Day to day, figuring out a Conservative party (or, more accurately, a PMO) communications strategy is a confusing trial of trying to guess what kind of game they’re playing. Is it the short yards they’re after today, or the long bomb?
In light of the kind of spring his party had in the headlines, Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan gave what some might consider to be either an hilarious or totally delusional quote on Monday. “We’ve had a very productive session, the government got a lot done,” Van Loan told the Globe and Mail. He went on to say the Conservative caucus would be returning to their ridings this summer “feeling positive”. Then Van Loan said: “I think everyone senses that, to the extent there’s momentum out there, that momentum is at our backs.”
Ha. Good one, right? I mean, let’s review. Read More
It was a simple enough argument to understand at the time. Then-industry minister Tony Clement spelled it out – “a little bit rhetorically,” as he put it – for his colleagues in the House of Commons in September 2010. If someone in Canada did not want to fill out a 40-page long-form census brimming with “personal, private” questions about things like who they are, what they believe, or “about their day-to-day routines” was it really appropriate that the government harass them until they do, or threaten to send them to jail? No, Clement said, it was not.
And yet, he went on, that was clearly what the other federal parties believed.
Well, sort of. It was at least true that they opposed making the mandatory long-form census a voluntary survey from the moment Clement announced the change earlier that summer. In fact they were still opposing it moments before Clement stood to talk that day. Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett had just finished calling the decision to eliminate the mandatory census “an attack on reason.” Before her, Maria Mourani, then a Bloc Quebecois MP, said the move was “nothing more than the government’s underhanded way of ensuring that the facts are less reliable in the future, so that it can continue saying whatever it wants about any topic” without ever being contradicted by Statistics Canada.
Clement was duly shocked and saddened by the opposition. Read More
Let’s accept that all those former members of Parliament Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan spoke to are telling the truth – or, at least, being mostly truthful – and the real work in Parliament gets done in committees, rather than the House of Commons. It sounds about right, anyway. But then, how do we explain Thursday?
Ostensibly, New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair was scheduled to appear at the procedure and House affairs to testify and discuss the fact that members of the party’s parliamentary staff had been working at political offices in Montreal and Quebec City – ones paid for by the party. That, technically, would be a no-no under the current rules. Before Mulcair even showed up, the NDP contested that the office’s employees were under two different unions and, therefore, the political employees did only party work, and the parliamentary employees did only non-partisan work. It was a splicing of fine hairs, probably, for most Canadians, but such things do matter, and this particular case ought to matter even more now that we’ve seen what happened. Read More
On Thursday, shortly after I arrived at the Liberal party’s biennial policy conference in Montreal, I checked out the swag table. Two years ago, in Ottawa, the merchandise booth at the party’s conference was decked out with memories. On sale were retro posters and buttons from campaigns of former Liberal party prime ministers – Trudeau, Chretien, King, Laurier, etc. There might have even been a few items with John Turner’s face on them, if memory serves. And a few feet away, the party had erected a large picture of a number of those men with a few holes cut out so delegates could stand behind it, poke their faces through and suddenly appear to be standing among the Liberal greats.
None of that stuff exists this year in Montreal. I asked about the buttons and the posters. The buttons? Gone. The posters? Also gone, and apparently though they sold many two years ago, they had a lot left behind at the end of that weekend – people just couldn’t be bothered to commit to carrying them around everywhere. You could probably make that last anecdote into some kind of allegory for the state of the party as a whole at the time, but even if were true, it might be slightly beside the point.
