Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Stephane Dion is not a hero. You know who is a hero? Hiro. From Heroes.

Unable to break into majority government territory, Stephen Harper's Conservatives have turned to the burning issue on everyone's mind this spring...yes...Senate Reform! An exciting series of new ads attack Dion for...zzzz.....sorry, I'm already sleepy just thinking about the topic.

That's right, apparently Liberal Senators are delaying Harper's Senate Reform Bill. Uh-oh. If this doesn't spur protests on the grounds of Parliament Hill, I don't know what will.

The best part of the ads is that their main focus seems to be to convince Canadians that Stephane Dion is not a hero. I mean, I like the guy, but I'd never consider Stephane Dion my hero. I doubt even Jason Cherniak considers Stephane Dion his hero. And, let's say for a second that Canadians from coast to coast do consider Stephane Dion their hero. I don't think his stance on Senate Reform is going to make anyone change their opinions. After watching 23 episodes of Heroes this year, never did I once see a hero who had the ability to speed legislation through the Senate. (although, it would make for a fun episode if John Baird wanted to do a guest spot next season)



Oh, and I'm not positive if saying your opponent is unfit to lead because he obstructs Senate business is necessarily wise one week after a handbook on how to obstruct parliament's business was leaked.


I'm just sayin'.

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37 Comments:

  • Just as with the first ad, it's called planting a seed of an idea with the electorate. In fact, in this case, it's two seeds:

    a) Stephane Dion is not a leader. The motto will be ingrained in people's brains, if it isn't already. It's become the new catch phrase, just like "hidden agenda" was with the Alliance.

    b) As a commenter suggested on my blog, this is a shot across the bow of the Senate. They've been threatening the Harper government for a while now. So, why not attach questions about Dion's leadership with an issue of electoral reform and change?

    And you might as well plant these seeds going into the summer, when any effort Dion is making at reforming his image will be completey negated with the ads, or at least that's the hope for Tories.

    c)This isn't a "seed", but I think something is going on with the Liberal Senate. The Tories would not have begun a campaign like this unless they knew the Senate would keep sitting on this bill. So, either Dion is telling them to sit on it (apologies to Happy Days fans), or they're telling Dion to go to hell, which I suspect has something to do with leadership politics.

    Basically, I don't think political brain trusts do things without a reason, and I certainly don't think Harper's brain trust doesn't do things without some good reason.

    By Blogger Dennis (Second Thoughts), at 8:32 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 8:48 PM  

  • Thanks Dennis, for the official Blogging Tory and Conservative spin on this pathetic attempt that even the media are calling "desperate".

    When are you switching your blog to the Blogging Tories by the way? From what I read of your blog, there's nothing "non-partisan" about your blog, and you'd feel much more at home there then in the Non-Partisan Alliance. You post nothing but anti-Dion and anti-Liberal stuff -- you're as partisan as they come.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 8:50 PM  

  • I dunno, Dennis. Sure, political braintrusts have reasons behind their actions, but that doesn't mean they're always properly thought-through. I'm kinda sick of the reflexive "but... but... Harper-and-Doug-Findlay-have-big-pulsing-brains" assumption that Tories (and, truth be told, a good many Libs) turn to whenever the PMO does something that seems, at least on the surface, to be mildly retarded. We should also consider the possibility that they are, in fact, doing something mildly retarded.

    The Tories put their pants on one leg at a time every morning. (Jason Kenney gets his mother to help him with his.) They can goof. And just as seeds of ideas can get planted with the electorate via repeated messages in negative ads, so can seeds of perceptions about the Tories by the very act of making the ad-buy itself.

    The last time the ads were run, they did work, to a point. Indeed, I'll side with the minority Kinsellian school of thought here in the blogosphere and say negative ads work *despite* a great many people claiming to see right through them... no matter how ham-handed they look, you can't help but have the message stick in your head. You can then use the prevalence of that idea out there in the public consciousness in the next steps of fleshing out your message, but those next steps need to be constructive or at the very least a little nuanced. Using an intentionally-simplistic negative ad to set up another intentionally-simplistic negative ad does jack squat.

    But this is exactly what they're doing here. They're repeating the same message as the last time. Nothing new is being conveyed in terms of the ad's content. In fact, the immediate impact on Joe Voter won't be "oh, Stephane Dion isn't a leader" but rather "oh, another one of these ads."

