Sunday, March 04, 2007

Questioning The Strategy

I have to admit, I don't quite understand some of the logic articulated by Gerard Kennedy:
For many Liberals, the tour comes not a moment too soon. They've been fretting privately that Dion is wasting his time in the Commons' daily question period, where he's ill-suited to deliver the required 30-second bursts of hyper-partisanship.

"The attack mode is not one that I think is naturally suited to him or his personality or the mission-driven politician that he is," acknowledges Gerard Kennedy, Dion's election readiness adviser.

"He's a man of great conviction but we think it's better that he be presenting those convictions."

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that Dion is touring the country, showing Canadians a different side of him, one that he generally excels at. What I do find troubling, you can't accept the premise that Dion isn't suited to Question Period. While QP is largely a sideshow, a leader can't survive if he doesn't manage a way to be effective in the House of Commons. For better or worse, that is the arena that would-be Prime Ministers must navigate.

Instead of admitting that Dion isn't really suited to that environment, I think it much better to find a way to blend Dion's strengths within the dynamics of QP. Stop reading from a script like a bad actor, ad-lib, allow for a more natural exchange. Whatever, but don't cede parliament, as though Dion has a handicap. In addition, if anyone is worried about Ignatieff or others outshining Dion, an absent leader in QP is a sure fired way to ignite more controversy. Just imagine the spectacle of Ignatieff leading the charge, while Dion is absent, consulting with rank and file. Those that think Dion should spend less time in the House of Commons don't have a good grasp of optics in my view.

The outreach effort is part of a broader strategy to renew and reunite the party after a decade of fratricidal infighting.

Kennedy says the strategy is crucial to the Liberal party's long term success, akin to having to build a solid foundation before trying to erect a new house.

"The strategy is to build inside before we build outside and I guess there's a cost to that," he says.

"That doesn't get us the yield in terms of moving those opinion poll numbers right away. But that isn't the point. (The point) is the long term. We have to do some base building."

I have always argued that the party needs to engage the grassroots. The leadership contest was a great exercise to put the elites back in touch with the ordinary rank and file. Wasn't it marvelous to listen to Ignatieff speak with intimate knowledge about the plight of farmers and rural Canada, as though he used to work at the local co-op. That process was a great step in re-building the party from the ground up.

I understand the commitment to consult endlessly, both Dion and Kennedy were very vocal in their desires. However, Kennedy's above statements show no sense of urgency, there is almost a defeatist short-term flavor. I don't prescribe to the belief that the next election is Harper's, although a long shot, all our energies should be on preparation for the now. The odds are increasingly favorable that we will have an election call this spring. With that reality in mind, it is vital that we quickly develop a platform. As the article cited admits, Dion is a policy wonk, there is no shortage of ideas, many of which have already been debated with the grassroots, through the leadership race. In the name of expediency, I am prepared to sacrifice the ideal of thorough consultations, in an effort to best prepare ourselves for a quick vote. It would appear we are trying to serve two masters here, and while admirable, I don't think it wise strategy, given the calendar.


Mushroom said...

Gerard has said repeatedly that the renewal process is not going to happen overnight.

Sitting in the opposition benches when Mike Harris was forcing his agenda in Ontario, he knows what it takes to win and a majority at that.

Steve V said...

"Gerard has said repeatedly that the renewal process is not going to happen overnight."

As someone who supported Kennedy, I know his views on renewal and wholeheartedly support them. However, maybe we could take a brief respite from the process, considering we will probably have an election call in the next month. If we don't develop some urgency, I'm afraid we will have 4 or 5 years to get back to the garden.

As an aside, I'm not trying to be hyper-critical. Often times I'm just throwing stuff out there, and I appreciate any feedback to highlight my own errors in logic.

Miles Lunn said...

I think Dion is somewhat weak in Question Period, but he just needs more practice. I realize that posing questions in English might not be as easy, but I think he should try and pose one in both languages and work on doing well here.

As for outreach to grassroot Liberals, while we don't have much time, if the budget does pass, we really should do this. We are a diverse nation and my worry is our party is too urban centric and simply speaking we cannot win by just appealing to Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, we have to expand beyond that base. I come from a large urban centre so I support much of the issues the party raises, but I realize not all Canadians come from large urban centres. We need to appeal to the smaller centres as well as suburbs as that is where we are both vulnerable for losing seats, but also where we can regain many of our lost ones.

