liberal party

Know Your Enemies…then brand them accordingly.

Why the Next Liberal Leader Needs to be More Like Stephen Harper


 By: James Di Fiore

It was the worst kept secret in Ottawa – that former Ontario premier, Bob Rae, who used to don NDP orange, would eventually be able to run for the leadership of his new party: the recently decimated federal Liberal Party of Canada.

To the Harper conservatives, it is an early Christmas present. But they have their own issues to sift through.

The Omnibus Budget

When Harper was the leader of the loyal opposition, he had many things to say about the ability of a majority Parliament to consolidate seemingly unrelated bills into an omnibus collage.

“First, there is a lack of relevancy of these issues. The omnibus bill we have before us attempts to amend several different existing laws.

Second, in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?”

It is the kind of quote that should be repeated over and over again. But this is Canada, and only one party is effective at branding their opponents. For Thomas Mulcair and Bob Rae to capitalize on this hypocritical stance regarding omnibus legislation, they would need a competent communications strategy. Neither party can make such claim, and unless Harper decides to commit suicide, this hypocrisy will end up like the rest of his scandals and missteps: forgotten.

Bob Rae’s Leadership Goals

The conservatives, who have trumped all other federal parties in effective communications for the past 15 years, already banked on this happening months ago when they released a preemptive ad asking Canadians if Bob Rae can be trusted as Prime Minister. After all, he left Ontario with one of the largest deficits in its history and took a policy swipe at his own base while doing so.

A first school of thought, and one which seems to be the prevailing opinion in political circles, is as follows: a track record as rocky as Rae’s will not be able to escape the relentless negative branding by Harper’s conservatives and still emerge as a leader Canadians can trust. Conservatives are great at attack ads, and with Harper’s insatiable lust to ultimately destroy the Liberal Party, Canadians are about to witness a new age in negative advertisements. We are at the very beginning of a political era in Canada where parties will begin crucifying their opponents even when the next election is still years away. In fact, it would be a good bet to believe the conservatives already have a few ads in the queue, trickling them out every time a new opportunity materializes.

After the Liberal convention last January, when a staggering number of red faithfuls made their way to Ottawa to reignite their party, whispers already began to persist regarding Rae’s ambitions as leader. He is a solid speaker and made his mark that weekend, leaving skeptics wondering if he could effectively combat the attacks from Harper and the newly invigorated NDP. That momentum was squandered, however, as the Liberals decided to go into hiding instead of striking the hot iron the convention had provided.

But there may be a chess game quietly taking place at the Liberal executive these days. Most sources indicate the Liberals are universal in their confidence in Rae. This is probably more of a communications strategy than a reality as other insiders are concerned Rae is simply damaged goods. What is obvious is that Liberals need to become more savvy in their public relations, cementing themselves as the only moderate alternative to two opposite yet equally ideological counterparts. This goal of becoming a more effective party in the world of sound bites and ads is a steeper climb with Rae as leader. Rae will keep the Liberals on the defensive for the most part, constantly being badgered about his time as Ontario Premier. The conservatives are masters at getting the press to parrot their criticisms of other politicians (see Michael Ignatieff) and will leave little wiggle room for the Libs to navigate through.

Justin Trudeau’s Leadership Moxie

After the announcement of Rae’s leadership eligibility a media coup took place. On the day it was announced, polls began popping up showing Trudeau as the de facto favourite if he chose to run. His positives are higher, his negatives are lower. And as a sitting Member of Parliament, he is more popular than his 307 colleagues. In short, he is Canada’s only political celebrity.

And he acts like one too.

Trudeau has a lot going for him – his charm, his name recognition, his age – and he has a lot going against him – his charm, his name recognition and his age. Alberta and Saskatchewan, still bitter over the National Energy Program ushered in by Pierre Trudeau, point a finger at Justin as if he was pulling the levers of power for dear old dad. Justin was 9 years old when the NEP was enacted, but this is another example of the savvy, if not Mad Men inspired communications of Harper’s conservative party: brand your enemies so that when decades go by folks will only remember our version of who our enemies are.

It’s working. Ask any Albertan about Justin Trudeau and they will almost certainly begin with his father’s policies. Rae’s name is now synonymous with his 5 years as Ontario Premier (ending 17 years ago) and the tribulations that went along with his administration. Harper once again was able to frame his opponent into the most unflattering career snapshot available and get people to numbly agree.

