Wednesday, September 09, 2009

“It doesn't have to be true. It just has to be plausible and it strikes me as plausible.”

With an election call likely under a month away, we're starting to get an idea of the narratives the parties will be using to try and frame the campaign. After all, elections are all about the 10 second story, be it "throw the crooks out", "it's the economy stupid", "we need free trade", or "hope". A clear, easy to understand narrative that resonates with voters - like the ones above - can win you an election. A muddled, confusing narrative won't win over a single undecided voter.

If we consider last week's caucus speech the launch of the Liberal campaign, it seems likely the Liberal narrative will revolve around this idea:


We can choose a small Canada—a diminished, mean, and petty country. A Canada that lets down its citizens at home and fails them abroad. A Canada that’s absent on the world stage.

That’s Stephen Harper’s Canada.

Or we can choose a big Canada. A Canada that is generous and open. A Canada that inspires. That leads the world by example. That makes us all proud.

2017 will be our 150th birthday. We can be the smartest, healthiest, greenest, most open-minded country there is—but only if we choose to be. We can build a Knowledge Society, from pre-school to post-secondary, with quality early learning and childcare for every Canadian child. We can ensure that every Aboriginal Canadian gets a world-class, not a second-class education—with the opportunities to match.

We can create tomorrows' jobs by investing more, not less, in research and innovation.

We can invest in our environment—and invent the clean energy technologies that will have the world beat a path to our door.



For the Bloc, judging from these ads, it appears they'll be going under the traditional "Liberal, Tory, same old story":





For the Dippers? Well, they've been fairly consistent with their "only we can oppose Stephen Harper" line, but they seem to be backing down from that. So, as is the case with finding money and finding candidates, we'll consider the narrative search a work in progress for them.


Which brings us to the Conservatives:

Conservative strategists want to remind their base, and swing voters, of the alliance the Liberals forged with the NDP and Bloc – and frighten them with the notion Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff might try it again. The accusation plays right into existing Tory attacks that paint the recently installed Liberal chief as a political carpetbagger who's returned to Canada after a long absence merely to win power.

“They can tie the two together and say ... ‘He will force an election even when there is no reason for it and there is no policy distance between the two parties on any major issues. And he's forced an election which will lead to him rebuilding the deal with the other two parties,' ” said University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former Harper adviser.

“It doesn't have to be true. It just has to be plausible and it strikes me as plausible.”

The anti-coalition campaign strategy is also an argument in favour of a Tory majority because it paints this outcome as the only way to avoid the risk of another alliance between the Liberals, NDP and separatist Bloc Québécois.



Well, I would argue that a Liberal majority is another way to avoid a coalition but, regardless, this seems to be the message the Tories intend to put out there. Given the visceral backlash we saw to the coalition, it's actually not a bad narrative to run on strategically - especially when you're a government with no real accomplishments or vision.

Like Flannagan says, the success of this strategy really lies in how plausible this is to Canadians. Personally, I can't imagine Ignatieff touching it again, given how radioactive it was - I would hope voters are able to draw the same conclusion.

27 Comments:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words. This is the CBC secret tape obtained from the LPC from a double secret Con meeting:

    http://www.cbc.ca/mrl3/8752/news/features/harper-sault-090909.wmv

    Now your guy has to come out and deny it 'until he's blue in the face' and presto...it's plausible

    By Blogger wilson, at 11:54 PM  

  • I wonder how much traction "Not A Coalition" has once the Harper/Layton/Duceppe 2004 letter to the GG is brought up repeatedly.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:34 AM  

  • Gee anon, it has been brought up repeatedly, any more and it will make the LibDipperBloc coalition...very plausible

    It's perfectly legal in our parliamentary system, don't yah know.

    If Libs run on a coalition platform and win, then Canadians get the government they wanted.

    Of course, the West will be .... not happy,
    but then when have Liberals ever worried about the West, as long as they win.

    By Blogger wilson, at 12:50 AM  

  • But the difficulty is this: Mr Ignatieff really hasn't articulated the pressing need for an election, what?, 10 months after the 143 seat mandate for the Tories. No one can see how he can think he picks up enough seats to win a plurality in the House (really: look at the Electoral map and try to do that math). And, therefore, people ask, why is he doing this? Qui bono? INsofar as it can be assumed to be about his and the party's best interests--and they've done little enough to offer an alternate rationale--then people have got to ask, how is Mr Ignatieff's math so different.

