Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Trudeau Should Ignore The Media

I see we are entering that predictable phase in an opposition leaders tenure where pundits begin clamoring for "substance", "policy", the familiar lament.   Under normal circumstances,  a politician would be wise to ignore the bait, resist offering anything resembling a platform prematurely.  In the case of someone like Justin Trudeau, the pressure should be non-existent, because this isn't your average opposition leader.

The only argument for putting out policy early that carries weight for me is to help "define" an unknown quantity.  Opposition leaders are, in many cases, blank slates, barely recognizable to the average Canadian, so you could argue pumping out policy gives shape, definition.  Even in this instance, there are plenty of pitfalls in releasing too much "substance", because truth be told your audience is distracted and your opponents are keen to corner, label, define themselves.  A certain ambiguity does have upside, after all the role of opposition is to oppose, not lead.  It's a tricky proposition, what to release, how much to release, pros and cons, no question.

Justin Trudeau is not the typical opposition leader.  We have "known" Trudeau since he was a kid, he has been in the public eye throughout his life.  This reality means many had opinions of Justin, good and bad, prior to his ascension to Liberal leader.  In other words, Trudeau doesn't need to "introduce" himself to Canadians in the traditional sense, his celebrity is unique in this regard.  Within that then, this idea that Trudeau must put out policy is somewhat a non starter for me, because many of the arguments don't apply here.

I note, Trudeau and his new economic team floated some ideas yesterday.  Obviously, Trudeau has also given out some policy with regards to marijuana.  Trudeau has spoke forcefully on Quebec, broad strokes often, but more than enough to shore up federalist credentials, as well as basic individual rights.   I would argue, Trudeau is going far enough for the time being, he needn't succumb to any pressure to get more detailed two years prior to an election.  The distracted electorate are getting a sense of Trudeau's direction, emphasis on transparity-even the marijuana angle comes with the bonus pledge of openness-something different, something new, those are the broad themes, plenty for now.

We've seen other opposition leaders get pressured into releasing detail, entering policy wonk territory.  We've also seen one day stories, only to see the "policy" then be mostly ignored, primarily because the media in general ARE NOT issue orientated, attention spans are short, new realities preclude protracted analysis.   The cries for policy are sincere, but the reality is the mediums are mostly incapable of "getting into it", so it's a fools game to get lost in the finer strokes.  Keep it general, develop broad themes, hammer simple lines, oppose then contrast, attack don't create targets, that's the name of the game as I see it in the new media world.

Stephen Harper came up with FIVE ideas in the 2006 election, it took onservatives 13 years to develop this scant list.  On top of the miniscule platform, some of it was simply gimmicky, knee jerk counters to highlight government Achilles heels, not a deep philosophical treatise.   I seem to recall Harper becoming Prime Minister, as I also recall "policy wonk" Dion getting hammered.  Justin Trudeau would be wise to ignore the media, comforted in the fact only diehards are engaged and the real fight is many, many months away.  Build the team, build the organization, pump up the fundraising, develop the platform behind closed doors, look credible in opposition, when the election nears, that is the time, certainly not now.