Monday, June 04, 2007

Wake Up Call


What exactly is the Liberal strategy in Quebec? There is no way to sugarcoat this finding, in fact it is beyond alarming:
Liberal leader Stephane Dion continues to see his popularity plummet in Quebec. A new Leger marketing poll reveals he's the fourth most popular leader in this province. When asked who would make the best prime minister, only 12 per cent of Quebecers said Dion, whereas 16 per cent said NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was way ahead with 36 per cent. Across the country however, Dion's in second place tied with Layton at 13 per cent support. Harper's still well in the lead nationally at 34 per cent. If an election were held today, the poll suggests 37 per cent of Canadians would vote Conservative, 30 per cent would vote Liberal and 14 per cent would vote NDP.

A francophone Liberal leader, fourth in his home province. I suppose you can spin the national numbers, using the knowledge that Dion is new and Canadians still don't have a firm impression of him. However, in Quebec, all the excuses evaporate and you are left with a staggering deficit.

I was actually thinking about Quebec and the Liberals in recent days. I get no sense of a coherent plan to re-capture Quebecers imagination. I don't see a sense of urgency in Dion's appearances. Where is the high-profile messaging, to demonstrate to Quebecers that the Liberal Party is moving forward. Is the party simply prepared to present Mr. Clarity Act, and win a few seats in Montreal?

Dion needs to re-invent himself. A concerted, focused, tenacious campaign to bring Quebecers back to the Liberal fold, to some degree. All I see at the moment is a passive, stale approach, that seems to rely on Harper's failings, more than Liberal inspiration.

31 comments:

bigcitylib said...

I'd be more worried if there was any indication that the leadership numbers were going to pull the voting intentions numbers down, but they haven't.

What where the voting intention numbers in Quebec? (The link doesn't work for me, but thats cuz my netowrk today is crap)

Steve V said...

It didn't show those, although the last Leger Poll in Quebec had the Liberals a distant third.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Today's Ipsos has the Liberals three back of the Cons in Quebec:

BQ: 37
Cons: 25
Libs 22

And with a MOE of 6.2, they could be ahead. So, as BCL says, voter intention appears to be unaffected.

On your point though I acknowledge there's a problem but I don't think reinvention is the answer, nor need there be a Quebec specific solution. I think the strategy should be the same in Que as it should be elsewhere: Let Dion be Dion. Get him out there talking about our issues and those numbers will come up.

That said, I think Dion will always lag personally to a degree in Quebec. Chretien wasn't Monsieur Popular there either. Didn't stop him from winning a butload of Quebec seats though...

Steve V said...

bcer

I disagree, I think there does need to be a Quebec specific solution that acknowledges some philosophical movement, rather than holding on to the traditional arguments. I'm not suggesting a radical shift, but some sense that the Liberals are moving beyond the Chretien view. I think Liberals are frankly kidding themselves if they expect a "boatload of seats" again, as a matter of fact, the by-election might make the NDP a real player, which opens up an entirely new dynamic, not to mention the "divided right" doesn't mask the apathy any longer.

I see a dying alternative. People can choose to call that alarmist, but polling around 10% with francophones is frankly disturbing and speaks to a really large problem that isn't about to be solved by a barbeque :)

A BCer in Toronto said...

I think we did move beyond the (electorally successful) Chretien approach though Steve. It was the (electorally disastrous) Martin/Lapierre approach.

I'm not saying that a new approach isn't needed. I'm just, on the one hand, not keen on doing something in Quebec that would alienate the ROC, or, on the other hand, keen to a return to the kinds of nationalist stuff of the Lapierre/Martin years, as the LPCQ has been pushing for.

We have been somewhat ruderless in Quebec, I agree. I don't know what our agenda there should be either. Just what it shouldn't be. I would, though, like to see a return to the staunch defence fo federalism the LPC used to be, and that would play into Dion's strengths.

Do you have any thoughts on what our Quebec policy should be?

Steve V said...