    Then cue the predictable various miles of newsprint and news stories about how the Tories are doing more negative ads and how negative ads are the worstest things ever, and you have to ask yourself if the net effect is reinforcing Canadians' belief that Stephane Dion is not a leader, or reinforcing Canadians' beliefs that these Tory guys really, really have a thing for negative ads.

    By Blogger Tom, at 9:06 PM  

  • I thought the "not a leader" ads they first ran out were a good strategy. And, to a certain extent they worked.

    So I think continuing on the "not a leader" theme is smart. Brand Dion. I get it.

    But these are just bad ads on a topic no one cares about.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:29 PM  

  • Some good thoughts, CG.

    Also, where is the outrage that the Dion quote from the ad about being the most influential opposition leader ever? Cherniak is having kittens about it.

    On the ad itself, I agree, it's pretty weak. Senate reform? I can understand the Harper gov't wanting to be the champions of democratic action, but the Senate is not the ticket.

    By Blogger reporterbrock, at 9:48 PM  

  • So, the Conservatives are attacking Dion for NOT whipping legislators into line? That seems a mite contradictory with their stated belief in freedom of action for individual members, notwithstanding that that was long ago revealed to be a total sham.

    By Blogger IslandLiberal, at 9:50 PM  

  • Re: Scott Tribe's comment

    You don't have to be a Blogging Tory to find fault with Dion and bash him once in a while. Dion is generally disliked by the general public and even in Liberal ranks. He's an easy target and anyone is free to take shots at him.

    By Blogger Werner Patels, at 9:56 PM  

  • Re CalgaryGrit's comment:

    I agree. The first time it was "funny" to see their Dion attack ads. By now, the novelty has worn off. It's overkill. People have already made up their minds about Dion: they either like him or they don't. Boring voters with eternal loops of "Dion is not a leader" is not the way to curry favour with voters.

    I mean, look at the Conservative Party's website: most of their press releases are titled "Dion not a leader", "Dion still not a leader", "Dion not a leader again", ..... -- how silly is that?

    And now, to top it all off, they come out with a separate website (notaleader.ca) as if they hadn't wasted enough time on this topic already. But I have to admit that Dion's dog Kyoto's blog is cute.

    By Blogger Werner Patels, at 10:00 PM  

  • did you see van loan and lebreton at a press conference on the senate reform? I can't believe they didnt invite our newest senator fortier to speak on senate reform. how rude.
    how bout someone creates a petition to hear fortier speak on the senate.

    By Blogger ktr, at 10:42 PM  

  • I'm not really sure what the context of Dion's quotes are so I'm not sure if they're being taken out of context.

    Either way, the opposition leader one isn't that bad. I mean...eek! Just look at the opposition leaders over the last dozen years. There haven't been a ton of effective ones.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:59 PM  

  • cg - Dion was making a joke about how Harper changed his tune on climate change after Dion won. I have not read Jason's blog, but I suspect that may be why he is angry. The ad, of course, implies Dion meant that comment to be taken seriously.

    As for the rest, it is a calculated risk. I do not think it is going to work, because even though the negative ads worked the first time around, that was also at a time when Harper looked relatively good. He is not looking good these days so the ads could come across as desperate, which they are. Kind of like how negative ads worked for the liberals in 2004, and backfired horribly in 2006.

    The website - it is just horrible, but I doubt there will be many visitors outside the BT, who will all think it is the greatest thing since, well, Stephen Harper so it probably will not have much impact one way or the other.

    Or at least that is what I think...

    By Blogger Gayle, at 12:42 AM  

  • I received a form letter from Martha Hall Findlay (Chair, Platform Outreach). It has a new logo I haven’t seen before. It says Richer Greener fairer (on a maple leaf). Will this be the election slogan?

    By Blogger JimTan, at 12:58 AM  

  • By the way, for those of you playing along at home with your home constitutional law kit, there is a pretty nasty misrepresentation at work here in this ad, which, granted, only stands to influence the 0.4% of the electorate that thinks of Senate reform as being a big issue.

    First of all, the Liberal senators haven't exactly been on the side of the angels on every issue over the past few weeks, but in the case of the senate terms bill there's been nothing approaching a filibuster or procedural skullduggery. It's been given a good solid going-over in committee with plenty of constitutional scholars giving evidence and so on. Total theory-of-government porn. CPAC at 1 am has never so riveting, at least at my house.