But what if that worked the other way? What if Harper was asked to brand his own persona in the worst light possible? What would it look like?

If we were to begin in the present day political climate in Ottawa, with the Omnibus Bill being fillibustered in Parliament as we speak, the aforementioned quote would be the singular message coming out of conservative rank and filers.

Reporters would get tired of the repetition, but that’s how you know it is working. Harper has made a career out of his non-interaction with the media, so it seems like a great tactic when trying to brand him as a hypocrite. If the question is “How are opposition parties going to do anything other than stall this bill?” Opposition MPs should reply, “The Prime Minister himself is against omnibus legislation. He has questioned how constituents can feel represented when so much legislation is crammed into one bill. That’s the Prime Minister himself talking. He is either a hypocrite or against his own legislation.”

And so on.

But try as they may, opposition parties in Canada are impotent in cementing an idea for the public. They are also undisciplined. Without an effective voter relations strategy and the ability to stay on message, even when it feels wrong to do so, they simply cannot overcome the machine the conservatives have been building for decades. As it stands, Stephen Harper is the only politician in Canada who could destroy Stephen Harper. With that kind of reality, there’s no wonder he is getting cocky on his perch.

Democratic Reform and Cross-political issues in Canada

By: James Di Fiore

Canada appears to be changing, segmented between traditionalists, progressives and radicals. This opinion is nothing new, but the evidence has finally caught up to the theory, especially in politics and social issues. Sprinkled in the middle are Canadians unfettered by ideology and partisanship, but they are surrounded by a growing number of ideologues who are being prodded and influenced by media hell bent on making money by evoking emotion instead of dispensing facts.

These new sects of extremists (the opinionated kind, not the violent kind), are still far less in numbers than the reasonable folks but they shout at a much higher volume, creating the false idea that they are speaking for the majority. But this is Canada, where the majority of people remain apathetic and frustrated with the system as a whole.

So, born out of apathy comes new ideas by Canadians who are beginning to wake up from their political slumber. Some of their ideas are gaining traction and discussions are finally taking place. For example, many Canadians are starting to talk more about our connection to the British monarchy, openly stating their disdain for what they see as an out of date relationship. An easy way to break open that conversation is to ask how Canadians feel about the prospect of Prince Charles on our currency. Traditionalists are just as eager to talk about our history and the vital role the Brits played in our progress as a nation. Both have valid arguments, but the real caveat is the stark differences not in philosophy but age. If you are a younger Canadian you are far more likely to want to disown our British stepparents, but if you are a senior you can’t fathom the idea of breaking ties. Age is actually the number one barometer in different political opinions, and the slight erosion of apathy among younger people is making the conversation a more interesting one.

There are also good arguments for changing the Senate procedures, creating term limits and even abolishing the upper house. Provincial powers are currently being tested both by federal legislation and pressure from municipal governments who feel burdened by legislation irrelevant to their riding. Conservatives are finding it difficult to balance their long held notion of abolishing the senate with the current conservative government’s partisan appointments to the upper house. A widespread opinion that appears to also be gaining traction is the eventual implementation of an elected senate. In either case we are years away from any significant changes now that our country is in a constant state of political campaigning. Time will tell what kind of ideas will eventually surface and if those ideas are from the people or government officials.

Interestingly, questions are now being raised among a wide spectrum of Canadians pertaining to personal liberty and privacy. The Ron Paul candidacy in the American GOP primary has forced the conversation. Americans and Canadians alike are finding common views with people who are politically opposite, fostering a new discussion between Canadians who do not normally debate the issues gracefully. The most glaring examples of this common ground are foreign policy and the war on drugs, two subjects that are yielding universal support and capturing the conversation among Americans. This kind of cooperation is leading some Canadians towards reopening the debate on proportional representation as ideas and philosophies become more complex and less ideological. The terrain is strange in Canada. As apathy shrinks, ideology grows. There is a debate as to whether or not they are related, but the end result means Canada’s political class is shifting.

As Canadian parties adjust to their new placement in popularity, Canadian people are becoming more savvy in who to follow, creating a potential new shift in the landscape and a continuation of a newly awoken Canadian electorate.

Why Occupy Toronto Failed

 How the opportunity to advance liberty was doomed from the start

By: James Di Fiore

I wanted to be there with them, shoulder to shoulder, as they marched to St. James Park in downtown Toronto. I hoped we were to stand in solidarity with the protesters in New York, participating in a conversation about corporate corruption and their governmental enablers. I, like many, felt like we were watching history unfold. The Arab Spring had planted a seed of revolution of sorts, and while we were a watered down western version motivated by different circumstances, apathy was being replaced with passion…and I liked it

And then I watched it all fall down.

