Friday, January 05, 2007

Marketing Campaign

Olaf at Prairiewrangler has a rather smug entry criticizing my characterization of Harper as political motivated. Obviously, all politicians pander to curry favor, it is an institutional tenet of democracy, even if unattractive at times. I would never argue that the Harper government is unique in developing certain policies to help its fortunes. Afterall, anyone who watched Paul Martin's transparent panderfest during the last election or Jack Layton's embarrassing debate performances, can't reasonably claim that the other parties operate differently. All parties respond to public sentiment, and often times good legislation isn't the result of conviction, but rather political expediency.

However, our current government has taken the debate to another level, as I like to say, the birth of hyper-politicism. At the core of almost every decision is a calculation based on vote potential. Too often, the agenda is predicated on maximization, operating like a private enterprise rolling out a new marketing strategy, rather than a consideration of the greater good.

Flashback to when this government first took office. Most new governments are pre-occupied with getting their act together and acclimatization. However, the Harper team was immediately investing precious energy on developing a better organization for the party in Quebec. We had just completed an election, but the priority was preparing for the next battle. A small point in the grand scheme, but I think this focus shows the core motivations.

Developing policy, based on public opinion isn't necessarily wrong, although it can be dangerous if appeasement is the main end goal. There is a tension between the public will and the greater good that governments must confront. The issue of taxes is an excellent example. What is alarming about the Harper government, they take irresponsible positions, such as the fiscal imbalance mirage and try to score points with a desired constituent. Flaherty has been forced to admit that the fiscal imbalance has been over-stated, but Harper's flippant embrace has raised expectations in Quebec, wherein no action will now be seen as an affront. Playing politics, with sensitive issues, for your own ends, represents a concerning trend and Harper's mischief is unprecedented.

It all boils down to a question of degree. All governments are political, all parties pander. The Harper government, however, represents a new animal that incorporates foreign ideas (see Australia or Republican strategists) to gain control and places a premium on maintaining that control. This government is a corporation. Corporations respond to public demand, they do what they must to maintain marketshare. Products are packaged, incentives are offered to entice. We don't have a PM, we have a CEO.


Olaf said...


Points taken (and I hope I didn't mischaracterize your point in my post - although I'll gladly admit it was smug). However, the suggestion that the behaviour Harper Conservatives is some how "unprecedented" is I think a bit unreasonable.

At the core of almost every decision is a calculation based on vote potential.

Again, this is what parties and politicians do, though. Give me an example of a position taken by Stephane Dion where one could not reasonably think that it was motivated, at its core, by vote potential.

Sure, you could argue that criticizing the Conservatives on womens issues, on the environment, and on income trusts has been based purely Dion's principles, since he really likes women, the environment and economic predictability, deep down. But is it just a coincidence that they are all politically popular at the time being?

Speaking of taxing income trusts, was Harper's the most politically expedient move? Is breaking a campaign promise and jeopardizing the extremely important seniors vote, in order to make the correct (most agree) decision, politically expedient? Or is the Liberal criticism of a move they were too cowardly to take but previously recognized as important, the politically expedient decision?

Further more, if Harper only cares about vote potential, are you willing to renounce any post where you (or your Liberal friends) have accused the man of subcribing to a narrow, ideologically driven agenda?

He's either driven exclusively by his hard right, neo-con ideology (votes be damned), or he's driven by votes and votes alone (principle be damned). You can't have it both ways.

Olaf said...

I swear my grammar is getting worse by the day. I mean, "the suggestion that the behaviour Harper Conservatives"? What the F is that?

Steve V said...


Smug might have been a poorly chosen word.

"He's either driven exclusively by his hard right, neo-con ideology (votes be damned), or he's driven by votes and votes alone (principle be damned). You can't have it both ways."

You know what, I've thought of this tension in my criticisms. On the surface, it would appear to be hypocritical. However, when you look at the way Harper has re-invented himself as a moderate, how the Conservatives put a muzzle on the hard-right during the last campaign, you see how he operates within that tension.

A good example is the recent same-sex debate. Harper promised to re-open the issue, something his base demanded. Now, Harper reading the tea leaves didn't see any political payoff, so he concocted the farce in the House to appease the base, without any real chance of an actual vote.

I honestly believe that the ideology is tempered now because we are in a minority situation, wherein all policy is directed toward majority, then the true self is exposed. You can't reconcile Harper's past ideas with this mirage, and Harper still offers hints (i.e constitution) but we aren't in full bloom yet. Saying Harper emulates Stalin isn't outrageous, it's just facts conveyed by his own staff.

You see the ideology on display in Afghanistan and the attitude towards the military. Harper doesn't pay a political price because the country is essentially divided, in fact alot more people support the effort than did his party, so his strong support is hardly risky.

Olaf said...


So basically, what you're saying is that Harper is perfectly balanced between his ideological leanings and the concerns of Canadian citizens.


Canadian Tar Heel said...

Wow, a rational, civil debate in the blogosphere. They're far too rare.


I liked the marketing comparison. After reading Marty Neumeier's The Brand Gap, one might successfully argue that political parties create their own brands. And in this case, Harper is trying to close the brand gap.

Steve V said...

Hi tarheel:

I'm only vaguely familar with that book, you should expand on your point.

Canadian Tar Heel said...

Hi Steve,

Sorry. I’ll elaborate.

The brand gap refers to the need for a company to bring its people together, namely strategists and “creatives”, to put forward an effective brand. A brand is a favorable gut reaction that a company hopes to project into the market, so that although we might not know the intricacies of a given product, we might nevertheless purchase the item, because we have a favorable attachment to a particular company’s brand.

Neumeier’s book relates to business marketing, not politics. Since I’m a political junkie, I couldn’t help but draw parallels, for better or worse, between the images that political parties project and company brands. I might even take it a step further in saying that political parties even attempt to paint anti-brands onto their opponents.

In Harper’s case, as you and Olaf point out, the PM is attempting to bring together the various elements within the CPC to sell a more marketable brand. Presently, it seems that Harper believes a moderate brand will be more electable.

Steve V said...

Thanks tarheel, that is interesting stuff. You should do a post on it :)