Rob Ford's campaign will certainly become the "it" campaign to study over the next year, by virtue of his win being a) surprising and b) in the centre of the media universe. Ian Davey takes a crack at using Rob Ford to advise Michael Ignatieff:
After flirting with the notion of forcing an election last fall, the Liberals decided to make their electoral success largely dependent on the failure of the Harper government. It was the right decision. Since that time, the Official Opposition has moved between focusing on Conservative failure and striving to outline what kind of government they might form. Despite a plodding performance from the Conservatives and a sluggish economy, polls have remained static for more than a year now. Canadians still see little need for change. Why?
So how does the Ford experience apply in the federal context? Most Canadians would agree that the economy is the most important issue they face. Rightly, the Liberals have attacked the Conservatives for being the country’s largest spending government and accumulating the largest deficit in Canadian history. Moreover, the opposition has wisely questioned the Conservative plan to further deepen corporate tax cuts. Despite these attacks, the Liberals have been unable to get real traction with Canadians because they have been mixing their messages. Rather than keeping the focus on Conservative economic incompetence and the need for change, the Liberals muddied their point by promising a national home care plan which would be funded by the cancellation of corporate tax cuts. By not arguing that cancelling corporate tax cuts in the current environment was about fairness and affordability, the well meaning Liberals appear to be more interested in devising a means to generate money for their program spending than holding the government to account.
[...] Competence and trust, then, become the political fulcrum. In a time when Canadians know money is tight and when they are overwhelmingly concerned about jobs, pensions and economic security, the Liberals would be far wiser to be focusing on a message of change rather than on one of choice. Just ask Rob Ford.
The message - that the Liberals should attack Harper rather than offer alternatives - has been a consistent one of Davey's over the past year and there's certainly some truth to the old adage that "governments defeat themselves".
But I think Davey is off in his analysis of the Ford Phenomenon.
Yes, Ford picked a simple message and attacked relentlessly on it. But this only worked because Ford had credibility (by not spending as a city councilor) and offered alternatives (reduce the size of council, reduce expense accounts, cut wasteful spending). Ford promised to cancel the vehicle registration and land transfer taxes well before the starting gun went off - just because the alternative is simple and based on shaky math, it doesn't mean it's not an alternative. In many ways, Smitherman's anti-waste message was not dramatically different from Ford's, but he was never seen as the best man to cut waste.
Now, let's look at Ignatieff. Unlike Ford, who was trusted on the waste issue, few trust Ignatieff on the economy - look no further than an Ipsos Reid poll from earlier this month that had Harper up 45% to 24% as the best leader to manage the economy in tough times. I'm not saying Ignatieff shouldn't attack Harper's economic record - but it's hard to earn credibility by just pointing out that the other guy sucks. That's what separates Prime Ministers in waiting from idiot bloggers like myself.
The example Davey uses to illustrate his point is the Liberal Family Care plan - his argument being the Liberals would be better served by promising to scrap the corporate tax cut than they would be by promising to scrap the corporate tax cut...and use some of the money saved on programs like Family Care.
Davey has a valid point that too many spending promises will make it harder for Ignatieff to gain credibility on the economy, but to me, Ignatieff gains more by promising to put some of the money saved through the tax freeze into Family Care than he does by simply shoveling it all into deficit reduction.
To me, a corporate tax cut is kind of like Two and a Half Men. Yeah, I don't like it, but does its continued existence on the airwaves really affect me one way or the other? No, not really. But cancel my favourite show in favour of it and I'd be up in arms. I think a lot of voters don't give a damn about corporate tax cuts, but if the election is framed as a choice between billions for big business versus helping Canadians care for a sick loved one, suddenly they begin to feel a lot stronger about the issue. It's only by offering a choice that people can truly evaluate what is being offered. (And yes, I am aware that many people do like Charlie Sheen and/or corporate tax cuts)
As Davey argues, it's important for Liberal attacks on Harper to be clear, concise, and consistent. But for Ignatieff to be seen as a credible alternative, he needs to offer an alternative. It's what Ford did and it's what Ignatieff should do.
UPDATE - And, while we're at it, Kinsella, Delacourt, and Martin all offer advice for the Liberals this morning.