Being a moderate, it is difficult to get behind any movement. Moderates can usually see both sides of a coin and view ideology as a barrier between problems and solutions. While I witnessed New York City mobilize against Wall Street corruption I was simultaneously witnessing Toronto ride the coat tails of that movement. At first I gave the protesters a pass for not having a coherent message. After all, conservative ideologues were already lobbing those kinds of critiques against Occupy Wall Street activists, ignoring the underlying issue of crony capitalism or the lack of prosecutorial vigour against white collar swindlers. But as the first week progressed it was clear that Occupy Toronto had lost any tangible or even symbolic connection with OWS, to the point that I found myself agreeing with some of the milder criticisms leveled by the likes of Charles Adler or Rex Murphy. When you are agreeing with the editorializing of Adler, you know something is not how it should be.

St. James Park’s tag line is ‘A City Within a Park’, but a quick stroll through the makeshift camp and it became clear what went wrong. For all the talk of other movements being co-opted by the Koch Brothers or public sector unions, rarely have we seen a movement so rapidly co-opted by Kensington Market anarchists and Queen and Bathurst squeegie kids, many of whom viewed St. James as a temporary hangout rather than a home base for serious political discussion. And let’s be honest; a leaderless movement has a quicker expiry date than organic sour dough, especially when participants spend more time worrying about tent pegs than political consensus.

And there is a list of problems Occupy Toronto could have spotlighted. Corporate welfare, the omnibus Crime Bill, campaign financing legislation, draconian drug laws, federal overspending, provincial overspending, and a host of other issues that directly place corporate favourtism over personal liberties, but when your movement is dependent on the communications savvy of an inarticulate, unsophisticated mob, your chances of making any political or social headway disintegrates.

All they had to do was create a comprehensive vision with the list of inequalities and injustices that already exist in Canada, but they opted for a disjointed and sloppy squat posse destined for failure. Not only did they fail at shining a light on any relevant issues, they may have succeeded in snookering the progress real activists had been working towards by becoming their accidental spokespersons, rallying an incoherent cry and killing all credibility in the process. 

This Week in Question Period – December 11th, 2009

By: James Di Fiore

Poor Peter MacKay.

Not since his heartbreaking split with nepotism-soaked heiress Belinda Stronach a few years ago have we seen such a flustered Minister of Defense. Peter McKay faced loud and sometimes obnoxious calls to resign by members of the opposition this week, capping off a week that brought the prisoner abuse scandal to a new level.

After years of steadfast claims that Canada has never acted improperly when handing detainees over to Afghan officials on the battlefield, a field report surfaced that showed one detainee had been photographed with Canadian soldiers before being handed over and subsequently abused at the hands of his Afghan captors. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff lambasted both Prime Minister Harper and MacKay after General Walter Natynczyk acknowledged that the military had been aware that transferred prisoners risked being abused. The report contained a note from a Canadian soldier stating the following – “we then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan National Police did assault him, as has happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition.” The field report is dated 2006 and was apparently only discovered on Wednesday morning by General Natynczyk.

The opposition leaders and back-benchers took turns calling for MacKay’s resignation both directly and through the PM.

Coincidentally, MacKay was scheduled to appear in front of a parliamentary committee concerning Afghanistan on Wednesday afternoon, where he once again faced scathing criticism from opposition members. The government has consistently stated they have no credible evidence of detainees being tortured after being in Canadian custody, and attempted to spin the controversy into ‘military bashing’ by the Liberals and other opposition parties.

This desperation tactic may be a watershed moment for the parliament as they head into the holidays. The new developments related to the military police complaints commission’s stated determination to begin hearings in March over Afghan detainees, but many on the Hill feel the Conservative government will not appoint a new commissioner in time. 340, 000 documents currently being reviewed and redacted may thwart the committee’s ability to uncover the underlying issues. The government has stated the redacted material are a matter of “operational safety” for the troops still stationed overseas. Michael Ignatieff sees it differently.

“This is a government that tried to strangle the military police commission from the beginning,” Ingatieff stated. He added, “The risk of putting anybody in operational danger is about zero . . . It’s too ridiculous to discuss.”