The Tories have failed to turn the Khadr payout into a political win -

The Tories have failed to turn the Khadr payout into a political win

Most Canadians oppose Omar Khadr’s $10.5-million settlement. Why hasn’t that translated into Conservative Party support?

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer prepares for an on-air interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge in Charlottetown, P.E.I. on Canada Day, Saturday, July 1, 2017. (Photograph by Darren Calabrese)

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer prepares for an on-air interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in Charlottetown, P.E.I. on Canada Day, Saturday, July 1, 2017. (Photograph by Darren Calabrese)

Andrew MacDougall is a London-based columnist and commentator. He was a director of communications to Stephen Harper.

How powerful are Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways”? Not even the dark cloud of paying Omar Khadr a $10.5-million settlement, it seems, can obscure them.

A clear majority of Canadians might oppose the payout to the former Guantanamo Bay inmate, but a second poll released in the wake of the government’s decision confirms they haven’t yet transposed their opposition to support for the Tories, with the Liberals retaining all of their healthy lead over the anti-Khadr Conservative opposition.

The most straightforward way to read the recent polling is that while most Canadians opposed the Khadr settlement, they don’t feel strongly enough about it to change their party support. That’s a problem—and there are lessons to be learned for an opposition party with a new leader, as it slowly gears up for an election two years down the road.

MORE: MacDougall on how Khadr remains a prisoner of partisan politics

One is that heading to America to press a perceived political advantage, as Peter Kent and Michelle Rempel have done in recent weeks, may turn off Canadians. Some of the people who find the settlement distasteful might also share the same opinion of Canadian lawmakers who go down to the United States to shout about how much it stinks. Those American-media sorties weren’t only designed to flag Omar Khadr to Donald Trump or the Republican Party’s attention; they were also meant to catch the eye of another group of people who watch Fox News or read the Wall Street Journal in significant numbers—Canadian conservatives. It also illustrated something else: the Conservatives’ apparent inability to see beyond the base. Lord knows Justin Trudeau’s supporters aren’t watching Fox News, nor are they likely to care if Fox News pooh-poohs their man.

FROM THE CONSERVATIVES: The ‘grievous injustice’ of the Khadr settlement

Instead of focusing on the more nuanced questions about the settlement—about the precise timing, the particular amount, or the impact of Tabitha Speer’s court proceeding on deliberations—the Conservatives are shouting out their usual simple refrain of “terrorist” at full volume.

But if there’s any case that confounds such a simple exaltation, Khadr is it. Yes, Khadr did commit heinous acts, but he was 15 (or younger) at the time, and only in Afghanistan because his father was an unrepentant jihadi. Yes, Khadr was present for the death of U.S. medic Christopher Speer, but nobody can say for certain he threw the fatal grenade. Yes, Khadr did confess to his crimes, but he says he did it to escape the hellhole that is Guantanamo Bay.

By pounding Khadr with everything they have, the Tories are once again back to preaching to their converted, rather than trying to present a more measured face to those who might be with them on Khadr if it weren’t for the massive—and rather nasty—sledgehammer being swung about.

The Omar Khadr payout makes news in America. Image via screenshot.

The Omar Khadr payout makes news in America. Image via screenshot.

Whether Conservatives like it or not, they are perceived as the nasty party. They must always be mindful that the people they need to persuade to once again form government aren’t likely to be persuaded by anger or incivility. Especially against a smiling, earnest opponent like Trudeau. Harpooning the Prime Minister on Khadr isn’t going to change the outcome.

The Liberals didn’t drop the Khadr decision into the Tories’ lap hoping to prompt an overreaction. But once the issue did go live, the Liberals knew an overly aggressive Conservative response would be the best possible outcome, even if it’s not great. The lesson here is to be wary of political catnip.

FROM THE LIBERALS: Why we had to settle with Khadr

Another lesson? Don’t assume single-issue opposition to a government decision will move over to the broader issue of party choice.

This kind of assumption is what turns an issue like a niqab ban—where, again, polling indicated that most people were on the Conservatives’ side—into a proxy for how the party might act on other files if it were in government. When a party presses an issue beyond reason, voters start to wonder what’s really at stake. And while they’re not likely to ever be terrorists, most Canadians want to know their government will be there for them should they be caught up in legal mischief in a foreign land.

The Tory impulse to keep a bad news story for the government in circulation using these means also demonstrates how hard it is to know when to walk away from a communications win.

Had the Conservatives moderated and diversified their lines after the initial round of coverage, when Trudeau was fumbling for an explanation and the anger of Canadians was at its peak, the government might still be on the back foot. By banging on about Khadr in what is, for many, the usual Conservative way, the Liberals now get to hide behind process, as they are doing by criticizing the Conservatives for bringing domestic politics to foreign shores. The media is now also piling on over this perceived indiscretion. And none of it is moving the needle as far as what really counts: Conservative Party support.

Patience is a virtue. There are still two years until the next election. And the Khadr response shows the merits of a strategy that aims to take Trudeau down by inflicting a thousand cuts—rather than lashing out for the jugular.


