Monday, July 21, 2008

Grading The Green Shift

It's been about a month since Dion released the Liberal Green Shift plan, so I thought it would be a good time for a progress report. If I had to grade the initial rollout period politically, I would give it a B to B-, which seems fair, all things considered.

On the plus side, the Green Shift has successfully changed the media narrative in totality (predictable sources aside). The biggest challenge for Dion, transforming his image, and I don't think anyone could argue that the adjectives haven't changed. Today's Lawrence Martin column is largely representative:
Moreover, an opposition leader once on the point of crumbling hasn't crumbled. Mr. Dion's Green Shift plan has changed the political dynamic, elevating his image from wimp to risk-taker, staking his party to a strong vision, putting the PM on the defensive.

Even critics use terms like "bold", the idea of Dion as weak and ineffective, a frame which was referenced in almost every item or story, has essentially evaporated. Given that the Liberals greatest challenge was the perceived albatross as leader, it is hard to underestimate this change as a positive. You don't hear stories about leadership squabbles, you don't hear about grassroots depression, you don't hear about months of abstaining and election fear, you hear about a man with conviction, whether it be deemed folly or genius. In many ways, it really is a remarkable transformation, at the very least, Canadians see someone armed with ideas and direction, someone who comes to the table with integrity. It is as if the media has come full circle, Dion re-emerging as the figure they once lauded in the days prior to the convention.

In my mind, weathering the intial storm of criticism is the key to any potential success. On this score, a combination of ineffective attacks from other parties, over the top Conservatives, transparent partisanship from the NDP, both combined to say more about the source than the message. The launch was a reasonable success, partly because the Liberals were not alone, the release was followed by prominent endorsements that cut across the political spectrum. This reality helped insulate Dion from the "crazy" arguments, because the discussion found weight outside of spin. All that mattered in the short term, get the plan out and create an atmosphere that allowed for a debate, nothing definitive, just an opportunity. I would say the Liberals have been successful on this front, much still to come, but the ideas are largely being taken seriously, this plan at the heart of any conversation, others mostly in reactionary mode.

In terms of political allies, it's a mixed bag for the Liberals. McGuinty's endorsement is clearly a plus, and it seems reasonable to put Campbell in the support column, given his own political survival. Charest has been largely silent, but Quebecers seem very open to the concept. The Maritimes largely a draw, Manitoba not really keen either way. The really concerning part for the Liberals, or maybe better stated, national unity, the reaction of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The reaction is entirely predictable, but some serious missteps from Liberal backbenchers have created unfortunate talking points. I don't think it wrong to say people like Turner and Boshcoff have really hurt the plan's credibility, in the sense that it fuels a paranoia, actually allows for talk of plots. In terms of seats, or electoral prospects, how Alberta and Sask react doesn't necessarily make or break the plan or Liberal success, but the level of anger should be noted, we are treading on fragile ground.

That brings me to another negative, real challenges in selling the plan. Dion's tour of Canada is a great idea, which seems to be going reasonably well. That said, as the days progress, it seems more and more talk about the tax hike is creeping in, without much consideration of the cuts. In terms of public perception, Canada's are still largely ignorant to the plan's finer points, only now coming to grips with the broad strokes, so there is a danger of allowing misinformation to sink in. I was under the impression that there was to be a ad buy after the plan's release, and while we had some cute online items, I think it a negative that we haven't seen a substantial push on this front. If there was ever a time for a cash strapped party to "go for it", this is it, absolutely imperative to tell the other side, in a strong and wide sweeping way. As the intial round of media buzz wanes, it will be left to independent ways to sell, the Liberals should be wary:
"There's no question the Conservative propaganda, and that's all it is, the Conservative propaganda has been getting pretty wide play and so [my constituents] are very much more aware, until you explain it to them, on the cost side, than they are on the benefit side, so there's a lot of messaging to be done there," said Liberal MP Wayne Easter (Malpeque, P.E.I).

Mr. Easter said the vast majority of people in his riding are not well-informed about the Liberals' Green Shift plan, and that Conservative Party workers there are currently distributing brochures attacking the plan.

