is to run and lose in a different federal riding each election.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Coalition Cabinet?

Since the possibility of a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Coalition government isn’t getting nearly enough media attention, I thought I would add my two cents.

More specifically, I was wondering what a Coalition Government cabinet might look like, hypothetically speaking, of course.

We all know Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has promised not to ever, ever, ever form a Coalition, unless he does.

Anyway, here’s my prediction of a possible Coalition cabinet:

Michael Ignatieff - Prime Minister (or as it the office will henceforth be known “Czar of all the Russias”)

Jack Layton – Minister in Charge of Tax and Spend

Gilles Duceppe – Minister Responsible for Transferring Alberta Wealth to Quebec

Elizabeth May – Minister of De-Industrialization (Will also be responsible for turning off the lights when debate in the House of Commons is over.)

Justin Trudeau: Minister in Charge of Multicultural Barbarism

Thomas Mulcair – Minister of Undermining Jack Layton

Bob Rae - Minister of Making Socialism Work This Time

Ken Dryden – Minister for Boring Speeches

Hey, I just thought of something. Given this potential all-star cabinet line up, I wonder why the Liberals don’t want to talk about a possible Coalition?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Media Alert

I am scheduled to appear on CTV Newsnet's Power Play tonight at 8:25 PM ET to discuss election strategy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Media Alert 2

I am scheduled to be a guest on Weekend Chat Room (CFRA Radio Ottawa) at 7:35 PM ET to talk election.

Media Alert

Am scheduled to be a guest on The Arlene Bynon Show (AM 640) today at 2:10 PM ET to talk Election stuff.

Coalition questions

As we all know by now a key element in the Conservative Party election strategy will be to use every opportunity to brand Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff with the "C" word -- Coalition.

On the face of it, this is a pretty good plan.

One of the most powerful emotions in politics, after all, is fear. The Liberals played this card against the Conservatives in previous elections with their "Harper has a scary hidden agenda" tactic.

Now the Tories are turning the tables and trying to whip up fears that if there is another minority government the Liberals, NDP and Bloc will from an unholy "socialist-separatist" alliance just as they did in late 2008.

But while this certainly makes sense, I still have a few questions:

1. How many Canadians today still fear or even remember the 2008 "Coalition"? It would be an interesting poll question to ask voters "What is the Coalition"?

2. In 2008 the Coalition was most hated in Western Canada where the Conservatives are already strong. It was most popular in Quebec where the Conservatives want to make gains. Does this mean ranting against the Coalition could be a net political disadvantage for the Conservatives?

3. Will it be enough of an issue to have any punch by the time Election Day arrives?

Anyway, this is what the Tories will run on so they must have the answers.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Media Alert 3

I am scheduled to be a guest on The World Tonight with Rob Breakenridge at 11:00 PM ET to talk election.

Media Alert 2

Am scheduled to be a guest on Friendly Fire with Ryan Dolye, (Newstalk 1010) to discuss politics tonight between 7-8 PM ET.

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be a guest on the Afternoon Show with Richard Brown (CJME Regina) today at 5:00 PM ET to discuss election fever!

Gloating Alert

Wow, looks like a spring election will be called today.

Who could have predicted such a thing!

Oh yeah, I could and did --- three months ago. See here and here.

Now you know why I am one of Canada's Top Five Political Minds.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why did the Opposition do it?

The big question of the day  has to be: Is the Opposition crazy?

I mean, it makes total sense for the Conservatives to want an election this spring. The polls look good, the country is in no mood to change governments,  the Liberals are weak. It all adds up to a Tory majority.

But why are the NDP and Liberals so eager to pull the plug? Yes, they look and sound confident, but General Custer probably looked and sounded confident before he took on Sitting Bull.

The answer, I think is the Opposition parties are victims of their own over-heated partisan rhetoric. For two years, they have been telling Canadians the Harper government was pushing a reckless "right wing agenda", that it was trampling our democratic institutions, that it was ethically challenged, etc.

In the process, they revved up their base, made them eager to take down the big bad Tories.

In other words, they painted themselves into a corner with their own words. Had NDP leader Jack Layton or Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff failed to oppose the budget after all their tough talk, they would have come across as wimps, undermined their credibility and angered their own supporters.

The Harper Tories understood this and manipulated the situation to their advantage. (Make no mistake, the Conservatives wanted the Opposition to oppose their budget.)