    And three clauses or not, constitutional reform takes time. Hell, unlike most of our little adventures down the senate reform road before, this one was borderline productive: the Liberal majority on the Senate committee studying the law in question had come to a quiet consensus which hasn't actually been given a heck of a lot of press... they've come down in favour of amending the bill to bump the 8-year term up to somewhere in the 12-15 year range, but then ensuring terms are non-renewable, so in other words perma-lameducking senators so as to maintain the chamber's independence. Dion's apparently on-side with this proposal, and I think it's the first time the Liberals have come out solidly behind a particular vision of how to change the Senate.

    The kicker to all this that the Harper government has been really disingenuous about is that moves to amend the Senate can very easily slide on a spectrum from being the sort of matter that can be approved by the federal Parliament alone, to matters that need Parliament plus 2/3rds of the provinces, to matters that need Parliament plus provincial unanimity. The distinctions are really, really fuzzy in terms of which amending formula needs to be used--it boils down in a prior opinion of the SCC as to whether there's a "fundamental" alteration of the Senate's "essential" character, or something to that effect, with no real specifics.

    All along Harper's line has been that its clear-cut and falls into the Parliament-only category. But recently Shawn Graham wrote them a little note saying it was the province of New Brunswick position that this did cross into the territory where the provinces needed to be consulted. And so the Liberals asked to hold up for another three weeks to get a straw poll from the lawyerly types in other provincial governments to see if they, too, felt their turf was being stepped on.

    That all certainly sounds academic, but the scary part is this scenario: the bill goes ahead as planned, you change the Senate using the federal Parliament alone, appoint new senators, and business continues as usual with both houses passing laws. Then, say, five years from now, somebody challenges the constitutionality of the laws passed, appeals to the SCC, and the SCC rules that this Senate amendment did in fact comprise a fundamental alteration of its character, that the provinces should have been asked to approve the changes before they were enacted, and, oh, the last five years of legislating are totally discredited on account of an institution modified using unconstitutional means. Then, we're really, really, really, screwed.

    Of course, you can't distill this post into an 30-second TV spot that would make any sense to Joe Citizen, so I guess it doesn't matter.

    By Blogger Tom, at 1:04 AM  

  • Thanks for the low down Tom...I'm glad someone's watcing the CPAC hearings to explain it all to the rest of us.

    As for the quotes, if they do come from Dion making a joke about Harper then that is really disengenuous. And I'm saying that as someone who adores negative ads. The Iggy "We didn't get it done" and the Dion "this is unfair" were fair game to use but this is certainly stretching the bounds of what's acceptable...

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:33 AM  

  • Scott Tribe: Thanks Dennis, for the official Blogging Tory and Conservative spin on this pathetic attempt that even the media are calling "desperate".

    "Even" the media are criticizing the Conservatives. Now that's funny.

    islandliberal: So, the Conservatives are attacking Dion for NOT whipping legislators into line? That seems a mite contradictory with their stated belief in freedom of action for individual members

    That only applies to elected members. Unelected hacks are another matter.

    By Blogger The Invisible Hand, at 2:30 AM  

  • invisible said

    "That only applies to elected members. Unelected hacks are another matter."

    Why?

    By Blogger JimTan, at 3:20 AM  

  • It is entirely possible (plausible, even) that these ads have gone out primarily to shore up the Tory base which has lately been publicly proclaiming that Harper's government has fast become "Liberal Lite". Nobody but westerners (primarily Albertans) gives a hoot about Senate reform, so a nasty little attack ad designed to placate the knuckle scrapers might give the appearance of listening to their base.

    Note to file: Hiro is a geek, geeks are taking over the world you know... also, the "Heroes" finale sucked monkey butt.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 5:12 AM  

  • exactly.. good post. They weren't thinking on this one... poorly made and out of touch with the common people.

    Seems like they're running out of ideas or they put a summer student in charge of this one... ah so that's where all the funding went...

    By Blogger Robert_S, at 7:33 AM  

  • They need to come up with something new.

    The fact that these ads are easily lampooned will actually get them more publicity!

    Next one: "Just a reminder from the Conservative party of Canada. We don't think highly of the leader of the opposition. Our own leader? No comment."

    One thing that's weird about our system is that, as leader of the Opposition, Dion has to oppose policies he wouldn't normally oppose. That's just what the Opposition does, regardless of who it is. They oppose.

    That makes him look like more of an indecisive flip-flopper than he actually is.

    Did you hear George W Bush wants to start taking action on Darfur? Now that he's in favour, I suppose that means Layton has to reverse policies and be against it.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:38 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 2:22 PM  

  • Werner, you have about as much credibility on the issue of Dion or who likes or dislikes him in Liberal rank, or even in the public as you do commenting on the Canadian blogosphere - and that's none.

