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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Even The Pest sees problems these days.

Tories manage brand, not crises


Tories manage brand, not crises
Harper's style doesn't poll well in all situations

John Ivison
National Post

Saturday, June 23, 2007

OTTAWA -One of the more curious revelations of the parliamentary session just ended is that, while Stephen Harper's Conservatives have proven adept at crafting a long-term strategy, they have looked embarrassingly inept when dealing with events they don't control.

Mr. Harper has redefined how politics in Canada is practised by adopting the permanent campaign model elevated to an art form by former U.S. president Bill Clinton -- a strategy that blurs the lines between campaigning and governing.

Even its architects aren't convinced it is good for Canada -- "the constant campaign process doesn't necessarily make for good governance," said one senior Conservative source -- but it has proven fruitful for the Conservative party.

In his first 17 months as Prime Minister, Mr. Harper racked up 153 public events, 85 of them outside Ottawa, according to his Web site. This works out to nine events a month, more than half of which were on the road.

By comparison, Paul Martin held 143 events in two years (outside of the 2004 election campaign), of which 39 were out of town. This breaks down to six events a month, fewer than two of which were outside the national capital region.

August, 2006, was a typically hectic month for Mr. Harper. He held a caucus retreat in Cornwall, attended an ethnic festival in British Columbia, then embarked on a tour of Canada's three territories, where he staked out a strong position on Arctic sovereignty. Then he headed back to Ontario, where he was accompanied by his family to the Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Mary's and a production of Oliver at the Stratford Festival.

The month was capped off by a quick stop at a fire training centre in Toronto, an upgrade to an RCMP Training Academy in Regina and a border security announcement in B.C.

A senior Conservative says there is a long-term strategy behind this activity.

"In a minority government in particular, it's all about branding. The Liberals built a brand over 40 years by hijacking the flag, by appealing to ethnic communities and claiming to be Canada's natural governing party.

"That brand is worth 30 [percentage] points to them [in support]. Conservative parties have rarely dipped below 20% support, so we have to build up our brand and make it not a question of policy but of values, style and symbolism," he said.

Mr. Harper's August, 2006, tour was typical of how the Conservatives target audiences, with appearances aimed at Canadians who cherish the values of family, rule of law and security.

The biggest asset in this permanent campaign has been Mr. Harper, who has used the natural advantage of governing as a platform to advocate his agenda. Conservatives have worked from the assumption there is a large number of fluid voters who can be attracted by local appearances, moral sentiments and targeted messages.

Senior members of Mr. Martin's inner circle say he was more interested in governing than campaigning. During Mr. Martin's brief reign, announcements would routinely be made from Ottawa and, as was the case in the sponsorship scandal, would often amount to an appeal for voters to weigh the facts and make their decision at the ballot box.

Drew Westen, the American author of a new book called The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, suggests a strategy based on logic and policy is doomed to failure. He contends that voters make decisions based on feelings they develop toward a party -- such as whether or not the party cares about them and their issues.

Conservatives have been much more adept than their rivals at using marketing techniques to evoke feelings, both positive and negative. They have highlighted Liberal failures, used national symbols such as hockey and micro-targeted swing voters with policies and tax cuts.

As the senior Conservative said: "Do you think Dion would be half as unpopular if it hadn't been for our pre-writ ads? The most famous [picture] of recent times is of him holding up his hands and saying, 'This is unfair.' "

The success of this strategy explains why the Conservatives were nudging 40% support in late March. Yet their numbers have nose-dived since then, and one recent poll had them trailing the Liberals. The most obvious reason has been the inability of Mr. Harper and his immediate circle in the Prime Minister's Office to react to events beyond their control.

Even senior members of the government concede the Clean Air Act, the Afghan detainees issue and the dispute with the provinces over the new equalization deal have not been handled adroitly. On detainees, one strategist recalls asking for talking points from the PMO before going on a televised discussion panel. "I was told to read the previous day's Question Period, which was no help because we had three different positions," he said.

Insiders say the Prime Minister's Office did not co-ordinate the response from the departments of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Public Safety and, as a result, ministers appeared to contradict one another. Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor was left to fend off calls for his resignation.

The plan in crisis situations has been to avoid the media. One MP said the only advice the Prime Minister's communications director, Sandra Buckler, was able to offer to caucus was the location of the back door.

The Conservatives have used the permanent campaign as one way of circumventing a parliamentary press gallery they view as hostile. But the strategy of not telling the government's side of the story has yielded the predictable result that the opposition parties have filled the news void with their own spin. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted last week, his attempts to bypass traditional media through Web sites and press conferences have been "to no avail."

A run of bad headlines has turned the Conservatives' biggest asset -- their leader -- into a liability. In recent weeks, Mr. Harper has negated much of the natural advantage of governing by taking combative positions, such as his dare to the provinces to sue the federal government over the Atlantic Accords.

"In some ways, Harper's a victim of his intelligence," said one Conservative, who has worked closely with the Prime Minister. "If a course of action adds up, he presumes that everyone will bow before his intelligence. But politics is far more messy than that."

A number of Conservatives say Mr. Harper's aggressiveness is a cover for fundamental insecurity. "He's the nerd, the chess player, who in his own mind is smarter than the other kids. He's got a chip on his shoulder that he and the kernel of people around him are against the world and he gets angry very easily," said one source.

This trait wasn't a problem when he was leader of the Opposition, a job that demanded a vitriol Mr. Harper did not need to contrive. But no prime minister can control all the moving pieces of government and when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, he is the one who has to defend the position. Mr. Harper's instincts are not defensive -- he prefers to get his retaliation in first -- with the result that television news clips have regularly shown him looking like an irate hockey coach protesting an unjust penalty.

The polling evidence suggests Canadians are not impressed by his occasional flashes of overt and over-the-top partisanship, such as when he accused Mr. Dion of being more supportive of Taliban prisoners than Canadian soldiers. The Liberals have wasted no time in painting the Prime Minister as a "mean-spirited autocrat, with a casual disregard for the facts and a hard-core Republican streak," in the words of one senior Grit.

Mr. Harper has proven in the past that a summer of reflection results in an improved performance come the fall. He may yet recognize that, with a front bench of accomplished attack dogs, it's time to stop barking.

14,078 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Geez 'Spec, you're gonna be devastated when he's re-elected, aren't you?
yeah, but I'm fat so I'm even surprised you replied
after all we know that in Alberta non-Albertan fat people are despised and aren't to be trusted

oh and Harpo ain't getting no majority which won't make those he answers to (not the Cdn. people) very happy

i notice that only fink nottle has replied to my offer to bet that the Cons won't win a majority next time out

all those con artists out there don't like gambling or perhaps they know harpo is in for another minority?
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