One other mystery is why did Layton show his cards on budget day? Why didn't he drag out the drama for a day or two just to ensure himself more publicity?

After all, once he declared he would oppose the budget, he went, in just a few minutes, from being the "most important man in Canada" to just the leader of a fourth place party.

The answer is probably internal politics. I suspect Layton's MPs were split between election doves and hawks. Perhaps Layton worried his party's unity might crack under the intense media scrutiny that would result with his playing coy.

By declaring he would oppose the budget, Layton, in effect, burned his bridges. His MPs would show unity whether they liked it or not.

Not that it matters now.

All that matters now is we are very likely heading into a federal election.

Should be fun.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be a guest on the Murray Langdon Show (CFAX radio Victoria) today at 1:35 PM ET.

Topics: The crazy week ahead.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Media Alert

Am scheduled to be a guest on the Arlene Bynon Show (640 AM Toronto) today  at 1:10 PM ET to talk about Liberal ads and Working Families.

Reviewing the Liberal ads

In yet another sign a federal election might be near the Liberals have released a couple of new TV spots -- one sort of negative, the other positive.

Here's the attack ad.

This is a good ad from a stylistic and technical viewpoint. Great visuals, ominous music, clear concise message. I especially like the part at the end when the words "deceit", "abuse" and "contempt" are stamped on the screen in big red letters. You could watch this ad with the sound turned off and still get the message, which is the mark of a good TV spot. But it has one big problem -- the content. The ad focuses on a series of "mini-scandals"  which, as I have noted before, won't resonate with the public. Political messages which scream "they are a bunch of crooks" just don't work all that well. So this ad likely won't  have much impact with the casual voter. On the other hand, simply by releasing an aggressive ad the Liberals are sending out the message that they are willing to duke it out with the Tories, countering Conservative attack ads with their own attack ads. This will at least help mobilize and energize a demoralized Liberal base, which is not a small thing.

Score 7 out of 10.

Here's the positive spot.

One word: boring!

This is the kind of spot you dream up when you don't have any ideas for an ad.  Here's what probably happened in  Liberal HQ:

Consultant 1: Well, we have no issues. We are down in the polls. Nothing is sticking to the Tories.What do we do?

Consultant 2: I have it! Let's have the leader mumble some Liberal talking points while speaking directly to the camera?

Consultant 1: Brilliant! We can whip that up in two minutes. Now who wants to order lunch?

Well, I think the Liberals should have worked at little harder. First off, Michael Ignatieff doesn't exactly exude charisma on the screen, so why they have an ad with just him talking is beyond me.

At least throw some visuals in the spot. Have him in a classroom, a senior centre, or have some words appear on the screen. Anything to break the tedium.

Also, the content is really weak. Seems to me what Canadians really care about is the economy. The stuff Ignatieff rattles on about is likely lower on the national priority list. (Although I did like the crack about the G 20 "lake") Not that it matters since most viewers will likely tune this dud out.

Score: 4 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be a guest on the show Square Off -- CHCH TV -- to debate a New Democrat on the question of using forced dues for politics.

That's today at 5:30 ET.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Union bosses bashing democracy in Ontario

Working Families is a front group for big union bosses.

Nothing wrong with that.

It emerges every provincial election in Ontario with the sole purpose of running  attack ads designed to undermine the Progressive Conservatives.

Nothing wrong with that.

To finance their ad campaigns they use forced union dues squeezed out of the pockets of unionized employees.

And there's a lot wrong with that!

It's wrong for union bosses to essentially compel unionized employees to finance a political campaign whether they like it or not.

This practice is clearly undemocratic. It's also an infringement on free expression and free association. Just as we have the right to associate with any group, we should also have the right not to associate.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.

In the case of Working Families, there are likely many unionized employees in Ontario who would vehemently disagree with a political campaign attacking the PCs, but who nevertheless are being forced to support such an effort.

And it's all legal under Ontario's labour laws.

This must change. We need to reform labour laws in Ontario to restore a vital democratic freedom to unionized employees.

No one should be forced to subsidize the pet political causes of union bosses.

If the unions want to mount a political campaign, let them use money raised voluntarily.

