When John Baird took the environmental helm, Conservative strategists were quite open in admitting the goal was to "neutralize" this issue with the electorate. Baird's mandate, present Canadians with a package that gives the Conservatives credibility, on their weakest file. The logic, Conservatives don't have to win the issue, only relegate it to the back burner.
The early stages of this campaign were quite effective, so much so I thought Baird was well on his way to achieving the goal. The series of eco-announcements, lifting old Liberal ideas, etc, gave the Conservatives strong counters to any attack. There was the sense that the Conservatives were clearly in the conversation, and the opposition were losing their favorite talking point.
Having said that, I would characterize last week's crescendo announcement as a complete failure, if "neutralizing" was the goal. In fact, while Baird does have his supporters, the debate looks to become even more pointed and high-profile than ever. If the Conservatives felt this plan would make the environment a secondary discussion, the flurry of passionate criticism should serve as proof that nothing could be further from the truth. The Conservatives now have a concrete direction, which puts them at odds with ever other national political party in Canada. The talking points are clear, the Conservatives can expect consistent attacks from all sides in a campaign, and the issue is a guaranteed focus.
Some would argue that the environment will fade in a campaign, when voters focus on "bread and butter" issues. Others suggest that our environmental concern is just a superficial condition, so don't read too much into the polls that show it a number one concern. I disagree, we should take the circumstance at face value. The media gives us daily environmental coverage, proof positive that they have concluded the issue has reached the "big time". If Canadians put the issue front and center, then let's proceed as though that were fact- afterall did anyone question health care as a chief concern, when it cited most often?
I believe that Baird has failed in his primary goal. This issue will dominate any campaign, and might just be the election trigger. The lines of distinction are drawn, and after all the "shock and awe" announcements, I still see the Conservatives right where they always were, weak on the environment, despite the new found talking points.