The Tories have failed to turn the Khadr payout into a political win

  1. Small bitter petty people seldom win.

    • Ah but it worked so well for Harper, until we figured out just how small, bitter and petty he and his minions really were, and still are.

    • Dear Mr.Macdougall, “If you hang around with losers, you become a loser”, Quote, Donald Trump.

  2. Be patient folks. The great unwashed will eventually realize what a complete tool PM Selfie really is and the huge mistake they made in putting him in control.

    • Hmmmm…. A complete tool… leader of our country… IMF raises outlook for economic growth in Canada, expected to be tops for G7…. Tories political catnip is sublime.

      • Our narcissistic Mr. Selfie’s policies have had nothing to do with the improved economy. That’s all due to a depressed Canadian $ boosting manufacturing exports. His only economy boosting policy was to spend on infrastructure and that hasn’t began to launch yet.

        • Hey Jerome: here is a quote from a July 24th report in the Financial Post. Do you know what “domestic” means?

          The IMF boosted its 2017 outlook after taking stock of Canada’s surge in strong, year-to-date economic data. “Buoyant domestic demand boosted first-quarter growth to 3.7 per cent and indicators suggest resilient second-quarter activity,” the IMF said.

          And here is what the OEDC had to say in their June 2017 Report: “Economic growth is projected to increase in 2017, driven by expansionary fiscal policy, household wealth gains and a resumption in business investment, In particular in the resource sector following the rebound in commodity prices.” Do you know what “expansionary” means?

          And here is a quote from the June RBC forecast for Canada: “Still with business investment turning around and government spending on infrastructure ramping up we project that the economy will grow by 2.6% in 2017, about double the average pace of prior two years.”

          Nowhere in the above reports were they attributing the growth to the low dollar. You should do some research before you just sound off in a jealous rage.

  3. I don’t believe the poll that supposedly said that 71% of Canadians were against Omar Khadar. Canadians protect their children, not throw them away. Another Conservative scheme. The most uncaring political party that Canada has ever had to deal with. I was born here 92 years ago so I know a bit about the politics in this country.

    • I find the poll results hard to believe too. Perhaps many people have not looked into the background on the issue. The Supreme Court decided he was a victim, and who am I to argue with them? A quick payout is better than a long drawn-out court case.

      • Actually, when you do look deeper into what happened, the reported facts are varied and very disturbing. Other than a coerced confession attained by torturous means, the evidence that Kadhr even threw the grenade is very questionable. But goodness knows that the US has never tried to cover up or alter the facts. Things like Iran Contra and the Weapons of Mass Destruction must have just been “alternative facts” created and reported by a baised media before alternative facts even existed.

    • Agreed. Canadians aren’t like that. Only Cons are.

      And I’m 71.

  4. People aren’t going to change their voting intentions because one little terrorist wins 10.5 million Trudeau bucks. The Tories are flogging this because there is nothing else to flog right now. The election will be won or lost on other issues and tactics.

  5. Isn’t it great how Andrew McDougall, Stephen Harper’s communications director is all of a sudden referring to Conservatives as “they” … as if he is somehow no longer associated with the petty, mean-spirited ignoramuses… you own these types Andrew … don’t try to back away from them now.

  6. Results of major social changes take time. The Liberal Party supporters here are overjoyed that McDougall has seemingly turned on fellow conservatives, and as one person put it, only 71% of Canadians were against this payout. It was 71% of Conservatives only 60 or 64% of Liberals and the NDP. The reality was the method employed by Trudeau, that has yet to sink in.
    Will this have a long term effect, no.
    Trudeau is his own and the Liberal party’s worst enemy, as time will tell.

    • Allen…. the Angus Ried poll you are referring to has 91% of Conservative voters against it.

      Before anyone disparages Conservative voters 73% of Atlantic Canada voters are against it. That would be right in the midst of the Liberal Parties power base. (Liberals 32 MPs elected – CPC 0 NDP 0 Green 0)

      The Liberal support in the last election was NB 52%, NS 62%, PEI 58% and NL 65%. The heavily Liberal biases Abacus poll has the Liberal support in Atlantic Canada at 40%. The natives are indeed restless.

      • Hmmmm? The Abacus poll that I see from July 20, 2017 pegs the Liberal voter intention in Atlantic Canada at 53%. And the Nanos poll from July 21, 2017 pegs Liberal support at 59.08%.

        But those both must be Liberal biased.

        Perhaps Fox News will publish an unbiased poll that favours the Conservatives now that Peter Kent and Michelle Rempel have done their patriotic for Canada south of the border.

  7. The power of a Lion is not measured in how loud he can roar, or if he can roar long enough for the Conservative Poachers to find him on the Savannah. Lions do not waste their energy running aimlessly across the plains, they are patient, observant and hunt game they know will not exhaust their stored energy.
    The Conservatives have a yappy Chihuahua for a leader that waits for lunch to be served at Tims’, and not a Lion like JT.

  8. The Conservatives are screaming because they know they dont have much of a case once people understand the real issues and to try to divert attention from their own culpability in the case which is part of the reason that the settlement amount is so large.

    The Angus Reid poll was suspect from the get go but has been wielded like a club by the Conservatives to try and lend credibility to their hysterics and to show they speak for Canadians.

