It would seem that the Leader of the Third Party has come up with a new “initiative” of sorts. It seems that he’s holding a data-gathering exercise: if regular folks write down a question that they want presented in Question Period by the 17th of May (this coming Friday), on their website, then Mr. Trudeau will select one and present it the next time he’s in Question Period. He and his team have even gone so far as to suggest a format: 1 or 2 sentences on the situation, 1 or 2 sentences on the specific problem, and a 1-sentence question that seeks action or information.
Frankly, it looks from here like yet another exercise to capture names and e-mail addresses to expand automated pleas for fundraising. Still, I suppose we have to assume that Mr. Trudeau will genuinely follow up on this proposal and present a question that he says comes from the grassroots of the voting populace. Should the PM or minister give the traditional non-answer that he usually gives the Liberals, Mr. Trudeau can then, theoretically, turn around and tell the Canadian voter that, see, the Conservatives don’t really care about you, look how they brush you off.
I say “theoretically.” Because I can think of a number of reasons why this probably won’t work:
- Limited participation. The proposal is up on the Liberal Party website, YouTube, Justin’s Twitter and Facebook feeds, and will probably be passed along by some — but not all — of his Twitter followers. The thing is, although social media is definitely interactive, and although the Trudeau team’s command of social media is impressive, it’s still really not enough to reach beyond that portion of the Canadian electorate who’s actively, politically engaged. Which means:
- A high risk of hijacking by the Liberal Party “grasstops.” I’d suggest that the people who are most likely to participate in this exercise are people who are not only already inclined to vote Liberal, but who play an active role in the Party itself. We’re talking members of the university and college Liberal clubs, riding association executives and volunteers, regular donors, and so on. These people may very well fall into the “middle class” category that Mr. Trudeau likes to talk about, but their involvement with the Party means that they start with an automatic bias, already knowing how to phrase a question that will appeal to their own partisan values. Certainly their questions have a better chance of getting through the inevitable weeding process than, say, a question from someone who’s an NDP supporter.
- High potential of embarrassment via exposure. In order to avoid accusations that he’s using party-prepared questions from “hypothetical” members of the public, Mr. Trudeau will have to be prepared to give the name and home town of the question’s originator. What’s more, if he’s to have any credibility for demanding “openness” from this government, he won’t be able to hide the originator with a pseudonym. And the trouble is, once that name is given, at least some partisan social media participants will try to learn more about the originator — and if it turns out he or she has ties to the Liberal Party, Mr. Trudeau’s scheme will be denounced as partisan trickery, diluting or even neutralizing whatever impact it might have had on the Tory image.
There’s a fair bit of irony here. The very people who are most likely to participate in this initiative are also the very people whose involvement could make it backfire. Or would you say otherwise?
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Well, it’s been a while since we last had a rhetorically silly exchange in Question Period. This particular one is from yesterday’s Question Period:
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives are deluded if they think that the Auditor General was somehow congratulating them for doing a good job. The Auditor General lambasted them in the strongest language I have ever seen in an Auditor General’s report.
If this $3.1-billion boondoggle was their only problem, it would be different, but we have a pattern developing here of ministers resigning, lives at risk in search and rescue mismanagement and unreported privacy violations of a million Canadians. It makes one wonder what this government is good at.
There is one thing it is good at: re-branding Government of Canada websites in Conservative Party colours to make it look like somehow there is no difference between the Conservative Party and the–
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bruce Stanton): The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board.
Mr. Andrew Saxton (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board and for Western Economic Diversification, CPC): Mr. Speaker, regarding government websites, different colours were tested with web specialists. They found that blue worked best. Do not take my word for it. The website About.com says:
Blue is a favourite color of both men and women of all ages…. It may be the calming effect of the color blue that makes it a popular colour for both men and women or it could be the association of some shades of blue with authority figures, intelligence, and stability.
I’m not quite sure which is sillier: the member of the Opposition complaining about the design colors of government websites, or the Parly Sec justifying the design on the basis of an internet site like About.com.
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Well, hello lad. I don’t think there’s any need for me to congratulate you, since (a) everybody foresaw this and (b) you’re going to get a lot of them anyway, from people you actually pay attention to.
I will give you credit for one thing that you’ve demonstrated that you’ve got, that neither Stéphane Dion nor Michael Ignatieff had: you’re under no illusions about either your own abilities, or the task ahead of you. Contrary to what the mainstream media would have you believe, your job is not to restore the Liberal Party to power in 2015; that’s too high a standard to meet. Let’s, instead, set a more achievable standard: increase your seat count to a range of 50 to 75 seats.