"not keen on doing something in Quebec that would alienate the ROC"

No, I don't agree with that.

I have one thought, the idea of internationalism, the new reality of technology and the world getting smaller. A new federalism, within the context of bringing people together, moving forward, while respecting various backgrounds and perspectives. Frame "nationalism" as an old idea, that is philosophically regressive. Looking outward, as opposed to protecting, which can be construed as actually stifling, apart from the rhetoric.

Canada is best positioned to embrace the idea of global village, given its diversity. That idea, argued to Quebecers, positioned in a way that respects but also compromises and unifies is actually a new, modern vision. Does that make any sense?

lept said...

Has BCer even heard of the sponsorship thingy? But even beyond that little glitch, Chrétien was NOT that successful in Québec - he managed the old machine with his usual guile but the Federal Liberals have been in decline here for decades: the rigidity of their approach was epitomized by Chrétien's notorious lists - of 'good federalists' vs all the 'bad others' - the old approach here (bleu/rouge). It was surely the scars of the Chret/Mart feud combined with the sponsorship fiasco that finally killed the Liberals - Martin was showing an interesting new approach (much as I dislike admitting the destroyer of our social programmes ever did anything worthwhile) in his reaching out to that 'other' side.
And Dion represents the old politics (Plan B and the hated Clarity act): he seems unable to break the rigidity of his thinking and so (harper-like?) he has to hide his real views - but at least he has the 'honesty' to merely camouflage them in an awkward silence!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should wait and see after the Quebec service men go to Afghanistan.

Dion has been concentrating on other parts of the country that don't know him and perhaps he should spend more time in Quebec.

Could it relate to Charest - that Quebec is just inchanted with Liberals all around?

Mushroom said...

Yes, Steve.

The Justin Trudeau post-materialist concept.

One that embraces environmental sustainability, pacifism, neutrality. Canada needs a rupture from its Anglo-Saxon past and embrace a more cosmopolitan perspective.

The irony is that politicians are supposed to defend the nation state and Canada. It's almost saying Quebec no longer needs to separate from Canada because in fifty years time, Quebec and Canada are no longer going to exist on the map. Neither is the United States. We are all citizens of the world.

Yes, Stephane can say this on the campaign trail. If he does, will he sound more like a bookish university professor than a future Prime Minister? More importantly, how can all this be packaged into soundbites, government policies, and an election winning manifesto?

daniel said...

I think we did move beyond the (electorally successful) Chretien approach though Steve. It was the (electorally disastrous) Martin/Lapierre approach.

What has to be realized is that the "electorally successful Chretien approach" is no longer viable, or even realistic. During the Chretien era, the Liberals were essentially the only "non-Bloc" option in Quebec, with the PCs coming into play in no more than 5 seats. With the separatist movement reeling after the 1995 referendum, the Liberals' achievement of nabbing a large number of Bloc seats was akin to shooting fish in a barrel.

Today, the Conservatives have become the chief non-Bloc option in Quebec outside of Montreal, and frequently (usually?) outpoll the Liberals. Meanwhile, the NDP is steadily becoming at least a minor force in the province, and can no longer be completely written off (not to mention the pull of the Greens).

The political landscape in Quebec is now much more competitive than it has ever been, and the old "I'm a leader from Quebec, it's either me or the separatists" line of Chretien is completely irrelevant today.

Come to think of it, the Liberals' problems in Quebec might run deeper than Dion - they haven't won the popular vote in the province since 1980 - so the solution may have to more than the mere tweaking of policy. Of course, I don't have any idea what that solution is, but I'm damn good at laying out the problem :p

daniel said...

Yes, Stephane can say this on the campaign trail. If he does, will he sound more like a bookish university professor than a future Prime Minister? More importantly, how can all this be packaged into soundbites, government policies, and an election winning manifesto?

