Sunday, April 16, 2006

Liberals must Court Controversy

The timing of the 2004 election call was all wrong for the Liberals. I told this to a Liberal MP during the 2004 election. He agreed. I said that he should have called a late fall election to coincide with the US election. The Liberals could have more easily painted Bush and Harper as two peas in a pod. However, Martin never fully realized what a pariah Bush had become until well into 2005 and he was reluctant to go back on a promise to Canwest Global and CEOs everywhere to improve relations with the Bush administration (Incidentally, when CEOs call for improved relations with Bush what they are really calling for is for the road to further integration not be blocked by politics.) In typical fashion, Martin took that tact an election too late. By December 2005, Harper had realized that he had to distance himself from Bush if only on the surface. Harper managed to do this rather effortlessly. It did not matter a lick that Harper uses Republican talking points by the volume, has repeatedly bashed Canada in terms that would make Carolyn Parrish blush, ends his speeches with “God bless Canada”, supported the Iraq war, promised that SSM would wreck havoc on the country and what he has to say about government is more or less indistinguishable from Grover Norquist. Harper’s word that he was not a Republican want to be was good enough for docile, biased, gullible, ignorant and lazy political Canadian punditry.

The other reason why Martin was an election too late in his anti-Bush rhetoric was that Bush was a spent force politically in December 2005; he was less threatening as a result; he no longer represented the same ideological challenge and Canadians could not as easily define themselves as being anti Bush because America, Canada’s identity foil, no longer believed in him. Indeed, by the fall of 2005 it was clear to everyone that Bush administration had made some serious errors in Iraq and top officials, most notably Rumsfailed, are incompetent. After Katrina, the competence critique became received wisdom and not only with regards to Iraq but virtually all areas of governance. The red state blue state debate that many Canadians had lived vicariously through various US media outlets died down and after a while it just seemed that the media was piling on.

Yet another reason why the timing of the 2004 election was all wrong was that it was too close to the breaking of the sponsorship scandal. The more time that eclipsed the better for the Liberals.

Without Bush as foil, what is the Liberal Party to do? Set the media agenda. The Liberals might have been in power for the last 13 years, but it is conservatives have determined what the media has talked about for most of it. Not all this is the Liberals fault.

Tory Toadies Worthington, Yaffe, Michael Campbell, Frum, Harvey Enchin, Trevor Lautens, Don Martin, Charles Adler, Lorrie Goldstein, Paul Jackson, Ken Whyte, the list goes on and on, are all de facto agents of the Conservative party. These pundits figure that it is too much trouble to critically examine Conservative talking points when you can mindlessly repeat them as if they are some sort of Buddhist chant designed to clear the mind. Take Dingwallgate, for example. For a whole month various Tory Toadies across the land went off about Dingwall wild expenses. Assuming that most of them truly believed what they said, they had no excuse for not having done some basic fact checking and their lack of outrage at Conservative Pallister for magically transforming, for one, a 2 day conference for 24 a romantic dinner for two speaks volumes about their complete lack of regard for the most basic tenant of their profession, i.e., a respect for the truth. The fact that some of the pundits are now blaming only Chicken Little Martin for having fired Dingwall is a further affront to the reading public.

As a group, these Tory Torries are not, however, without a sense of humor. Virtually all insist they are courageously fighting a rear guard action against the “mainstream media”; in their mind the "MSM" love the Liberals and are dangerously anti-American. Needless to say, all of available evidene proves that anyone who believes this is either ignorant or retarded. Declan from Crawl accross the ocean sums up the findings of the 2006 McGill Media study and makes clear that things were no rosier for the Liberals in 2004.

"During the campaign there were 3,753 articles written about the election in the 7 newspapers studied (The Calgary Herald, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun, La Presse and Le Devoir)

Of those 3753, 3035 mentioned the Liberal party. Out of those 3035, there were 40 with positive mentions of the Liberal party and 445 with negative mentions of the Liberals, giving a 11 to 1 ratio of negative mentions to positive (slightly higher than last election's 10-1 ratio).

Meanwhile, for the Conservative Party, the figures were 2730 total articles, including 144 positive mentions and 127 negative mentions, for a slightly positive overall slant (the positive mentions were similar to last election, but the negatives were cut in half).

The NDP garnered 2% positive mentions and 3% negative mentions, while the Bloc received 2% positive coverage, 4% negative.

The numbers for the party leaders are quite similar with Martin getting 5 negative mentions for every positive one, while Harper received more favourable than unfavourable mentions."

Operating under this assumption, they give Conservative leader Stephen Harper free reign to deride Canada as some second class banana Republic whenever the urge strikes him, but screamed bloody murder when back bench Liberal MP blasted arguably the most hated man alive, viz., George Bush. Indeed, such unforgivable blasphemy was countered in a front page editorial (The Vancouver Sun) on at least one occasion. All of this has left a remarkably strange record in the annals of Canada’s press. References to former Liberal back bencher Parrish’s transgressions abound, but Conservative Leader, and current Prime Minster, Stephen Harper’s Canada bashing has only ever reached the light of day when the Liberals have leaked it to the media and is never touched by pundits working outside of Toronto. Type in "Damn American, I hate those bastards" (Parrish) in a Canwest archive and you get 324 hits. Type in "second-tier socialistic country" as in

Harper: "Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, led by a second-world strongman appropriately suited for the task.Albertans would be fatally ill-advised to view this situation as amusing or benign. Any country with Canada's insecure smugness and resentment can be dangerous."

