The extensive critique of the Tory communications strategy on the war comes from a series of cross-country focus groups conducted in November 2006 at a cost of almost $76,000.
The report lists "vocabulary/terms/phrases/concepts to reinforce" the message that the government is right about its commitment to the war in Afghanistan. They include "rebuilding," "restoring," "reconstruction," "hope," "opportunity" and "enhancing the lives of women and children."
Words and phrases to avoid include: "freedom, democracy, liberty – in combination this phrase comes across as sounding too American."
Strategic Counsel also advised that the government "avoid developing a line of argumentation too strongly based on values. While the value of human rights is strongly supported, there is a risk of appearing to be imposing Canadian values. Again, this is not seen to be the `Canadian way.'"
"The fact that they would spend $76,000 to try and get arguments to sell the war in Afghanistan to the Canadian public ... really indicates that the war is not saleable," said NDP defence critic Dawn Black (New Westminster-Coquitlam).
"To spend that kind of money just to counter the kinds of arguments that the opposition ... are putting forward is bizarre."
Liberal MP Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) said the existence of the report was "quite shocking," though he didn't take issue with its findings.
I could have saved Canada 76 thousand, Bushisms don't fly in Canada. This report begs the question, if the mission is admirable, the right thing to do, important for stability, all the legitimate arguments, why does the government find it necessary to market the war? It belies a disinformation campaign, as though you need to use propaganda to make the case. Let's not forget, Harper constantly tells us that popularity is the least of his worries when it comes to Afghanistan. The fact the government found it necessary to commission this report tends to suggest an obsession with public opinion.
Is there any genuine rhetoric left in the Harper repertoire? On almost every issue, we hear leaks of polls and focus groups. Candidates summoned to workshops on how to "work" a campaign. Pinpointing which people might make "damaging comments", that could hurt party fortunes (by damaging, we mean expressing a real, honest opinion). There is a pre-occupation with message control, and this reality speaks to honesty. Why all the paranoia? Something to hide? With everyday, it becomes more apparent that this government is a corporation, and policy is hidden within a slick public relations campaign. All parties engage in this practice to a certain extent, but it is equally true, Canada has never seen anything resembling this attempt to control.