Let's see....P.O.'ing soft nationalists (a LARGE number of Quebecois) by condemning their ideas as "stifling," while giving everyone else a lecture on the virtues of a borderless world akin to those heard in a freshman university Arts course - something tells me that such a thing wouldn't fly. At all.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps a Quebecois should be considered in this debate.
We don't need any more opiniosn from anglos in ROC. Worry about Ontario

Steve V said...

"Yes, Stephane can say this on the campaign trail. If he does, will he sound more like a bookish university professor than a future Prime Minister?"

He sounds like that on every issue, so I say go for it ;)


daniel

I agree with everything you've said in your first comment.

"Let's see....P.O.'ing soft nationalists (a LARGE number of Quebecois) by condemning their ideas as "stifling," while giving everyone else a lecture on the virtues of a borderless world akin to those heard in a freshman university Arts course - something tells me that such a thing wouldn't fly. At all."

Not if you put it that way. The PQ seems to be pretty good at pius lecturing :)

Steve V said...

"Perhaps a Quebecois should be considered in this debate.
We don't need any more opiniosn from anglos in ROC. Worry about Ontario"

What a hopelessly depressing attitude.

daniel said...

I just think that having Dion adopt a position that could be perceived as ignoring the very reason that the Quebec/ROC relationship is complicated (nationalism) would only serve to resuscitate the disdain for the Liberal Party in Quebec, while simultaneously pushing non-Blocquist soft nationalists into the Tory camp. Not that I'm entirely opposed to increasing Tory numbers in Quebec ;)

knb said...

I agree that it's worrisome Steve. I like your ideas. To be honest, what I have heard Dion speak to in the ROC, does speak the future and new technologies, etc. Quebec is ahead of the curve on these issues and I think he can make a legimate case appealing to their pride and desire to move forward.

I think it's important for him, everywhere, make it clear that while he stands for the values of the Liberal party, the party has changed.

The conservatives are working hard, (the NDP too)to make the case that nothing has changed. I think it has and I think we get that sense when you hear a Kennedy or a Martha Hall-Finley and Dion of course.

You know, the Diebel book illustrates that while he was a member of the party, he really did go against the tide. He wasn't lock-step with the party on all issues and wasn't afraid to push that.

I'm not sure he can make that case about himself, but the people around him should start doing so now.

Red Tory said...

There seems something fundamentally wrong to me in the idea of suggesting that someone “re-invent” themselves for political purposes. Kind of a naïve notion, I know, but I thought part of the charm of Dion was that he was a genuine, forthright person who didn’t always go with the flow.

Susan said...

I have to agree with red tory on his point. I also think that Dion is saving a lot of his innovative thinking for later because Mr. H. is such a pathetic copycat. In addition, a lot is going on in Quebec and I think their current flirtation with the right and M. Dumont will soon lose its appeal, especially when they see what he really stands for. I think the PQ will come back and Quebecers will be looking for a real Liberal, not a conservative in sheep's clothing a la Charest.

Steve V said...

Maybe it's a question of the Liberal Party, moreso than Dion re-inventing himself. The idea of renewal isn't leader specific, but that process should arm him with some new ideas.

Anonymous said...

The Justin Trudeau "vision" is exactly the opposite of what Quebecois want to hear.
A self-appointed know all who has alot to learn before he starts shooting off his mouth about Quebec strategy.

lept said...

I came back to this posting because what you raise here is so bloody important - during the leadership campaign there was real interest - even to a certain degree way out where I am in rural Québec. The chance of real change at a time when even some of my most ardent separatist friends are looking at and accepting the new political dynamic emerging here. Unfortunately the liberals chose who they chose and the only substantive statements by Dion on Québec have been about the reinstatement of Pelletier et al.
Okay, enough of the negative:
what you say about the party and it's leader needing to re-invent and inspire is crucial.
Harper has to be defeated!
There are large numbers of people both here and in Canada waiting for an alternative.
This is surely what the numbers show!
Harper as prime minister is still only able to muster the approval of 34% - I realise that this does rise higher here but it is easy to underestimate the absolutely stunning ignorance about Canadian issues in much of Québec: so when the only response to the Harper regime is a cone of silence, there is a complacent ease in the acceptance of the vote searching pyrotechnics that the Conservatives have been indulging in.
Harper's playing with the 'nationalists' has only been effective in the absence of an alternative. The Liberals need to move away from the old 'staunch' federalist posture - possibly even in the direction that Martin-Lapierre had initiated (badly): but definitely to inspire the sense of progress and change that the Liberal Party at it's best has been able to present - at least as a front!