The point is this: In 2014, the only items up for sale at the merch booth were either those branded with the new Liberal logo – with the typeface for the capital ‘L’ having apparently been changed ever so slightly (though few probably noticed) – and one or two items with Justin Trudeau’s name on them, including a scarf. That is to say, all that recycling of past glories is gone, for now. Maybe that just means the Liberals are practical vendors, or maybe it means they don’t see the need to exploit pangs of glories past to hold everyone’s interest anymore; that Justin Trudeau is an almost perfect mélange of that nostalgia and modern political acumen, so all that retail nostalgia is now unnecessary. Read More
It’s very likely that if they were paying attention at all, the reaction from New Democrat MP Charlie Angus came as no surprise to anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office. The allegation Angus leveled after question period was pretty straightforward and, at this point, pretty familiar. “I certainly think the RCMP need to have the ability to go in and do some forensic testing in the Prime Minister’s Office to see what it is that we’re getting,” Angus told reporters after question period Monday.
We’re probably somewhere short of the CSI team swarming the PMO, but surely we’re justified in pondering the question Angus was addressing. That is, what exactly transpired – or didn’t – to lead to the Privy Council Office’s surprise Sunday’s evening admission that they did have all of Benjamin Perrin’s emails from his days at PMO, after all. As you might have heard by now, the PCO initially told both the PMO and the RCMP months ago that the emails belonging to Perrin, the prime minister’s former legal counsel, had been deleted. It wasn’t until the RCMP “sought further confirmation” about their existence recently that the PCO found them – and at the same time discovered Perrin’s emails “had in fact been retained due to a litigation hold in another matter.”
Well, who knows what that was all about? But NDP leader Thomas Mulcair took a shot at finding out Monday afternoon. How, he wondered aloud in the House of Commons, could Perrin’s emails disappear for three months? Especially, he quizzed, when they were being held for some other legal matter? Simple, according to the government. “The honourable member would have the explanation he is looking for if he had merely read the letter that PCO published,” Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, said. When Perrin left the PMO in March, Poilievre read, his emails were thought to have been deleted “as a matter of course.” Read More
A lot of disconcerting things have been said in Ottawa lately, but something from the prime minister on Thursday afternoon was more worrisome than others. And for Conservatives more than anyone.
Question period that day went poorly for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Only a day earlier, most observers agreed that he was in rare form as he ferociously defended his integrity in light of new accusations lobbed his way from Mike Duffy’s Tuesday speech in the Senate. The Conservative line on Wednesday was that Harper had only just been repeating what he’d said for months. Whichever was the truth – either Harper finally sounded serious about the Senate scandal, or the entire press gallery suffered an episode of amnesia and were suddenly incapable of remembering this past spring – barely mattered six minutes into question period Thursday.
After taking his first round of beatings from New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair, Harper had to answer a query from the far side of the House of Commons – the Liberal corner. That party’s leader, Justin Trudeau, was (strangely, when such events are unfolding in Ottawa) in Washington, D.C. for a conference about progressive governance. So, it fell to his deputy Dominic LeBlanc to make the accusation that instead of punishing Ray Novak for his alleged in “covering up the Conservatives’ scandal” and helping “hide the prime minister’s involvement,” Harper chose to make Novak his chief of staff. LeBlanc question was this: “Why does the prime minister think it is acceptable to reward potentially criminal behaviour?”
Harper stood to respond. Read More
Tuesdays revelations – or allegations, anyway – from Senator Mike Duffy were quite something. If his comments are to be proven, the consequences for the prime minister and, by extension, the Conservative Party might be dire. Probably you know what those allegations are already, but by way of a quick recap, I’ll simply quote Duffy himself, as he described what happened following a caucus meeting, after a story in the Ottawa Citizen raised the question about whether his residence was in Prince Edward Island or Ontario.
“I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules. But the prime minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base,” Duffy said Harper told him. “I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others. It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the prime minister – to ‘pay the money back!’ End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout. Just the three of us.”