    This is how we get to plausible, and a viable narrative, probably the second most effective one of the lot (after the Bloc, the one party certain to benefit from this early election).

    FWIW--from a citizen who will vote, again.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:06 AM  

  • Gee wilson - why on earth do you think the fact that Harper recycles his talking points in a speech to party faithful means the coalition is "plausible".

    Maybe you missed it, but Harper has been harping on about the coalition for a while now. A secretly recorded speech wherein he harps on about it again hardly changes the picture.

    Of course, the fact he talks about how things will be different when he gets his majority, arguably confirms the whole "hidden agenda" thing, so you might not want to be spreading that tape around so much.

    By Blogger Gayle, at 1:20 AM  

  • A Conservative staffer probably sent the tape to LPC hoping that they would make it news item so that Harper’s message of “Majority or Coalition” would get air time. However, I also think that Canadians are equally scared of both a Conservative Majority and a potential coalition of the Liberals and NDP. If Harper campaigns on “Conservative majority vs coalition” it may force those who are ok with a Harper minority but not ok with a Harper majority to actually show up to vote next campaign, if only to block the Conservatives from picking up more seats.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:48 AM  

  • Japan just formed a coalition government, even though the DPJ Democratic Party there won a majority.

    I think the notion of a Canadian coalition is delicious .:. co-a-licious!

    (t-shirts, please)

    By Blogger lyrical, at 2:56 AM  

  • I'm changing my MacBook's name to Co-A-Licious!

    By Blogger Ashley_Wilkes-Booth, at 3:19 AM  

  • I guess it depends how much people believe Ignatieff when he categorically denies he'll do it.

    If the whole campaign is just news stories about "will they or won't they coalition", it probably doesn't help the Liberals.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:34 AM  

  • clearly Canadians need to elected 250 Con MPs to prevent the evil coalition. Harper is such a loser- enough with the self serving Bullshit. He's singlehandedly ruining Canadian politics...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:35 AM  

  • "I wonder how much traction "Not A Coalition" has once the Harper/Layton/Duceppe 2004 letter to the GG is brought up repeatedly."

    Uh it was brought up repeatedly, and didn't seem to make much of a difference because many English Canadians didn't care about hypocrisy, if it was hypocrisy that could prevent Prime Minister Dion and a government supported by the Bloc Quebecois. I think the fallacy of coalition supporters is and was that they assumed Canadians are idiots that could not grasp that a coalition was inevitable, and that they MUST support it even if they didn't like it.

    Anybody who follows politics closely realizes that Ignatieff was opposed to the coalition (which was as much a coup against him as against Harper). However, most voters don't fall into that category.

    The problem for Harper of defending his record is not that his record is bad. Canada is probably second in the G7 in terms of the strength and speed of a recovery. His problem is that every time he talks about money spent, he further alienates his fiscally conservative base - the people upon whom he relies for fundraising, GOTV, etc. With low voter turnout, a strategy of rallying the base can be quite effective.

    Secondly, it is worth noting that Harper was in clear majority territory only once. Occasionally we have seen him poll at 39-41%, but the crisis was the only time he was clearly above those kinds of numbers. On a personal note, this is probably Harper's last shot - so it makes sense to go big or go home.

    Thirdly, it strategically limits Ignatieff's options, should he win. Having just defeated Harper with the promise of no coalition, Ignatieff will be ill-positioned to cooperate with the other parties. Anything like a coalition government (if say the Liberals+NDP had enough seats) would be a poisoned chalice.

    Moreover it isn't clear what else the Tories would run on. While the "Liberals started an election too early" beach-ball has been spiked by the media, that one doesn't work too well (as Joe Clark and Paul Martin found). The recovery is too recent, and unemployment is too high for Harper to crow about his record. It isn't clear to me that Harper has any new ideas on how the country should be run. Finally, the attack ads on Ignatieff were only modestly effective, and just about everybody knows the talking points on Iggy by now.

    On the other hand, I would rather not run an "anti-coalition" campaign.

    Not only will it be toxic in Quebec, it will provoke an outcry from the media, and probably won't be as effective as it was in December. Why? At least part of the rise in Harper's polling numbers were a "rally around the flag" effect. When people feel their country is in danger, they are more likely to support the incumbent. I don't think

    As much as the issue inflames Harper's base, it inflames that of the opposition parties, while also reducing the resistance of Dippers, Greens and BQ'ers to voting Liberal.

