Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Comeback Kid?

The good people at The Mark asked me to pen a short essay on a Canadian historical comeback Michael Ignatieff could learn from. So I took the most recent example, focusing on Stephen Harper circa 2005 - that infamous "Glad as Hell" tour when Harper went coast to coast to try and humanize himself, and ended up a laughing stock. But here's the take home message from that:

I would argue the real lesson to be learned in Harper’s comeback wasn’t that he rode the wave of scandal to 24 Sussex. It was that he only won after presenting a clear vision that resonated with Canadians. Harper’s “all scandal, all the time” campaign in 2004 didn’t work, so in December 2005 he started to campaign with a policy announcement every morning. He had priorities that showed he stood for something: lower taxes, cleaner government, and getting tough on crime. Suddenly, Stephen Harper didn’t look so scary.

You can read the rest of the article, and the mandatory leather vest jokes here. Also on The Mark are comparisons to Jean Chretien (by Misters Jedras and Silver), Robert Borden, and Pierre Trudeau.

To that list, I'd add one more case study, which I considered writing about - Mike Pearson. Think about it. Before the 1963 election, he'd already lost twice. He certainly wasn't charismatic. He was an academic who had lived in Europe and the US.

Yet somehow, he won. And he only won after promising "60 days of decision".

I know I'm beating a dead horse here (hey, it could be worse, this could be another post about the Census) but I'll make the point yet again - to win, Ignatieff needs to show Canadians what he stands for.


  • My comment over the last while is essentially exactly what you have written. The Liberal Party currently doesn't have a policy link on it's website. And forget whether we're in a policy review phase, the fact we don't really have a single piece of policy on our website, but we do try to drum up scandals at every turn, speaks volumes--- just as you said in your article.

    And for the record, our current policy state (based on party website) puts us behind the christian heritage party and Progressive canadian party. In fact, we're roughly on par with the marijuana party, and I'm pretty sure their policy in self evident. Ours? not so much.

    By Anonymous Luke, at 10:01 a.m.  

  • Luke, "use the force" (sorry, had to do it) of the Liberal search option:


    We have food policy (see above), we have broadband, we have rural cell service, we have postal service, we have rural doctors, we have homecare...

    The site might not do it well, but policies there are.

    By Blogger EB-5 Dreamlife, at 10:17 a.m.  

  • thanks william. That's actually a new section to the site since I last visited. Maybe someone I spoke with a few weeks ago took my criticism to heart?

    By Anonymous Luke, at 10:54 a.m.  

  • Dan, you're not so much 'beating a dead horse' as being a broken record, as I don't believe the Liberal brass has consciously decided to be seemingly adrift. Either way, you're absolutely right.

    Keep it up, and somebody might catch on.

    By Blogger Dennis Rice, at 10:56 a.m.  

  • A clear policy mantra for the Liberals - abslolutely. The other necessary elements seem to be coming into place - the combination of a (so far) successful image makeover for Ignatieff, and the apparent death-by-a-thousand-cuts for the CPC, who have misread the public mood so badly in their stealthy ideological decisions this summer.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:16 a.m.  

  • > He had priorities that showed he stood for something: lower taxes, cleaner government, and getting tough on crime.

    Sad, though, that none of these "priorities" amounted to anything.

    It has become less important to follow through on a promise than to appear to make a promise.

    I'm starting to think that Canadians really are as dumb as Harper hopes we are. If we weren't, we'd have called him on this bullshit by now, wouldn't we?

    By Blogger Unknown, at 11:46 a.m.  

  • The Liberals have policies, they just don't have a plan. It is not clear how their policies come together, what is a priority, or what their vision is. Network governance, for instance, is a vague appropriation of a hot social science buzzword, not a vision. Its the Land is Strong all over again.

    That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Stephane Dion had a coherent vision, it just wasn't popular (especially in a recession).

    To be fair, Stephen Harper hasn't had much of a coherent plan in a long time, but people often assume he does because they believe he is a conservative ideologue. Being in government also helps because people can twist Harper's actions into their view of what his vision is.

    Visions matter, even if they aren't implemented because they signal things about a leader's ideology. In politics a lot of what happens is unpredictable and residual. For instance voters in 2000 did not know that 9/11 would happen. If we know little about Ignatieff's core beliefs, it is difficult to predict how he would act in potential situations.

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 12:06 p.m.  

  • I've seen plenty of policies come out of the Liberal Party over the past several months.

    Usually, they'll announce a policy on Tuesday, and the reverse of the policy on Friday. Or if a policy announcement has to come on a Thursday, its opposite will be announced on Monday.

    Not so much a lack of policy as a lack of commitment to any single announcement. Even the Guergis file has it: the Liberals say they want her reinstated so that they can go back to demanding she be fired for incompetence.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:07 p.m.  

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