Why is this a better standard? Let me explain what you’re up against:
- You’re in the middle of the road — meaning you’ll be hit from both directions. Sure, Stephen Harper is king of the Hill right now, so he’s your obvious target. But you’re not the Leader of the Opposition. Tom Mulcair has legislative experience, a defined core personality, more MPs to back him up and a lot more opportunities to perform well in Parliament, making his case before the people. If the media have to choose between attending one of your press conferences and one of Mulcair’s, most will choose the latter — because he’s got the more important office. That’s not something that can be cancelled out by mere name recognition.
- Sooner or later, you’ll piss off a lot of the people who supported you. So far, your campaign strategy has allowed everyone to project their own expectations of a successful leader onto you. That’s not going to work anymore, if only because the PM and the Opposition Leader won’t let it. Their own positioning and posturing on the “issues of the day” will force you into defining your party’s position, because waiting for the grassroots to come up with policy (which is what you’ve been advocating) can and will be portrayed as a failure of leadership. And you can bet that whatever position you come up with will either tick off the young (the people you’ve been trying to attract to the party) or the old (the people with history and loyalty to the party). Not necessarily mad enough to vote for another party, but frustrated enough not to bother to vote at all — which is the real problem with democracy, Canada-style.
- The battlefield for the next election is changing. Remember that the 2015 election is going to be fought in a different political realm than the one in 2011. There will be more seats to contest, especially in suburban areas and the West, which from a demographic standpoint would likely favour the Tories. That means your Party is going to have to reorganize its riding associations, and that will in all likelihood require more of your active intervention than you’re expecting. See above point.
- The consequences of your failure are higher than you probably realize. Yes, failure. You have to allow for the possibility of achieving fewer seats in 2015 — and even a potential wipeout like what happened with the Bloc in 2011. Of course, if 2015 sees you lose your seat in Papineau … that’s it then; your ride will be over. But if you keep your seat, but wind up with less than 38 seats … it won’t matter what you say anymore. The Liberal Party will be gone: quite a number of the new supporters you hoped to attract will retreat, stung by the loss; the older stalwarts who kept the Party going will either be retired or contemplating it, not willing to expend more energy on a cause best consigned to history.
And that’s pretty much what you’ve signed up for, Mr. Trudeau. There’s no point in asking whether you’re up to it, because like it or not, you’re going to have to be.
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A sad day? No, not really. At age 87 and plagued by dementia, Baroness Margaret Thatcher would definite pass from the scene sooner rather than later; it was only a question of when. With her gone now, it’s a good time to reflect on the era when she governed the UK.
And I do mean govern. Taking on Britain’s unions, one of the most militant movements in the world, and winning. Declaring war with Argentina over the Falklands, and winning. It’s no surprise that when they called her “The Iron Lady,” she took it as a compliment.
It’s very difficult, nowadays, to think of a leader these days who has that level of unyielding belief in his or her own principles. Stephen Harper? Too expedient, and not charismatic enough. Barack Obama? Definitely polarizing, but not really substantial enough. David Cameron? Oh, come on.
Are we likely to see the likes of Mrs. Thatcher again? Probably not. She was the product of the desperate 1970s, and I don’t believe we should want those conditions to come round again. But as a paragon for future politicians to admire … well, yeah. She may have passed on, but her example and legacy are going to be around for a long, long time.
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It’s tempting to snicker at this, were it not so utterly predictable.
Of course Rob Ford’s support would rise in this poll. Any time mainstream media launches a sustained personal attack against any politician, media consumers will become suspicious. Especially when said attack is based on little more than anonymous sourcing, backed by people known to be hostile to the target, and is met by stout, sustained denial from the aggrieved as well as neutral parties. And when consumers of media become suspicious, they take a second look at the target, and unless the opposition has something substantial, the potency of its attack will dissolve into oh-so-much hot air.
The legendary premier of BC, WAC Bennett, once told reporters the secret to his popularity: if you’re going to fly high, you need to have the wind against you. It needs to be remembered that Mr. Bennett and his Social Credit party were elected completely by accident, upsetting a mainstream Liberal-Conservative party bent on keeping the social-democratic opposition out of power via a new preferential balloting system. So of course he faced a very hostile press, used to doing business the old way. Much the same boat that Rob Ford faces now.
Frankly, the smartest thing the Toronto Star could do, right now, is reduce its coverage of Mayor Ford and focus much more on the antics of the Toronto city council. If they want to toss him out, they’ll get a chance come the next election, as is right and proper. A sustained attack to drive him out of office early — that strikes too many people as a subversion of the very democracy progressives believe they practice.
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