    As much as it prevents Ignatieff from collaboration, it also prevents (and is preventing) Harper from doing the same. Indeed, Harper would be in a much better position if he could fight an election campaign 6 months in the future. The way for him to do so? Cut a deal with the NDP. Very little of the opposition to the coalition was the result of the NDP's membership in the coalition. The big negatives were PM Dion (which is no longer a valid argument) and a big role for the Bloc.

    But the worst of all possibilities is this. What if people talk about a coalition more and more? They may find that the prospect of one is not so bad. The enough Canadians decide this to be the case is the end of all hope for the Conservative party. The future - coalition government and probably PR - will doom the Tory party.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 10:36 AM  

  • You liberals still dream of the coalition? Ignatieff wouldn't dare touch that with a ten foot pole (in spite of the appearance of support, done with very tepid enthusiasm). The coalition idea was a plan by Bob Rae to squeeze out the next inevitable leader (Ignatieff).

    If I was advising Harper back in December 2008, I would have told him to do the following:

    -don't ask the G-G to prorogue parliament
    -show up at the House and make a speech daring the Liberals to vote non-confidence and install MR 77 SEATS (Dion) as Prime Minister.

    I guarantee you 100% that Ignatieff would have called in sick that day and would have convinced just enough Liberal members to do the same.

    By Anonymous hitfan, at 10:58 AM  

  • Before Canadians return the Liberals to power they will ask themselves if the Liberal party learned its lesson.

    If it calls an election without any issue other than wanting power, with a leader that didn't even get properly elected by its own party, then Canadians might decide that the Liberals need more time to learn its lesson.

    Secondly, it doesn't matter what vision the Liberals choose to run on. Canadians still remember the similar vision detailed in the Red Book, published in 1993, and even with 13 years in power they failed to deliver on practically anything.

    Besides, my vote goes to the first party whose vision isn't to leave crippling debt, taxes and obligations to the next generation.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 11:05 AM  

  • I guess the problem is, at first glance, none of the parties really have a great issue to run on.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 11:10 AM  

  • That is partly because they have decided that new ideas don't win elections. They are probably right...

    Dion's new idea flopped in 2008. When Gordon Campbell ran on the same issue he barely edged the NDP (over whom he had had a substantial lead). Harper made new policy announcements every day at 6 am in December 2005. He continued to trail the Liberals, and only led after the income trust leak investigation, and a disastrous Liberal ad campaign.

    By contrast, most of the success stories of the past few years involve politicians who ran on nothing. Charest came back from dismal numbers to win a majority despite failing to deliver on most of his promises. Dalton McGuinty keeps cruising to majority wins, possibly because he resembles a tree and Ontarians like forests. What grand initiative did Ed Stelmach stand for? Gary Doer? Brad Wall?

    Why is this the case? Well, how much ink does horserace coverage get, vs. policy discussion these days? Horserace coverage has jumped ahead, possibly because of rising partisanship. We don't care about issues any more, we just care that the blue, red or orange team is in power. We assume that our team will represent our interests just fine (or that the other team wants to eat babies).

    Elections have become about mobilizing the base, rather than coalition-building (at least beyond the bare minimum needed to win). Broad coalitions, if they could be formed, would probably collapse like Mulroney's did, and bring the country with them.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 11:47 AM  

  • oh come on, cg, didn't you guys put together some whollops en famille?

    By Blogger Chuckercanuck, at 11:49 AM  

  • "I guess the problem is, at first glance, none of the parties really have a great issue to run on."

    True.

    The problem now is how Iffy will back out of promised the LIeberals vote, in the nonconfidance vote, that he promised that will defeat the Cons. If he pulls a DeYawn and backs down then he has lost credibility and will just continue to be a back-bencher of the Cons, passing any bill they want.

    One other problem is Bob Ray's comment on a radio talk show when he stated that there was no coalition, Iffy did not sign it and the public supported it. Seems that he has done more damage against Iffy than any "truth ad" has accomplished from the Cons.

    By Anonymous Clown Party of Canada, at 12:30 PM  

  • All that is old is new again -

    "The government can only be brought down because it alienates several parties in the House. And the first obligation in this Parliament, if the government wants to govern, it has to come to Parliament and it has to show that it can get the support of the majority of members, ..."

