Sunday, November 04, 2007

Be Seen, Not Heard

A powerful theme is cementing itself this week, and it isn't attractive. Today, another Red Tory is speaking out, former Conservative candidate, now Green, Gary Caldwell:
A former Conservative candidate said Sunday that the party muzzled him and kept him from freely engaging in public discourse.

Gary Caldwell, who will now run for the Green Party in the Quebec riding of Compton-Stanstead, claimed he had to ignore Tory rules to speak openly with reporters.

"If one wanted to communicate with the local media, one had to take it upon oneself to override instructions that we had," Caldwell told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

He said candidates "were told that we could not speak to the local media and this meant that I couldn't continue the public debate in my area."

Caldwell described himself as a "Red Tory" in the tradition of political thinker George Grant, who was concerned with social issues and the common good.

But he said he wasn't able to express those ideas in open public debate, and said Parliament is now being run by political parties rather than individual MPs who represent their constituents.

Canadians are less and less receptive to the "hidden agenda" theme, and Liberals can't expect to get much mileage out of that frame. However, there is a very open agenda at play, with plenty of anecedotal evidence, which accurately paints the Conservative Party as singular entity, obsessed with message control, stifling honest debate. The Conservatives freely admit the approach:
In an indication the Conservative campaign will be as centrally managed as the last election, candidates will be able to call upon the war room for even the most minute of details, such as drafting a local press release.

''We have a support team in Ottawa and they're just a phone call away,'' the official said.

The party started showing off its state-of-the-art 1,500 square metre campaign headquarters last May -- a suburban Ottawa building dubbed ''the fear factory'' by the Liberals.

In the last election, colorful candidates were silenced, press exposure was limited and Canadians were presented with a slick marketing campaign. All indications point to the next campaign being an exercise in puppeteering, candidates merely conduits for the head office propaganda. This reality presents an opportunity for the opposition parties, because people want to feel that their local riding candidates speak for them, the indication of message control and resistence to accountability glaring negatives.

The Liberals should make a concerted effort to contrast their approach in an election, with the Conservatives. Local candidates should seek out media, call out the Conservative candidates, give candidates the latitude to freelance and challenge voters to see the manipulations. If you frame the debate as an insult to Canadians intelligence, the Conservatives operating as though they are advertising, rather than articulating, then that can erode the effectiveness of the "war room". The Conservatives are operating in a very transparent way, almost arrogant, which presents an opportunity that should be exploited.


Walks With Coffee said...

"Canadians are less and less receptive to the "hidden agenda" theme"

The theme they will respond to is that Stephen Harper has a "narrow minded" agenda.

Anonymous said...


Trying to paint the Tories and "narrow-minded" won't work with regular people either. The Tories are great with retail politics - they focus on a few items (their famous top 5 priorities) and they play these very well.

Steve has a decent idea of how to compare Libs versus Tories. However, there is a fine line between allowing local candidates to talk about local issues, and sticking with the national campaign.

The Tories are taking this to one extreme, but they believe that they have to have one message everywhere, and are not afraid of muzzling local candidates, both extreme right wing and red tories.

For the Libs to be successful with this strategy, they will have to find the right balance between giving local candidates leeway to discuss different issues, and avoiding opening themselves up to "too many priorities."

Whenever the next election happens, the Libs are will have to have a tightly, fully costed platform, or the Tories will be able to reinforce the concept they are currently planting - Libs will need to raise taxes of some sort to pay for all their promises.

Karen said...

Bang on Steve. I've written about this for the past couple of days, (my blog suddenly doesn't seem to show up on the aggregator).

Anyway, I think you are absolutely right. Exploitation of what is going on won't take much. It won't take much in time nor money. That said, we should take the time to think it through.

Arrogance, oh yeah. What Harper has become and is happy to put on display, will eventually take him down.

Timing is everyting though. That's why I think Dion's current strategy isn't so bad. It gains reaction on the Hill but not amongst the masses.

Karen said...

rick, for all that is now said in the media about the Lib's, do not doubt the machine that runs behind.

Costing? If the Con's think they will get the Lib's on that, think again. I'm quite sure Policy is pretty much said as well as costing.

There is something to be said about all this underestimating. a) It's buying into the con pap, b) That pap can be smacked to smithereens when reality hits.

900ft Jesus said...

right on with this, Steve, especially that last bit on what the Libs should do. There are enough articles commenting on the lack of content in debates, enough people complaining about tight scripts and controlled messages, I believe you are right.

Anonymous said...


Not sure what you mean by "I'm quite sure Policy is pretty much said as well as costing." The Libs haven't announced any real policies (nor should they, this is not an election campaign yet, and opposition parties rarely announce policy before an actual election) - but the point remains that the Libs will need to fight a perception that the Tories are currently creating - too many priorities costing too much money.

The next election will not be won on ideologies - the economy is running well, and people generally are happy. We see big ideological changes happen in elections when things are not going well (Liberal-NDP-PC in Ontario in 90-95, PC to Liberal in 93 Fed)

As many problems as I have with the Tories, they do retail politics very well. They can connect with the average middle class Canadian well enough that they could maintain a minority. For the Liberals to win, they will need to succeed at their own version of retail politics - clear ideas, fully-costed and practical.

