Liberals … had a series of debates in 2006 that were highly captivating. They were extremely interesting. Contestants like Michael Ignatieff, Stephane Dion and Gerard Kennedy went at each other hammer and tong. They were fiercer than a bunch of cobras at a sock hop.
At the time, they probably thought they were making things interesting, and that interesting was good. Except that, when the election rolled around, the Conservatives ran ad after ad showing the interesting Liberal leadership aspirants scratching and clawing each other.
Their message: “These clowns are more critical of each other than we are.
“Do you really want them running the country?”
Short answer: No.
Thus, Liberals are being very, very careful this time around. They are uninterested in giving the media more prime time Grit fratricide. And they are particularly uninterested in giving Stephen Harper more fodder for TV attack ads.
I’m guessing that he means fodder like this:
Which got turned into an attack ad like this:
Now here’s the thing about that particular ad: Michael Ignatieff didn’t really come out looking all that bad. It was Stéphane Dion who came off on the defensive. It was there in the original footage, and it didn’t need any torquing in the ad.
But did Mr. Dion set out to look like that? Of course not. It was a consequence of a debate question that focused on the Liberal record on the environment. And, because it was a leadership debate that absolutely had to examine why the Liberals lost the 2006 election, it was a question that absolutely had to be looked at by all the candidates. It was, in short, a legitimate question of honest debate: anything that sounded like a inoffensive talking point would be fair game for a challenge.
If this year’s leadership candidates are going to be focused on not “giving Stephen Harper more fodder for TV attack ads,” that seems to imply that anything that’s worthy of honest debate could turned into grist for the Tory election team’s mill. Which means in order not to look like they’re savaging each other, they’ll have to go bland and timid.
Frankly, that does this campaign no favours whatsoever. The candidates know they have positions and records that have to be challenged by their opposition, as well as the media. If they can’t properly attack and defend themselves in an arena where at least all participants share a common goal, what makes them think they’ll be ready for an arena where not one, but four parties will be competing for the voters’ support?
One of the skills of leadership is knowing when to take risks, and these candidates know they have to risk looking as defensive and petulant as Mr. Dion in order to defend their own stances and skills properly. If Mr. Kinsella thinks it’s good that no one’s given the Conservative campaign team any ammunition to furnish into an attack ad, then that implies a level of apprehension as to what that team can do to his party with any statement or remark that bears on the party’s self-examination. And that would suggest that Mr. Kinsella has no confidence that these people, even the ones he favours, can survive any jiu-jutsu tactics of the Tory attack team.
Of course, people could point to Thomas Mulcair as an example of a politician who became leader without giving the Tory attack team any ammunition for an attack ad — at least, not during his campaign. However, you can’t really say that any of this lot have the abilities and skills of Mr. Mulcair.