Friday, August 31, 2007

Flesh It Out

When it comes to policy, there seems to be a widely held view that is best for a party to release initiative ideas heading into an election. The logic of maximum exposure, a relatively attentive audience, coupled with the idea that you limit the opportunity for your opponent to counter seems to make sense. However, in the case of a party struggling to find a new identity, where the electorate has questions about direction, is it not better to flesh out the program immediately, rather than wait for the glare of a campaign?

At the Liberal retreat, advice was given that suggested the Liberals needed to articulate a clear alternative. Obviously, the best way to layout a vision, that people can relate too, is a platform. You have a leader that is still a question mark, leading a party that doesn’t seem to resonate, in the sense it lacks a real draw. The anti-Harper is only part of the equation, and this may explain why the Conservative erosion hasn’t brought the usual conversion to the Liberals. The Liberals are stagnant, because there is a idea deficit. Lately, we are starting to see some direction, but I think it an objective truth that most people would be stumped if asked- what do the Liberals stand for?

The Liberals don’t have to release a full platform, but given the circumstances, addressing the current weakness, I can’t think of a better strategy than articulating some concrete policy now. As a matter of fact, the usual barrage of policy we see come election time can be overwhelming to people. Case in point, the McGuinty onslaught, which makes me wonder if the Ontario Liberals are getting full value for the policy buck. Attractive polices are one-day stories, as the next plank is released, resulting in sensory overload. Slow and steady, release and digest, might be a more shrewd strategy.

The Liberals would be well served if they heeded the advice of this week, and put some flesh on the bone. Rather than trying to push voters away from Harper, it is more important to pull.


Anonymous said...

The Liberals can't take a chance to give it all away (Harper would do something to copy and/or destroy their policies) but some would help.

They also need to drop the President Harper garbage and Bush stuff - tiresome. Just like the CPC rhetoric is very tiresome.

How about some journalists that really want to work and get into some investigative stuff or something - they too are tiresome.

Steve V said...

I agree not everything, but certain ideas that speak to an identity.

ottlib said...

Wait until after the Throne Speech.

That gives the advantages of not allowing the Conservatives to steal their ideas and of providing a timely contrast between what is being offered by the two parties.

Then let Canadians decide.

Steve V said...


That sounds like perfect timing.

Koby said...

Policy is not something that should be guarded like a state secret and rolled out only at election time. Policy is by far the best means of attacking and defining one’s opponent.

Indeed, if the Liberals want to win the next election they are going to have to undermine the impression that Harper is becoming more and more moderate. This does not mean alleging that he has some kind of hidden agenda or even deconstructing Conservative rhetoric designed to deceive the Canadian public; the public is not sophiscated enough nor interested in politics enough to care much about the later. It means proposing policies, a la SSM, that will radicalize the Tories’ social conservative base and so force Harper into the open. Provided that they have chosen their issues carefully, the Liberals should be able to define Harper as being the antithesis of what modern urban Canada considers itself to be, viz., pluralistic, modern, open minded, tolerant, and pragmatic. The public will only take notice if there are two clearly defined camps.

In terms in defining Harper, so far the Liberals are all talk and no action. If Dion thinks over the top rhetoric such as the following, is going to convince Canadians the Harper and Bush are two peas in pod, he is delusional. The Bush Harper comparison only works in so far as Harper continues to borrow Republican talking points, and he has been very accommodating up until recently, and in so far as the two leaders can be shown to hold similar policy positions. "I think the prime minister we have thinks he is a president and Mr. Bush is his American Idol”.

Koby said...

The sooner the Liberals roll out these policies the better.

Controversy is the name of the game. If Harper is not so accommodating as to play kissy face with Bush, force the two of them together policy wise. Poke the elephant and the “beast’s” northern handler will duly respond. The War on Drugs is a good place to start. So too is stem cell research and euthanasia.

Steve V said...


I think the Bush analogy has legs, but it has to be accompanied by a vision. All the polls show that Canadians aren't comfortable with Harper's Bush-like approach, so I wouldn't abandon the idea, so long as it isn't a centerpiece.

The three pillars idea is fine, although it hasn't really caught on, but the Liberals need to move beyond the platitudes if they want to emerge from the Chretien/Martin shadow.

Koby said...

I think the Harper Cheney analogy is better, but yes the Bush analogy does have legs. That said, baldly asserting something to be the case is hardly convincing. The Liberals need proof that the two are alike. The Liberal job is a lot harder than it once was. The Conservatives do not borrow Republican talking points as liberally as they once did. There is, for example, no more talk of “cutting and running”. Alas there is still talk of “we support our troops” --- as if that phrase means anything at all.

The Liberals need to show the Conservatives and the Republicans are aligned on various issues and the only way of doing that is forcing the Conservatives into the open on policy. For instance, everyone knows that Bush is opposed to stem cell research, but very few no that Harper is been stacking the committee in charge of approving such research with religious nuts opposed to it. You make it an issue by promising to make Canada a world leader in stem cell research. Dare Harper to match it. Propose allowing for euthanasia and in the process mention Terry Shivio in every second sentence. Rhetoric follows in the wake of policy. Bush is opposed to SSM; so was Harper. Bush is opposed to funding for stem cell research; Harper does not want Canada to be a world leader in stem cell research. Bush is opposed to letting people die with dignity and so is Harper. Harper wants to Canada to join Bush’s failed war on drugs. etc. The Liberals have it ass backwards. There is rhetoric, but no policy.

Steve V said...

"The Conservatives do not borrow Republican talking points as liberally as they once did. There is, for example, no more talk of “cutting and running”."

The government commissioned a polling outfit to vet palatable language, and the big conclusion- Bushisms don't sit well with Canadians.