That's how democracies are supposed to operate.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Campaign Finance Laws

Here's a letter to the editor I sent to the Globe and Mail in response to this editorial:

Dear Sir/Madam:
Your recent editorial on Canada’s election finance laws failed to mention their most obvious drawbacks.

These are the laws which impose artificial limits on how much money Canadians can donate to political parties and how much those political parties can spend during elections.

As such they infringe on free political expression; they confer an unfair advantage to incumbents and hurt smaller political parties; they almost guarantee candidates for a party’s leadership will face mountains of personal debt; and apparently they force political parties into undertaking questionable accounting practices.

In short, they undermine Canadian democracy.

That’s why instead of being revised, these campaign finance laws should be scrapped.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be a guest on the Michael Harris Show today at 1:45 PM ET. Topics: Politics.

Cynical reality check

The Opposition parties, along with their media allies, are salivating over the idea of fighting the next federal election on government ethics.

They are making a big mistake. It won't work.

And yes, I know over the past few weeks the Tories have suffered a series of embarrassing black eyes: the Oda affair; the Jason Kenney "letterhead" fiasco; the Harper government "branding" nonsense and the Speaker of the House ruling the government in contempt.

Obviously this is all bad PR for the Harper Tories.

But in the real world of politics none of these issues is serious enough to inflict a mortal wound.

The reality is while the media and political partisans might care about this stuff, for the casual voter, who really isn't paying attention, it's just so much white noise.

That's not to say the casual voter is disinterested in politics. Far from it. But they have different priorities than Ottawa watchers.

The casual voter cares more about the price of gasoline than about Bev Oda; more about protecting his or her job than about political dirty tricks; more about their standard of living than about rulings by the Speaker.

That's why if the Liberals and NDP make "government ethics" the main message of their campaigns, it won't resonate with Canadians.

People just won't care. They want a strong leader who will protect their quality of life.

Indeed, if given a choice voters will always choose a shady but competent politician over an honest but incompetent one.

Think Nixon over McGovern, Clinton over Dole, Chretien over Day.

This all may sound cynical, but it's just how the political world works.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Political movies

With a spring federal election in the offing, I would like to suggest some recent movies to help get us in the mood.

The Walking Dead:
A fascinating documentary on the election chances of the Ignatieff Liberals

The King’s Speech:
A behind the scenes look at the difficulties facing our King – aka Prime Minster Stephen Harper

Examines the reasons why anyone would ever vote for the NDP.

I Am Number Four:
The Gilles Duceppe story

Friday, March 04, 2011

Does Elections Canada have it in for the Tories?

I am not usually one for conspiracy theories, but when it comes to Elections Canada I make an exception.

Check out my Ottawa Citizen column on the current legal battle between the bureaucrats and the government.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be a guest today on the Michael Harris Show, (CFRA Ottawa) at 1:45 PM ET, to discuss current events.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Why the "In and out" scandal won't stick

Lots of buzz about the so-called "In and out" scandal.

Elections Canada has charged the Conservative Party with some sort of convoluted accounting shenanigans.

Seems like a big issue. But is it? Will it hurt the Tories in the next election?

Nope and here's why.

To really work politically, a scandal must have two characteristics: a) It must be something that somehow harms average voters and b) it must be easy to understand and explain.

The "In and out" business fails on both counts.

First off, who cares if the Conservatives were monkeying around with the books and breaking some obscure Elections Canada regulation?

The way the average casual voter sees it most politicians are crooks anyway. So the "in and out" stuff won't really shock or anger. Just the usual "politicians being politicians" nonsense.

More importantly this scandal is just too complicated to easily explain. Something about the Conservatives shifting $1.3-million in ad expenses from its national campaign for the 2006 election to 67 individual candidates, who paid for the nationally produced ads through bank transfers .... sorry, dozed off there for a second.

The point is you need to be a CMA to follow all the money trails laid out in this story.

Not the  kind of thing you can exploit in a 30 second TV spot.

Contrast all this to the Adscam scandal. Now that was a scandal you could write home about.

It featured politicians taking our hard earned money and giving it to their fat cat buddies in the ad business.

You see how I explained it in just a few words. You see how it gets you angry?

So if the Liberals and NDP think this Elections Canada scandal is a winner they need to go back to politics school.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Media Alert

I am scheduled to be a guest on the Arlene Bynon Show (640 AM Radio in Toronto)today at 1:10 PM ET to discuss the latest spate of political ads.