    By Blogger Scott Tribe, at 2:23 PM  

  • Uh-oh... seems that the official Liberal website has a real problem with at least one of the official languages (I hope that is no reflection on who is leader right now!) tee, hee...


    # May 10, 2007 – Canada's offficial languages, funding for research and development, and the Conservative government's lack of accountability.

    the link is:

    http://www.liberal.ca/conversation_e.aspx

    By Blogger Andy, at 4:22 PM  

  • Careful...don't feed Ze Verners!!

    By Blogger Raymaker, at 4:53 PM  

  • Hey, Tom ... excellent run-down on the state of play re Bill S-4. You're so right, no sounds bites here! By the way, we got a second letter, this one from Saskatchewan, saying no way the Senate can be altered without their participation. And why not ... the provinces have a major stake in senate reform.

    Also, I don't think this issue is as hot as it once was in Alberta ... see my blog at www.albertasenator.ca/hullabaloos

    By Blogger Elaine, at 5:33 PM  

  • Scott, since I actually work for a living, unlike yourself, I do have more credibility than you. You choose to be on welfare (or whatever it is you do), but that really diminishes your credibility.

    By Blogger Werner Patels, at 10:49 PM  

  • "That only applies to elected members. Unelected hacks are another matter."

    Why?


    Elected MPs have a mandate from the people in their riding, and thus have legitimacy (depending on the circumstances) in claiming that they must go against the wishes of their party leader in order to fulfill their duty to their constituents.

    Unelected Senators, on the other hand, have no such legitimacy, since their owe their position entirely to the PM who appointed them. Therefore, they can't credibly claim to have a mandate to oppose their leader, and it's not a contradiction for a party (in this case, the Conservatives) to call for more freedom for elected MPs while also criticizing another party's leader for failing to make his unelected Senators fall in line.

    By Blogger The Invisible Hand, at 6:11 AM  

  • Dan, you're my hero.

    By Blogger Jason Cherniak, at 11:18 AM  

  • Invisible Hand:

    That is utter BS. And it runs entirely counter to the very purpose behind the senate.

    The senate was designed to give a "sober second thought" by, ostensibly, societies elder statements and thinkers of what the masses push through via their elected representatives. The senate therefore was designed to be a bit contrarian, not an echo chamber.

    That is also at the crux of the argument for reform: it is not effective in serving its intended purpose.

    Ironically, in proposing changes to try to fix a very poorly thought out and poorly drafted reform to try to make the ineffective senate more effective, they are doing their job appropriately and effectively.

    More on the many problems in this cheap political stunt of an attempt to make real reform here. Join the game: how many problems can you find with Bill S-4?

    By Blogger Cerberus, at 12:52 PM  

  • I agree with you about the lack of interested in Senate reform, but I'm a little surprised you didn't see through this ploy, CalGrit.

    The Senate stuff is meaningless babble. I doubt the Conservatives gave it a second thought. It's only there to provide a "policy" buttress for the repetition of this "not a leader" idea. It's about the visuals (Liberal red, so as to subtly confuse people about where the ads originate and to tie them with official Liberal ads) and about that voice actor (who was admittedly really good.)

    The problem, of course, is that they've already shot their wad on this one. There's nothing new here, and while attack ads do work, they can also get really, really tired.

    Besides, considering a summer election is really unlikely, any impact this ad will have had will have long dissipated by election time. It's wasted money.

    By Blogger Demosthenes, at 1:09 PM  

  • cerberus said

    "That is utter BS. And it runs entirely counter to the very purpose behind the senate."

    Got to agree with Cerberus.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 4:50 PM  

  • That is utter BS. And it runs entirely counter to the very purpose behind the senate.

    The senate was designed to give a "sober second thought" by, ostensibly, societies elder statements and thinkers of what the masses push through via their elected representatives. The senate therefore was designed to be a bit contrarian, not an echo chamber.


    And if the Senate had actually succeeded at that, you would have a point. Unfortunately, the Senate is currently nothing but an echo chamber for the leaders of the two major parties, and/or a giant make-work project for useless party hacks.

    (As a side note, I'm not sure whether Dion is such a weak leader that he actually has lost control of his Senate lapdogs, or whether he actually told his Senators to stonewall S-4 and is only publicly pretending to support it.)