That was the Holy Moly moment, delivered by a man who once told stories for a living, with the all the pauses and pronunciations in the right spots and the inflections placed more or less exactly on target. Duffy, accustomed for so long to TV, proved in the television-less Senate Tuesday he probably could have been just as successful a journalist had he stuck with radio. Read More
For the last few months, the most famous Canadian hasn’t been a pop star with stratospheric fame, but a man sitting far above it. Chris Hadfield’s tour as Commander of the International Space Station was as inspiring as it was informative for those millions of earthlings who followed his journey via his video updates (complete with cool space experiments) or his gorgeous photos of our home planet. While he was up there, Hadfield unveiled the new Canadian $5 bill, complete with a picture of the Canadarm on the back. The day it was unveiled, the finance minister, Jim Flaherty, said the bill showcased “the profound courage, determination and ingenuity of our nation and its people.”
As he usually does when one of the 34 million-odd citizens he governs does something special, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper had a nice message Monday for astronaut Chris Hadfield on his return to Earth. “The tireless and unique efforts by Commander Hadfield to educate Canada and the world about the final frontier, which were in addition to his very onerous duties as commander of the space station, are nothing short of inspirational and have helped rekindle the dreams and excitement of becoming an astronaut.” Harper said in a statement.
It went unmentioned in Harper’s statement that, thanks to the government’s recent push to cut its spending in each department, the Canadian Space Agency was asked in the 2012 spring federal budget to slash $29.5 million in spending before the 2014-15 fiscal year. Read More
There are probably a lot of reasons why political attack ads work: either because they get attention on their own, or because of the endless discussions that turn the content over and over, rehashing it for the sake of an argument about the debasing of political discussion in Canada. And fair enough, those are valid points. We would be better off without sloganeering that immediately attacks policies at the knees, hacking them down to stump material. But the reason attack ads - and the slogans they trumpet - still work has probably less to do with our general inability to have a substantive discussion on policy, and more to do with the fact that we’ve taught ourselves not to everywhere outside of the realm of political discussion.
The argument that Marshall McLuhan made in Understanding Media - his famous piece on the postmodern condition of electric communication - was about how our mass media affect our societal actions -- that “we shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” In that light, we could worry that attack ads could be ultimately change the overall political discourse in Canada. That is, if we were to limit it that much.
However, McLuhan also wrote about our willingness to regress to a form of communication based on abstracted signs, and given that, attack ads exemplify more a symptom of a current, ongoing problem than the potential cause of it. Read More
It’s no secret to a lot of people who know me personally that since I first left Calgary eight years ago, I have had a very definite love-hate, on-off relationship with the city. On the one hand, I grew up there, have friends and family there, and still consider it to have been a great place to grow up. But on the other hand, Calgary and I have had a more recent stormy relationship. We are often diametrically opposed organisms, having split somewhere around 2006 - seemingly forever.
To me, the city became a claustrophobic environment of big business and bigger back lawns; a city sprawling outward year after year without taking enough time to look inward, leaving a dead core and deader, emptier suburbs, constructed quickly around snaking tubes of highway where everyone could be sheltered, bubbled, all the way to their attached double garage - a hypocritical city that boasted of its innovation and yet showed little, socially or structurally. And no matter how big it got, it never felt inclusive enough. It seemed a cold city, a dying city, attached to a dying resource base - Alberta’s feverish Tropic of Capricorn, delusional in its conviction that a new boom is always just around the corner. A city that, despite my personal ties, no longer felt like home, but instead a sunny stucco dungeon of unwanted expectations. I left this place for good, I always thought. And thank God for that.
But. But maybe I was wrong. Read More
The ever-informative Éric Grenier of threehundredeight.com has a very interesting article up today for the Globe and Mail. Grenier analyzed youth voting tendencies in Canada, and came up with this breakdown of how the House of Commons might look if it were up to Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24.
It’s not overly surprising that the Tories would be, as Grenier writes, “decimated,” as in the past youth often tend to be more left-leaning. What is telling, in some ways, is just how important the youth demographic is to the Liberals, and how unimportant it probably is to the Conservatives - it’s clearly not their target audience.
This is good news and bad for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. First, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a popular leader, just that his party’s ideology is tempting - which isn’t exactly something to be wholly dismissed, either. Read More