I like Steve's point of contrasting openess versus muzzelness (I know that isn't really a word), but that will have to be combined with retail politics and practical ideas to truly succeed.

I look forward to the day when I can compare and contract 2 election platforms and make the best decision base on those platforms. I will be pleasantly surprises if the Liberals do that in the next campaign, because I don't see it right now.

Steve V said...


"However, there is a fine line between allowing local candidates to talk about local issues, and sticking with the national campaign."

Agreed, you can't have people straying all over the place, but I think you apply the general themes to the local circumstance. Candidates can also express their ideas and act as advocates in a caucus. An individual flair, within the confines of the big tent.


The contrast might help reconcile Dion's clumsy political sense. Position himself as the anti-thesis of the soundbite, Dion isn't slick, he isn't retail, he isn't contrived.

Dion should start with the GST. Dion is getting hammered for the soundbite and this notion that he will need revenue for all his proposals. Last time I checked, the platform hasn't even been released, we are all clamoring for commitments, so these charges are just factual baseless. Dion should challenge the media to report beyond the soundbite, that they do an honest debate a disservice by echoing the superfical attack line. There is a real debate amongst experts on tax policy, Dion has the majority opinion on board with his ideas, what is needed now is a challenge to engage. Ask the question, is this all the debate is about, retail politics or good government.

900 ft Jesus is right to say there is an undercurrent developing against controlled messages. Dion the anti-politican is our best shot. Just to add, in Quebec, I see our only chance in making the case that Harper is telling people what they want to hear, the overtures are not sincere, but a callous attempt to buy votes. The Liberals, for better or worse, will articulate what they think is right, pitfalls aside. Harper as weathervane might have legs.

Karen said...

Steve and Rick, I understand fully what you are saying. I also get where you think the Lib's should go, but stop for a moment.

Why did Dion sit out the last vote? He had released some of the Lib tax platform in his speeches. The Con's scooped it and left him with little to fight.

I think you're wrong in suggesting that we put our platform out there. The Con's have the upper hand and Harper is willing and able to use it to his advantage.

Rick, the reason I believe they do have policy pretty much set, is because they started a long time ago, with Kennedy and others. It's not reported very much but soon after he was elected, that was happening. Perhaps it's not polished, but I believe its there and given how they went about it, it will sell.

Harper on the other hand hates that. The Lib's spoke to real people. Not just clapping seals.

Showing our cards now, I think is a big mistake. I sometimes think we put more pressure on ourselves than the con's press us with.

We're still holding our own, at least within the MOE, ;).

wilson said...

IMO people expect that when a candidate jumps to another party or gets dumped, they bad mouth the party they just left.
Canadians turn a deaf ear to it, because they (unlike political junkies) have other things to worry about.

How can Dion say he wants to help the poor, and then suggest that the only tax break they can get (GST) should be raised?

burlivespipe said...

Wilson, your theory on party-jumpers/knockers rings true only to a point; once it becomes a theme or connects a theme, just as it was pointed out among Khan, Lapierre, Comeau for Dion, so too does it remain equally valid for Harper on Casey, Turner, Warner et al.

Steve, I completely agree. The whole gst hit that is coming Dion's way is the perfect opportunity for him to challenge people's perception about this tax cut. I've heard it again and again from people, that this is such a negligible nick to barely be noticeable - unlike personal tax cut, it isn't something that one can see accumulate or be an investment engine. It does nothing for productivity.
Explain what is the possible option that the Liberals may propose -- turn the 1% gst tax cut into a weapon to fight childhood poverty, or make a Canadian post-grad bursary, where medical/nursing students who graduate and remain in Canada are rewarded annually for locating in hard-to-fill regions. Or apply it to putting 2,500 more RCMP/police on canadian streets, or turn it into an infrastructure source for municipalities.

Borges said...

How else is Big Boy Harpor gonna sustain his image, if there's no dissent then he looks even more powerful and in control

Gayle said...

"make a Canadian post-grad bursary, where medical/nursing students who graduate and remain in Canada are rewarded annually for locating in hard-to-fill regions."

Excellent idea! I hope they take you up on that one.

Gayle said...

This is more than just muzzling MP's from speaking to the media.

The funny thing to me is that the supposed grass roots party does not actually permit its MP's to represent their constituents.

At least in the Liberal caucus MP's engage in debates. We have often heard that Dion is a consensus builder. This means that a liberal MP is able to bring his constituents issues to the table in the caucus meeting. Those interests may not win the day, but at least they are heard.

Contrast that with the conservatives MP's - who take direction from above. How on earth can people expect their MP to represent their interests if they differ from the policy set by the PM? There is no debate, and no means to have those interests heard.

Raphael Alexander said...

I think this strategy could do well for the Liberals. To poise themselves as receptive to open dialogue with the media and with dissent in the ranks, could show that they have flexibility for discourse.

Or it could show them up as a party with major weaknesses and no leader. It really could go either way.

Gayle said...

RA - it is dictatorship v. leadership.

The liberals and the media have allowed Harper to define "leader". The liberals need to present a different definition - a good leader listens. A good leader does what is best for the country, not what is best for the party.