It is true Gerard Kennedy does know what it takes, but lets remember Mike Harris did get re-elected in 1999. I've also heard some say Ernie Eves weak campaign and the fact he was a frequent flip flopper hurt the Ontario PCs more than anything. Harper is probably more akin to Mike Harris than Ernie Eves and although most Canadians don't support this view, with four parties fighting over the 60% who don't agree with this and only one representing the 40% who do, there is a risk. We need to at least peal part of that 40% away.

I would suggest that Dion put an equal emphasis on social justice and economic prosperity since Social justice will pull away many of the NDP votes and economic prosperity will pull away many of the Conservative votes. In the 90s here in Ontario, Chretien got votes from both people who voted NDP provincially and people who voted PC provincially, so it can be done.

In addition I think the goal of getting a majority soon is rather silly. Until the Bloc Quebecois is annihiliated it is unlikely any party will receive a majority soon. A majority will only come when Canadians get sick and tired of minority governments. Our goal should be to win a minority next election and a majority the following election.

Steve V said...


I agree, he needs more practice, which is why I hesitate in making any conclusive assumptions about performance. Dion showed me in the debates, as well as during the Quebec argument, that he can mix it up quite well.

Anonymous said...

Kennedy is not in control of Dion's performance. His words reflect an attempt to try and give Mr. Dion more positive PR. It is not Kennedy's job to make Dion attack Harper. Dion has to do it and start to release what he stands for. What does Dion stand for, other than his ill-defined "three pillars"????

Mushroom said...


Brief respite from the renewal process means more like a crash course. The end of the renewal process will be Liberal victory. As GK said, you cannot built a solid house until the foundation is laid out. If you believe in his process wholeheartedly, than you need to place his faith on Dion's leadership. We do not want a house of cards and despite our eagerness to defeat Harper ASAP, we want to do it right.

Many Kennedy supporters went to him because we recognized that for his message to resonate, we may have to sacrifice the next election. It means giving many untested female candidates a dry run in a campaign, hoping that they will do better four or five years down the road. At the same time, finding a message for the Liberals that will resonate beyond you and me (the party has our ten dollars, thank you very much) but towards many others who have lapsed their membership.

Miles: You seem to be suggesting that Dalton did not win in 2003, but that Ernie Eves blew it big time. Harris was already a spent force once Walkerton broke out and the teachers' strikes had motivated concerned parents who were afraid that he was destroying public education. It is a combination of these factors that paved the way to McGuinty's win and provide a valuable lesson for Dion's way forward.

Anon: Who are you? Kennedy was merely being interviewed by Joan Bryden. He said exactly what I expected he would say and his advice on outreach would be what I would be telling Stephane to do.

Gayle said...

With all due respect, sometimes I think you overanalyze the situation.

Dion has been the leader for 3 months. He took over a very fractured party. He is doing a good job, but it will take time.

Most Canadians are not preoccupied with every move he makes. Most Canadians will not think about who they will vote for until the next election.

He has been a politican for a long time - so have his supporters. Cut them some slack and give them a chance to do what they have promised to do.

Woman at Mile 0 said...

I like it when you analyze though Steve V...intersting ponderings.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Gayle - relax. What Stephane is doing now is meeting Canadians and listening to them - it's the best pre-election activity he could do. We may watch question period, but most people don't.


Miles Lunn said...

Mushroom - It is true around 2000 the Common Sense Revolution began to fall out of favour and I suspect Mike Harris would have lost the 2003 election. Although I do think Ernie Eves weakness in the campaign as well as Dalton McGuinty's stronger campaign helped contribute to the landslide win.

Jason Cherniak said...

I agree! If the current strategy doesn't work, then change it. Don't give up!

Steve V said...

"We may watch question period, but most people don't."

The question is, where do "people" get their information. Whatever perceptions they develop are filtered through the media. The media does watch QP, intently as a matter of fact, and I see a direct co-relation to the new hostility towards Dion and his performance in QP. I'm not suggesting QP is the holy grail, but I think people make an error in fluffing it off as some esoteric playground that only interests political geeks. It sets a tone and media takes cues from that arena.


Showing you are a leader that can stir emotion in our parliament isn't a strategy, it's a necessity for anyone who want to be PM. I'm not suggesting Dion is wrong in touring the country, as a matter of fact it's a great idea, but don't couple that initiative with ceding other ground. Dion needs both.

Sheeple said...

I'm in agreement with Gayle and Susan, we should cut Dion some slack. It's only been 3 months, and we need time to get to know him.

It is not certain that the attack ads have defined Dion, and I believe that Canadians will want to get to know him for themselves.