The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Worst. Campaign. Ever?

The Liberals are not running the worst campaign known to the history of campaigning. Over the years, there have been some doozies.

They are, however, giving the number one spot a run for its money.

The tussle for who will occupy 24 Sussex Drive and who will be stuck with Stornoway has almost always been betweeen some incarnation of the Conservatives/Reform and the Liberals. However, in carving out centrist territory, the Liberals correctly determined their main challenge to be the Greens. Environment was and continues to be a hot issue. With their Green Shift, the Liberals thought they had it nailed.

Too bad they were fighting the last campaign.

Through no fault of their own, the economy suddenly took over as a front and centre issue -- but since the ad machine has not veered from spewing out the Green Shift campaign, the Liberals have not successfully communicated to the Canadian public that their proposed platform is actually more fiscally conservative than that of the Conservatives. Instead, even as an increasingly nasty economic mess continues to brew south of the border, the Liberal campaign was still telling the Canadian public that experts had endorsed the Green Shift as a sound environmental plan for the future ... utterly oblivious that it was trying to connect intellectually with a public with whom it had entirely failed to connect emotionally.

Perilous economic times encourage a libertarian bent among those fortunate enough to still have economic means. Already backed with a pre-existing libertarian spine, the Conservatives easily took hold of the language to spin the Green Shift entirely into its proposed carbon tax, and the carbon tax entirely into yet another tax upon the beleaguered individual trying desperately to make ends meet (in a socialistic world of unrestrained crime and all kinds of other people who want something for nothing -- at your expense, of course).

Given the lack of any effective counter-message, how could the future under the Liberals not look bleak?

Among those who had already lost their jobs, many of those who belonged to unions drifted toward the NDP, which increasingly was painting itself as a national party, in contrast to Bloc Qu├ębecois regional issues and the Green "mono" issue. After all, of all the party leaders in English Canada, only Jack Layton seemed to be taking any kind of real stand against Stephen Harper's juggernaut -- and of course there could be no positive pro-Liberal message even there.

Already struggling with his leadership image, not helped by his clear difficulties with the English language, St├ęphane Dion's failure to shift the mass media message into something more immediately relevant further eroded his perceived leadership abilities. When he finally did point out, in his non-charismatic and difficult-to-understand way, that economic conditions south of the border are very likely to spill over into Canada and that the Canadian economy should be prepared for the worst (and I have first-hand dealings with the mortgage market that tell me the side effects of the first round of United States foreclosures have already arrived), the message was almost entirely lost within other political news. Alert to opportunity, the Conservative political machine did catch it. There are those out there who would let the world around them burn rather than be wrong: and Harper lost no time in telling the nation that Dion was just such a person.

(Since we tend to see others through the lenses of our own self-understanding, this ought to tell us something about Harper.)

At a time when a shift of gears is badly needed, the Liberal ad machine seems to be stuck in cruise control. If they don't take a mechanic to it soon, shifting their focus to the economy and the needs of individual Canadians -- and perhaps the preservation of Canadian culture, if it can be seen as enough of an individual need -- they had better hope that Canada has not tipped as far toward United States social conservatism as Stephen Harper claims; and that mistrust of what a Conservative party might do with a majority which it could not do while it had to compromise gives a built-in ceiling to Conservative support.

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