Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The opportunity is still there

I'm glad I didn't post last night. Besides being drowned in half a vat of Kokanee, the immediate reaction to an election that doesn't go your way is anger - specifically anger at the people who didn't vote your way. Much beer + severe irritation + a blog = writing something you will regret, maybe painfully. Luckily, I'm not an angry guy by nature, so I woke up this morning with a modest hangover and a slight feeling of depression. Even that didn't last long. The depression that is, not the hangover.

I've spent part of the morning mulling which was worse: the Flames losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals after being up 3 games to 2, or the CPC losing by 35 seats to the Liberals after being projected to win by 10 or so seats (on average). Conclusion: it all sucks. Amazingly, although I had $10 on the Flames to win the Cup at 85-1, it is actually the election loss that's going to cost me more money, and probably you too.

On The Sports Guy's Levels of Losing, I see the election result as mostly a Stomach Punch, with a bit of The Achilles Heel and a healthy contribution from The Monkey Wrench.

Reading through the post-mortems in the papers, there are two essentially opposing schools of thought on What Went Wrong. I cringe at that characterization, because relative to the day the writ was dropped the CPC made significant gains, and Inkless reminds us that to suggest otherwise is cheap revisionism. However, stating that the CPC could have been much more successful in exploiting Liberal vulnerability is no such suggestion.

The first take, as summed up by Licia Corbella, is that too many Conservatives "strayed off message", and they failed to keep the focus on Liberal corruption. The second, as suggested by Andrew Coyne (eventually), is that putting all the focus on the Liberals and corruption, without adequately promoting their own platform, was their undoing.

I am wholeheartedly and stubbornly behind the second take. Considering that the CPC hasn't even existed long enough to have a policy convention, they deserve some leeway, but the central truth of the matter is: portraying your party as Liberals who aren't the Liberal Party is short-sighted, uninspiring, and ultimately ineffective.

Below is a letter I wrote on February 19th to, coincidentally, Licia Corbella and Andrew Coyne, addressing the question, "How does the CPC take advantage of this opportunity?". With the benefit of hindsight, I am even more certain of my central thesis. Judge for yourself.

The strategies being presented to meet this challenge invariably center around a couple of themes:
(1) Make sure the scandal isn't allowed to fade into the background
(2) Show our candidates as moderate alternatives to the status quo

To be brief: wrong, wrong, wrong! Although logical on the face, these strategies are wrong; partly because they won't work, but mostly because the opportunity available right now is too important to waste on a mere change in the name of the governing party.

The scandal WILL fade, right or wrong - there is no need to let it go completely, but to have 90% of Conservative face time on TV used up by vicious partisan attacks would be a waste. And as for aiming for a totally benign perception for the party - it hasn't worked, it doesn't work, and it won't work.

Stockwell Day attempted to present his major policies and plan for governing (health care, EI, debt & deficit, etc.) as mainstream; similar but different from the Liberals. The conventional wisdom after the 2000 election was that he failed – Ontario voters weren't ready to vote for such a radical change. Incorrect; in fact, he succeeded, too well. Instead of the pundits analyzing a proposed sea change in Canadian government, they were left to seize on his religious beliefs, as well as capital punishment, abortion, and other issues peripheral to the business of governing.

The Conservative strategy for success in the upcoming election should be to present an intelligent, achievable, important vision for governing Canada, and defend it vigorously. Damn the “mainstream media” and go for it, and the voters will believe. It is the only way to both win an election and have a mandate for change.

Even if one is not persuaded that the Conservatives can only win by presenting measurably new and different ideas from the Liberals, consider this: who was in a better position, Mike Harris in 1995, or Dalton McGuinty in 2003? Harris had the mandate to initiate the Common Sense Revolution, and ignore the cries of the unions, the CBC, and all the others with a vested interest in the unsustainable status quo. McGuinty wanted to be all things to all people, so that anyone disenchanted with the Tories for any reason would support him. The result was that Mike Harris was reelected four years later, while McGuinty’s present status would have to be upgraded to qualify as no-win.

Notwithstanding the Quebec ad scandal, the present political climate is ripe for an electoral headslap to the Liberals, especially in Ontario (thank you again, Mr. McGuinty). It would be a travesty to waste this opportunity by campaigning toward the mere purpose of getting elected. It would be doubly tragic to fail without presenting a new and important vision.


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