Monday, April 30, 2007

Have The Conservatives "Neutralized"?

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.

8 comments:

knb said...

Sigh, Canada's reputation certainly is diminishing quickly due to this government.

Gayle said...

Wait for it - Baird will say his plan will do more than what UNFCCC accomplished :).

To answer the question, no I do not think the issue has been neutralized. The conservatives have badly underestimated the public's concern with the environment.

Ed said...

If there is another Katrina style hurricane this summer (and I, of course, hope will not bee, but rather fear there will be) then we can expect the topic to pique.

If Harper lasts to next winter and we have another green Christmas, he is toast.

Odd really, that the political climate is now linked to the real climate.

ottlib said...

I rejected any notion that he neutralized this issue when Mr. Harper was making all of those announcements during the winter.

I do not think anybody missed his conversion taking place after polls began stating the environment was the number one issue to Canadians and after those same polls showed the Conservatives on the wane.

His conversion did manage to allay that initial reaction but sustaining it was always going to be dependent on follow-through. The jury is still out as to whether the Baird plan will be perceived as that follow-through. Initial indications say no but it is going to take a little time to see for certain.

All that being said it does appear that the environment is not going to go away any time soon and that is not good news for the Conservatives because it is an issue where they have an obvious weakness.

Right now the Conservatives are the only game in town but during an election the other parties get opportunities to get their messages out. In that situation I cannot see the Baird Plan withstanding the Dion/Layton/Duceppe/May onslaught for very long.

Tomm said...

Steve,

Did any of you read Lorne Gunter today? There is a big bunch of voters that think Kyoto has become a defacto religion and are becoming increasingly wary of the topic.

If by neutralize you mean Baird finding more allies, no I don't think he has.

But if by neutralize you mean that those that don't pray at the Temple of Kyoto will park their votes with the CPC, then yes he has.

He doesn't need be genuflect at the alter, only give something in the offering plate. And that he did.

Tomm

Steve V said...

tomm

You can take the approach that Baird doesn't have to win the majority, just the 20% that don't believe in global warming, and another 20% that are wishy washy.

Tomm said...

Steve,

That's a fact.

He has never needed to win the topic. PMSH only asked Baird to dull the knife.

I wonder why he didn't give Rona a longer leash on this topic?

He must have not thought it would capture voter's attention the way it has.

Tomm

Olaf said...

Steve,

I've written a relatively controversial piece that argues regardless of the substantive merits of Bairds new plan, he might have struck precisely the right balance, politically speaking. I'd like to hear your opinion as ever.