You get 28 hits. Indeed, when such an unfortunate speech came to light last election, Canwest global did its best to both distance itself from the bad news, by implying that their reporters and pundits would never dream of actually finding out what Harper has said of their own accord, and to try to harm the Liberals at the same time, by printing the following from the Conservative war roomers at Canadian Press.

“OTTAWA (CP) _ An eight-year-old Stephen Harper speech dug up by Liberal researchers cracks a rare window into campaign war-room strategy, media manipulation and the ethical quicksand that sometimes underlies an election leak. This is a tale that reflects well on no one. In its simplest terms, the Liberals used a third party to put a buffer between them and a story that was unflattering to the Conservative leader. It began the day before the first
televised leaders' debates in Vancouver, with the Liberals scrambling to change the channel following the already infamous ``beer and popcorn'' gaffe by communications director Scott Reid and an unusual mid-campaign broadside from the U.S. ambassador to Canada.Alex Munter, a former Ottawa city councillor and
well-known gay rights activist, helped set the ball in play.”

Once one gets past the Tory Toady crowd, there is the Conservative ideologue crowd, Andrew Coyne being its most prominent member.

However, truth be told Paul Martin never met a Conservative issue he did not like. Whether it was addressing the “democratic deficit” or as mentioned previously promising better relations with the US, Martin was there. Indeed, it is debatable whether Martin or Harper liked to talk about the sponsorship scandal more. (It was obvious to all but Martin and the beer and popcorn crowd that calling the Gomery inquiry would a) prolong the amount of coverage the sponsorship scandal would receive, b) drive up support for separatism, and c) magnify the affects of scandal on party by airing the party’s dirty laundry in a public forum. The smart thing to do would have been to call an RCMP investigation. However, I have sneaking suspicion, and I am just speculating here, that Martin, confident in the belief that he was not involved, thought he could use the Gomery inquiry as a means of crushing the Chr├ętienites once and for all. If this was his motivation and he seriously thought that he could call such and inquiry and not fatally damaging his party’s reputation at the same time, he was hopelessly na├»ve. One can not wholly rebuild a ship while out at sea.

The only way the Liberals are going to set the agenda in this media climate is if they grow some balls and court controversy. One would think that a party rocked by scandal would have done so long along (e.g., Martin could have used the Terri Shivio debate late last March, just before the April bombshell, as a pretext for promising to introduce something that might actually find favor with Quebecers because it is well progressive, viz., a euthanasia bill.) After all, doing so would have been a good way of changing the subject. However, Martin had his eye on the ball the whole time; he did not wish to divert the public’s attention from the sponsorship scandal least they forget that it was he who called the Gomery Inquiry.

So, what issues are likely to grab the media’s attention and to be treated by them in judicious manner? I just mentioned one. Euthanasia is a so called hot button issue. Another issue is the liberalization of Canada’s marijuana laws. (In the wake of the Alberta shootings, the number of articles dedicated to the subject was fairly substantial. If legalization was ever seriously on the table, the amount of coverage this subject would garner would easily match the amount of attention SSM garnered and, given the weightier consequences, likely surpass it.) If things worsen there and public opinion is marshaling against the mission, Afghanistan is potentially another.

One reason the Liberals have avoided hot button issues in the past is that voters, as older people vote in disproportionately large numbers and young people vote in disproportionately small numbers, tend to be more conservative than the population on the whole. Older people tend to be bigger defenders of the status quo then younger people. On the surface not rocking the boat is the smart play.

However, politics is all about defining yourself and opponent(s) in terms that are favorable to oneself. SSM was not a winning issue in terms of the support it garnered amongst voters, but having the Conservatives defend a legally, morally and intellectually bankrupt position certainly helped the Liberals. Indeed, it was the only issue that Martin and crew really stuck it to the Conservatives.

Of the three mentioned above, there is one issue in particular that could turn into next election’s SSM issue and that is a promise to legalize marijuana. It not a particularly pressing issue and it is certainly not the most important, but then again neither was SSM. Tackling it would, however, put the Conservatives in the position of defending an intellectually bankrupt prohibitionist stance. It is also an issue that would garner a lot of international attention, particularly south of the boarder -- attention that would not be flattering to the Conservatives. Rock stars, sports stars, Hollywood, academics, high brow papers and magazines, such as the New Yorker and NY Times, would side with the Liberals; the Christian right, a Bush administration with no credibility and fox news would line up behind the Conservatives. The prospect of such a policy dealing a death blow to the US war on drugs would really stoke interest.

The bonus for the Liberals is support for such a policy is strongest in BC and Quebec, two provinces that they really need to make gains in.

1 comment:

Ottawa apartments said...

The question is, if Alex Munter is a Liberal working for Paul Martin, then why is he running against Liberal Mayor of Ottawa Chiarelli?