Steve V said...

Thanks for that lept, I always appreciate the "insider" perspective! It is interesting to frame the landscape as an opportunity for the Liberals, rather than simply holding on and hoping others fall on their face.

le politico said...

Let Dion be Dion. Get him out there talking about our issues and those numbers will come up.


That isn't happening, because the braintrust knows that if Dion is more visible right now, the numbers will go down.

Much is being wagered on Dion improving his English over the summer so he can become more visible in the fall. But all that will be for nought if there isn't a substantive, easy to digest, progressive but-not-too-progressive platform for Dion to stand on.

The Liberal brand is keeping the numbers up, but that won't hold in an election. Not when Harper is 30+ points ahead in personal popularity. In an election it will be 30 days of personal leader.vs.leader contrasts.

Dion has time to turn things around, but not much.

RkBall said...

I'm pretty sure the photo has been photoshopped -- there's something about the bear's paw that doesn't look right.

lance said...

rkball: It's the ice. Haven't you heard? There isn't any ice in the North any more.

Cheers,
lance

Steve V said...

"The Liberal brand is keeping the numbers up, but that won't hold in an election."

le politico, I think that is giving people a false sense of comfort.

Dennis (Second Thoughts) said...

I know this won't be of much comfort to many Liberals, but I'm not sure if there's anything that can be done about Dion.

By picking him as leader, the Liberals basically chose someone for whom it would not only be difficult to expand the Liberal base, but for whom it would be difficult to recapture some of it recently lost in Quebec and Ontario.

You picked Dion in part because of his past federalist credentials. You now suggest that he abandon those very credentials for the purpose of political expediency?

In many ways, Dion is the wrong man at the wrong place at the wrong time. Harper is capturing the federalist/soft nationalist francophone vote. It's impossible for someone like Dion to out-flank him on this front. Iggy could have done it. Not Dion.

So, what do you do? It's a good question. I really don't know. Liberals should have known all this before they selected him. Then again, the other guys weren't good choices either.

I've been saying this for a while now. The second Frank McKenna chose not to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada was the second that the next election was virtually conceded to Harper.

Nothing that has happened since has come even close to changing that dynamic.

Steve V said...

McKenna? I literally cringed at the thought of him, and was never happier than his decision to take a pass. The last thing the Liberal Party needed was another round of the old boys network.

Your commentary about Dion is valid, I actually shared much of it prior to the convention :)

Dennis (Second Thoughts) said...

It doesn't matter what you think of his merits as a candidate. I, too, thought that there was less than meets the eye with McKenna.

However, when he decided not to run, and other A-list candidates followed suit shortly thereafter, it was a clear signal that the deck was stacked in Harper's favour for the next election. In other words, the all knew they might be only the second leader of a Liberal party not to become prime minister. That's not a very tempting job advert, is it?

It's also why the list of contenders for the Liberal leadership was much poorer than has been commonly acknowledged. None of these guys would make for an ideal leader. It's just that, with Dion, the party decided to throw electoral politics out the window because it hated the frontrunners so much.

None of it, unfortunately for Liberals, makes for a winning formula at the ballot box any time soon.

Steve V said...

dennis

If everything you are saying is true, then it paints a pretty depressing outlook for the Conservatives. A bottom tier candidate, with a battered party, conceding defeat, and yet Harper is below his election totals. You can go with your theme, but the harsh reality, it is accompanied by Harper's complete failure to take advantage of it all.

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