    "What the government has to do, if it wants to govern for any length of time, is it must appeal primarily to the third parties in the House of Commons to get them to support it."

    "but there does seem to be an attitude that they can govern as if they have a majority. And as I've told you I think Joe Clark taught us I think that's the wrong attitude to have in a minority Parliament."

    Pearls of wisdom on how to make a government work from non other than Stephen Harper (http://www.cbc.ca/sunday/harper.html)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:34 PM  

  • Before Canadians return the Liberals to power they will ask themselves if the Liberal party learned its lesson.

    I higly doubt it. It is only a question for those who have decided already that they have not. It certainly was not an issue in the 2008 campaign so if Harper campaigned on that, two leaders and a completely different front bench later, it would only highlight how bankrupt of ideas desperate he is.

    If it calls an election without any issue other than wanting power [...] then Canadians might decide that the Liberals need more time to learn its lesson.

    Again, I highly highly doubt it. To campaign like that would only highlight how Harper himself, in breaking his fixed election date promise, called an election without any issue other than wanting power.

    Secondly, it doesn't matter what vision the Liberals choose to run on. Canadians still remember the similar vision detailed in the Red Book, published in 1993, and even with 13 years in power they failed to deliver on practically anything.

    That is just pure spin. They accomplished a lot of that Red Book. Try reading up on innovation and education.

    By contrast, it might be fun to also pull up Harper's 2006 Blue Book and count up how many broken promises in the last 4 years: unelected senators, tax increases, tax on income trusts, confidence votes on non-budget matters, no Public Appointments Commission, no income splitting, no gas tax reduction, breaches of the Freedom of Information Act, elections on the whim of the PM, the list goes on. There is a broken promise on virtually every page.

    Besides, my vote goes to the first party whose vision isn't to leave crippling debt, taxes and obligations to the next generation.

    I have no doubt that despite that statement you will still vote Conservative. It doesn't matter what any party says about anything.

    By Blogger Old School Liberal, at 1:16 PM  

  • The Liberals demonized Stephen Harper for the last three federal elections, and the Liberals lost seats everytime. I bet this time they Liberals will have a convincing platform about how our lives will be better if we vote for them.

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 3:36 PM  

  • I tend to agree with Rob Silver on this point. His article in the Globe was "The Speech Ignatieff Must Give" and can be paraphrased as "I absolutely reject the coalition." The reason is that during the coalition talk Canadians outside Quebec viscerally rejected the idea that one could win less than a plurality and form government - even though that's perfectly legal in our system - see Paul Martin's comments in the 2006 election campaign.

    Incidentally, Ignatieff instead said "I could have been Prime Minister" and does need to "revisit the issue." The Tories could not have scripted a more entitled, slippery response for him.

    By Blogger matt, at 4:42 PM  

  • We don't care about issues any more, we just care that the blue, red or orange team is in power. We assume that our team will represent our interests just fine (or that the other team wants to eat babies).

    Right on, brother. Ditto.

    By Blogger Ashley_Wilkes-Booth, at 9:32 PM  

  • Yup - Iggy needs to be more categorical in his denial.

    "No coalition. No accord. No deals."

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:11 AM  

  • Reading other sites it appears many people have the impression if the Liberals form a minority government then they will form a coalition - because they will need the support of the other parties.

    BUT when the Conservatives have a minority government that same support from other parties does not constitute a coalition.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:27 AM  

  • I have no doubt that despite that statement you will still vote Conservative. It doesn't matter what any party says about anything.

    What makes you say that?
    - Because I think the Liberals need to learn a lesson? They've lost a third of their support since the Martin/Chretien days, so I'm not alone.
    - Because I don't think we should leave a crushing debt, taxes and obligations to the next generation? Why does that automatically make me Conservative?

    In reality, I've voted in 7 federal elections and gone Conservative only once (2006).

    And, given the pile of lies and broken promises, it's very unlikely that will happen again.

    An election will be worth having once the Liberals start focusing on being better rather than on regaining power.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 11:39 AM  

  • Harper's letter to the Governor General of September 9, 2004

    As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government’s program. We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority. Your attention to this matter is appreciated.

    -From a letter to then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson signed by all three opposition leaders: Gilles Duceppe, Jack Layton and Stephen Harper
    (September 9, 2004)

    By Blogger Geoffrey, at 10:46 PM  

  • This won't really have effect, I consider like this.

    By Anonymous sex life, at 1:36 AM  

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