    By Blogger The Invisible Hand, at 8:52 PM  

  • Attacking the Senate and the Liberals is a shrewd move by Harper to reinforce wavering small c conservatives (like myself) who haven't been thrilled with Harper.

    It reminds centrists and conservatives that the Senate is still there unchanged and that Harper wants to change it. Which brings wavering supporters back into line and back into the fold.

    These ads weren't meant to target Liberals or LIberal leaning voters. They were meant to target conservative leaners and perhaps even NDP leaners.

    By Blogger SouthernOntarioan, at 11:21 AM  

  • And if the Senate had actually succeeded at that, you would have a point. Unfortunately, the Senate is currently nothing but an echo chamber for the leaders of the two major parties, and/or a giant make-work project for useless party hacks.

    (As a side note, I'm not sure whether Dion is such a weak leader that he actually has lost control of his Senate lapdogs, or whether he actually told his Senators to stonewall S-4 and is only publicly pretending to support it.)


    What an idiotic comment. And I suppose Harper intentionally introduced his vaunted Federal Accountability Act chock full of drafting mistakes and ill-conceived ideas while privately instructing his Senate caucus to propose forty amendments to the bill? I'm not sure what the point of such an exercise is, but I'm certain it's pure tactical genius on the part of Dear Leader!

    There is not a shred of evidence to back up your contention that the Senate is an echo chamber. If that is the case, why did a Liberal-dominated Senate refuse to pass the Clarity Act or the Chrétien government's animal cruelty legislation, among several other bills? Why didn't the Senate follow the House of Commons' lead in invoking closure on the debate over same-sex marriage? Why did the Conservative Senators propose 40 amendments to the FAA?

    Don't worry, there is some good news: Stephen Harper is doing everything he can to ensure that the Senate becomes an echo chamber. Conservative Senators who have the temerity to try to do their jobs and think independently, like Hugh Segal, have been removed from their positions on the committees. Just the other day, the deputy Leader of the government in the Senate spent an entire morning reading government press releases into the record. No doubt this is a taste of Harper's grand vision for the Senate: a group of mindless hacks who rise on command to read Canada's New Government's propaganda.

    By Blogger ed king, at 11:30 AM  

  • Ed King said

    “No doubt this is a taste of Harper's grand vision for the Senate: a group of mindless hacks who rise on command to read Canada's New Government's propaganda.”

    Good points. Thanks for reminding us.

    It’s pretty much in line with the reason why Rick Peterson has withdrawn as a conservative candidate for Vancouver-Quadra. Harper is 100% in favour of accountability and democracy as long as it works to his advantage.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 4:04 PM  

  • Ed King: There is not a shred of evidence to back up your contention that the Senate is an echo chamber. If that is the case, why did a Liberal-dominated Senate refuse to pass the Clarity Act or the Chrétien government's animal cruelty legislation, among several other bills?

    I'm not familiar with the animal cruelty bill you're referring to, but the last time I checked, the Clarity Act was successfully passed (and doesn't appear to have taken an undue amount of time to get through the Senate, either.

    Why didn't the Senate follow the House of Commons' lead in invoking closure on the debate over same-sex marriage?

    They didn't need to. C-38 was debated for three days and in committee for four; it's total time in the Senate was only 21 days (compared to five months in the House).

    Why did the Conservative Senators propose 40 amendments to the FAA?

    From what I can tell, the amendments proposed by CPC Senators were mostly technical ones (numbering of clauses, translation issues, etc). There's nothing wrong with this, but it doesn't exactly break someone out of "party hack" status.

    Just the other day, the deputy Leader of the government in the Senate spent an entire morning reading government press releases into the record.

    According to your link, it took about half an hour. And even if it was an "entire morning", I find it quite hilarious that you try to refute my claim that Senators (notice that I didn't limit it to Liberals) are an echo chamber by... giving an example of a Senator acting like an echo chamber!

    By Blogger The Invisible Hand, at 6:04 PM  

  • Invisible said

    “I find it quite hilarious that you try to refute my claim that Senators (notice that I didn't limit it to Liberals) are an echo chamber by... giving an example of a Senator acting like an echo chamber! “

    Actually, the point is that the senators are trying (as Tom reported after watching CPAC) to do a proper job on this constitutional issue. However, it is the harper mouthpiece that reads from government press releases.

    Perhaps, it’s a cunning piece of harper strategy. He’s trying to discredit the Senate by using conservative fools. Or, harper may just be more disorganized than Dion.

    By Blogger JimTan, at 2:56 AM  

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