Where are the Liberal brochures? Where are the ads? You can't compete with the Con smears, but at the same time, I'm not entirely impressed that we weren't ready to go straight away on this front.

You can't say anything conclusive at this point, it's all still pretty much in the infancy period. That said, my own bias aside, I think it fair to say the Green Shift release has gone fairly well. The plan itself is still an open question, but what tips it all in slight favor of the Liberals for me, the simple fact that the Green Shift has addressed, what I consider to be the chief weakness for the Liberals moving forward. The wimp is dead, now let's see what happens.


ottlib said...

The Green Shift was the topic of conversation amongst pundits for more than three weeks.

Some of the more adamant right wing pundits are still attacking it. Something they would not do it they did not fear it would resonate.

Three different news organizations sponsored polls to gauge Canadians' view on The Green Shift.

All of that for a policy proposal from the Leader of the Opposition, whom, you so rightly pointed out, was considered a dead man walking by most of the chattering classes.

The announcement of The Green Plan has exceeded all expectations. Considering the build up to it before hand I was expecting The Plan to be in the news for more than a single news cycle. However, three solid weeks with rumbles still on-going. That is quite an accomplishment for an Opposition Party. The last time an Opposition policy proposal had such an impact was when Stephen Harper announced the Accountability Act.

There is still much work to be done but Liberals should be very pleased with how things have gone so far.

Anonymous said...

Maybe brochures, etc. have to wait until the trademark issued is settled.

Sean S. said...

I couldn't agree more that the "green shift" has shifted the focus on the Liberals from their ineffective leadership/opposition over the past year to discussion (good or bad) of their policies.

I would also agree that they are dropping the ball by not getting more information (brochures, ads, etc..) into the average Canadian's hand. If we step outside of our own world's and circles, we'll quickly realize that the average Joe has no idea what the "Green Shift" is about, beyond it being some sort of tax.

Is this poor planning, or maybe a lack of resources to do so? I really don't know, but sooner or later the Conservatives are going to hit their plan with the full force of their bulging bank account...

Steve V said...


I think the Liberals have been lucky so far, in terms of free media, but as this wanes, the next phase of getting the message out will be crucial. The average joe is really a blank slate at this stage, I hope people appreciate the stakes at the moment. Dion's tour is great, having surrogates out too, but it might just come down to old school campaigning.

Steve V said...


I think the impact so far guarantees that this issue will be a centerpiece in any election campaign. Dion fighting on his supposed best ground isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider all the pundits saying the issue was "neutralized" months ago.

alfred said...

The Conservatives are sending out brochures attacking the Green Shift (no-TM) to every household. Got one in a central Canada riding in the name of one jason kenney (must be a failed tory candidate).

It's a 1-page flier, b&w version of that Oily thing. Awful. Should fire advertiser who cam e up with that junk.

Steve V said...


Well, I guess that's the plus side. If the Cons want to blow their advertising on childish things like oily, it sort of negates their advantage.

Northern PoV said...

But Steve, it ain't THEIR advertising money - it is tax funded MP mailings!

Steve V said...


Oh, that's right. Sorry, I just assumed it was party money. Our local MP did the same thing, and there were several letters to the local paper giving him heck for wasting money on dribble.

ottlib said...

Yes, Alfred is describing a 10 percenter.

Generally speaking they are supposed to be a method of getting a out to a targeted group of neighbourhoods in an MP's OWN RIDING and they are supposed to be used to promote the work of the MP and sometimes the work of the Party he/she belongs to.

They are paid for by Parliament so the partisanship of them is supposed to be much more muted than what the Conservatives are doing with them.

Oh well, the Conservatives have demonstrated that no rule is more important than their lust for power and their pathological desire to win at any costs.

Oh yes, these things are supposed to be done by the Member's Legislative Assistant so they have been known to lack the polish of a brochure done by a communications professional. However, since nothing in this government gets done without PMO input and approval the low quality of these publications speaks more to the incompetence of the PMO in getting its message out effectively.