Winning the Canadian Fall Election that Won't Happen: Liberal and Conservative Dos and Don'ts
August 3, 2008 by Paul McKeever
I do not believe it likely that there will be a federal election in Canada this fall. Look for it to happen in October of 2009, at the scheduled end of the Conservatives’ term (federal elections are to happen every 4 years after that, except where Parliament is dissolved prior). That said, seeing at least one proposal that the Conservatives take advantage of a recent beheading incident and make the death penalty an election plank has me shaking my head and offering up this free advice.
To begin with: if the Conservatives were to campaign on the death penalty, the first heads to roll would be their own. Never confuse what politicos (especially conservative ones) find attractive with what the average voter finds attractive. I will say no more on that score. On to things that should be – but apparently are not – equally obvious.
The only time change is a good campaign message is when (a) the party in power is horribly unpopular, (b) the majority of people believe that the government should be replaced, and (c) the party leader who is proposing change is more popular than the leader of the governing party. “Choose Change” (a multi-volume set of policy proposals) worked for Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario provincial Liberal party in 2003 because the general consensus of almost all columnists and less influential people at the time was that the governing Progressive Conservatives had lost their way on policy and their party leader – Premier Ernie Eves – clearly was in over his head (unbeknowst to most, Freedom Party of Ontario triggered the election that year with the mass distribution, through the National Post, of this piece: although not the traditional day for the calling of an election, and although none of the customary media releases had been put out by the Premier’s office to announce the holding of a press conference, Eves held an emergency press conference on about 45 minutes notice at which he announced the dropping of the election writ…in the morning, within a few hours after 103,000 readers received Freedom Party’s insert…see page two, which is comprised entirely of quotations from columnists…the effect was that the election, and not Freedom Party’s flyer and King-and-Bay downtown event, made the news the following day). The “Change” theme is working for Obama because people are largely unhappy with the governing Republicans. However, right now, Canada’s federal Conservatives are the most popular federal party in the country. Until facts change, “change” is not a theme that is likely to have much traction for Canadian federal election this fall.
In that light, consider that federal Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion has screwed up big time, so far. Right now, the average voter wants to know what each political party won’t do much more than what it will do. Here we are in what feels like a threatened economy, with jobs leeching off to India and China; a time of turbulent change; and what is Dion doing? Promising changes not of who governs, but of policy…not only policy change, but new taxes! It’s suicidal.
The correct message for the Liberals, at present, would be that the governing conservatives are like the George Bush conservatives. They must make a change of parties palatable by damaging the Conservatives. If successful, the appetite for change may arise and allow the Liberals to argue that, like the Republicans, the Conservatives must be replaced with a new, friendly face of “hope”; someone who will restore things to the relatively peaceful way they seemed to be before 9/11 (somehow: exactly how is a matter to be left until after the election) . In short, if at all possible (and I’m not saying it is), Dion has to Republicanize the Conservatives and then play the Obama role and piggy-back on Obamamania. It’s a lie, but it would nonetheless spread like wildfire among Canada’s political columnists.
Let’s turn, next, to the federal Conservatives. If the Conservatives promise to “crack down” on this or that, few will believe them, and fewer still will vote on that basis. If they promise to revisit abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, Sunday shopping, the design of the flag, parliamentary/senate reform, etc., they will be easily written off as fringy kooks and will lose swing votes to the Liberals. If they promise goodies (tax credits, grants, etc.) at taxpayer expense, fiscally responsible people will stay home rather than vote, and such promises will not get them any significant share of remaining voters: a net loss in votes.
The right approach for the Conservatives, on the basis of the facts as they currently stand is: doing more of what Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper did this past week. They should tell people that changes are not coming to things like taxes. They should dedicate a considerable percentage/component of their election message to the idea that “if you vote Liberal, you’re going to suffer a world of hurt and a bewildering storm of changes under Dion’s radical green tax and spend agenda”: if it is done well, they will gain seats.
This election, if played to win by the Conservatives, is one in which the Conservatives establish themselves as the calm, even-handed, party that has come of age at a time when other parties have lost their stature, their prudence, their judgment, their sense of purpose, their competence, their professionalism…and their loyalty to Canadians (as opposed to “the globe”)…to all Canadians, in a big, safe, and united family of Canadian provinces.
Advocating policies for a freer society? That task will be left to Freedom Party, as usual (click on image below to read Freedom Party of Canada’s 2008 election platform, which was released just before the election of 2004…a few planks were lifted by the Conservatives in that election, perhaps owing to the fact that, being a newly-minted party, the Conservatives had no election platform that year).
Freedom Party of Canada’s
2008 Election Platform