Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Liberals ran a Terrible Campaign

Soon after Quebec went crazy for Jack Layton, the Liberals fell apart. Suburban Liberal voters in the 905 moved to the Conservatives to block the NDP's rise and urban Liberal voters in 416 moved to the NDP. The Liberal party in Ontario was ripped in two. To make matters worse more and more Liberal voters on the Island of Montreal moved to the NDP as Liberal numbers in Ontario dropped.

It is hard to imagine the Liberals ever recovering from such destruction. The Liberal party has suffered major defeats before. However, 1958 and 1984 came after long periods of the Liberals being in power and never before has Liberal support been at less than 5% or below in a 3rd of the seats. West of Ontario the Liberals are no stronger than the Green party in the vast majority of the ridings. They are bit party. The situation is much the same in most of Quebec. Only in Maritimes and Ontario do the Liberals have anything to build upon. That said, what is true of the rest of Canada looks like it will soon be true for large parts of Ontario.

If the Liberals decide to solider on, they need to be frank with themselves. The Liberals and pundits often said that the Liberals ran a good campaign. This is laughable. They ran a terrible campaign. For starters there was no evidence whatsoever that the causa belli the Liberals gave for bringing down the government, viz., Harper's contempt for democracy, would be bought by the public. The public is hopelessly ignorant of parliamentary minutia and always will be. Try to explain to them the ins and outs of the In and Out scandal or Karios and their eyes will glaze over. Such issues are of interest to only a tiny fraction of the public. Still Ignatieff raised the issue to the campaign's dying days. In this sense, Ignatieff was worse than Dion. At least Liberals had the good sense to move past the Green Shift in later half of the 2008 campaign. The only hope of getting any payoff from such a strategy was to introduce substantive democratic reforms. However, what the Liberals gave us was gimmicky and fluff. Finally, and to add insult to injury, the NDP used a completely insubstantial talk about voting attendance to turn the issue of respect for democracy against the Liberals.

Equally inexplicable was the Liberals inability to deal with the Conservatives coalition talking point. Apparently two years is not enough time for Harvard professors to come up with a strategy for shutting down such talk. Ignatieff's mealy mouth response to Peter Mansbridge sealed the Liberals fate.

At the very minimum the Liberals needed to challenge Harper's attempt to cast himself as captain Canada. This should have been a relatively easy task. Harper once wrote a paper called "Separation, Alberta-style: It is time to seek a new relationship with Canada", said that whether Quebec separates is of "secondary" importance to him and was serial Canada basher. To wit:

1)"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"

2)"Any country with Canada’s insecure smugness and resentment can be dangerous"

3) "Whether Canada ends up as o­ne national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion"

4)"Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term, and very proud of it"

5) "After sober reflection, Albertans should decide that it is time to seek a new relationship with Canada."

6) "Having hit a wall, the next logical step is not to bang our heads against it. It is to take the bricks and begin building another home – a stronger and much more autonomous Alberta. It is time to look at Quebec and to learn. What Albertans should take from this example is to become “maitres chez nous."

However, instead of portraying Harper as an Alberta Separatist and continually referring to the above as evidence, they did what they always did, viz., sprayed old quotes around aimlessly hoping something would stick.

At least with health care ad, the Liberals categorized the quotes, but the lack of an over arching narrative and attributing to Harper something he did not say neutralized the effectiveness of such ads. The Liberals needed to drive home the fact that Harper headed up an organization "obsessed" with destroying public health care for three years and was VP for two more. So ill conceived was the Liberal health care messaging that the party decided to have Paul Martin of all people talk up the difference between the Liberals and Conservatives on the issue. People remember Paul Martin for the cuts he made to health care in 1990s and not for what he did in 2004. As with the democracy issue, the NDP took a Liberal point of attack and used it against them. All indications point to the NDP owning the health care issue.

The one thing the Liberals did do well in terms of messaging was to contrast themselves with Conservatives in terms of priorities. However, it is hard to believe that the Liberals had any much credibility with the public. Indeed, while the public may not have been aware the Liberals supported the Conservative tough on crime initiatives that necessitated building "mega prisons" or that the Liberals acknowledged the need for new jets, 10 plus years of Liberal support for corporate tax cuts was easy pickings for Jack Layton.

Finally, I have been saying for 5 years now that the Liberals needed to do two things. One, the needed to neutralize the Conservative's crime advantage by turning the public's attention away from sentencing issues to the legitimacy of various laws (e.g. legalizing marijuana). Two, the Liberals only hope of winning an election was make a break through in Quebec and the only way making a breakthrough in Quebec was to pursue a socially liberal agenda, e.g., euthanasia. Instead, Ignateiff abandoned social issues altogether and trotted out a hopelessly safe platform which afforded the Liberals no hope of a breakout. Ignatieff was going to make it on personality alone.


Anonymous said...

It runs a lot deeper than that;Much deeper.

It was not just a bad campaign (frankly, the campaign wasn't that bad anyways).

1) The Libs must take some responsibility for the healthcare mess. The threat of pulling funding from one province for suggesting private healthcare while ignoring it in another (Martin) was particularly repugnant.

2) Quit with the "U.S./Republican style" analogies. It is lame.There is some anti-Americanism within the Lib party. I don't think it is hatred but it might be envy.It must stop.

3) ADSCAM was not just a major scandal. You cannot sweep it under the rug. The G8/20 fiasco was a scandal for sure but it is not in the same league.

4) Don't pretend that only Libs can defend women. Women are smart,independant and free.I find that they can look after themselves. It is not 1940 anymore.The Libs are incredibly patronizing. Their policy of having 1/3 female candidates,in the Dion election, meant that women were overflowing in ridings the Libs could not win (eg. Alberta).

5) Don't equate Lib values to Canadian values. They are no more "Canadian" than any other party.

6) Take responsibility for failed policies.Eg. universal daycare/ childcare was proposed in 1993.11 yrs. later and all of it with a majority gov't, it was not in place.

There is more but I am getting a headache.

Anonymous said...

The campaign wasn't completely horrible. The stump was good the itinery appropriate... the messaging however was off. I think Stephan Harper is a horrible Prime Minister (the sole solice I find this morning is that the folk who support the Tories will no longer be able to just blame the opposition for all the mistakes the Harper Party make while assigning none of the credit for the good) but I'll give him this... he was able to stay focused and on message. The Liberal campaign just wandered from topic to topic and never seemed to connect any of them to voters on a personal level. At anyrate I want the next leader of the Liberal Party to be a superlative communicater. The Liberals have good idea's but good idea's are worthless if you can't sell people on them.

It's a long road back from here (at least 6 years I reckon). Let's do the leadership race and let the person we pick grow into the job over two or three election cycles. Harper didn't win the job his first time out let's let the next leader have a couple kicks at the can.