    More recent polls show that overall the disapproval of the settlement was more in the range of 43 percent with Conservatives the only voters that disapproved strongly.But for some reason those polls are never quoted whereas the Angus Reid poll with all its obvious shortcomings, was quoted everywhere.

    Most Canadians would not be pleased to have Michelle Rempel speak for them as she claimed to do or Brian Lilley of The Rebel/The Sun or Pierre Poilievere who gave an interview to an American right wing blogger. They all claimed to speak for Canadians based on that poll.

    But what else do the Conservatives have? Go to their website-it is all Trudeau, and their only policy/agenda seems to be how much they dislike Trudeau . So all you get is raging against Trudeau and the cheap insults you see everywhere.

    It must work with their base. The Conservatives famous success in fund raising seems to rest on whipped up hysteria over something or other followed by pleas for money-but it doesn’t expand their message beyond their perpetually outraged base.

  9. The latest Abacus poll asked how did you vote last election 51% of the poll respondents said they voted Liberal….
    The poll says says that the Liberals have 43% support if the election was held today.
    There was no mention in the analysis that it is pretty obvious that in the polling sample the Liberals have dropped significant. ie 51% support of this sample group is now down to 43%

    The irrefutable fact is that the Liberals had 39.5 % support in the 2015 election, That means a valid sample that asks how did you vote last election would have the Liberal support at 37.5 to 41.5 %. Obviously the poll over sampled Liberals and all the opinions in the poll are more Liberal biased than that of the general population.

    Looking for any value in the poll the fact that the Liberal biased poll shows a drop of 8% support from last election would mean that the Liberals are actually closer to 39.5-8 = 31.5 % support and maybe the folks are really mad about the Khadr fiasco.

    • Keep dreaming BC Voice of Reason. I addressed your poll inaccuracy earlier on in this comments section. However, you do get points for creativity. Or should I say “alternative facts”?

  10. To me, it is worse than that for the Conservatives. What they’ve shown here (beyond a disdain for the laws of this country, and a base that laps up whatever without even thinking about fact checking, or where the slippery slope ends, or what tomorrow’s “other” might be) is that Scheer is just a puppet for Harper, still. Why on earth Stephen Harper would have started this ball rolling is beyond me, but Scheer didn’t stand a chance, not that I think he’d have done anything differently.

    And missing in this piece is the *real* strategy, which has nothing to do with winning the next election, and everything to do with fundraising. Which I guess answers my question about why Harper involved himself–except that the point of the curtain is to not have people realizing you are there pulling the strings.

  11. I don’t know if the Conservatives really failed they just showed us that the Liberal government likes to keep things hidden from the taxpayers. They take our money and give it to a terrorist and hide it from a grieving family and an injured ally. Hell, with allies like us why have enemies? Why don’t we just give the money to ISIS! I hope I am wrong about that one, but Omar has not shown any respect or apologized to the family he hurt and our soldiers and allied soldiers for all the ieds him and his friends made and killed and injured OUR soldiers! Oh, yes our government looks really good!

    • ‘Our’ soldiers?

  12. they already have a win on this
    71% of CDNs including most from the NDP & Lib parties disagreed with the settlement
    don’t forget, the Chretien Martin Libs could have settled this for 100 thousand years ago, they refused

    • Why don’t you read up on this, Koreen, instead of spewing your vacuous, hate filled speech? There are lots of facts out there concerning Kadhr and what happened that day. The only concrete evidence for Kadhr throwing that grenade was a confession forced out of him years later under duress. But the eye witness accounts and first hand reports, which are diverse and many, don’t back that up.

    • A hundred thousand dollars? Could you provide a reliable source for that please?

  13. As the debt mounts and Mr. Selfie’s narcissism continues to grow, Canadians will eventually understand that to promote himself, he’s putting us in a debt sewer we’ll never get out of. A flake can only last for so long and his time is coming. The sooner he’s gone, the better. Like father like son. His old man’s major legacies were a mountain of debt and 18% mortgages.

  14. One major factor commentators seem to overlook is that, in late 2014, the judge overseeing Khadr’s civil suit allowed the claim to include a charge of “conspiracy”. If Khadr had won (and he likely would have), Canadian officials could have found themselves exposed to further charges, possibly criminal, due to their active participation and collusion in his torture and detention. That event set the stage for this settlement — a settlement and apology broadly similar to the one Stephen Harper’s government reached with Maher Arar.

    • There were three separate supreme court rulings and neither one of these rulings mentioned anything regarding monetary payouts. Further to your point that Khadr was tortured this is simply not true. During Khadr’s war trial (for which he was charged with 5 war crimes) he had stated in an affidavit that he was tortured, but when it can time for him to testify on those charges he refused to take the stand; essentially conceding that his accusation was untrue.
      Most reasonable people would realize that his Charter rights had been restored with his repatriation to Canada and his lightened prisoned sentence from 40 years to 8 years.

      • Please provide your sources for your “no torture” and “refused to take the stand” claims.

  15. This is easy to figure out. While many Canadians do not necessarily agree with the payment or even the apology they dislike torture even more. Most of us also do not agree with small minded politicians agreeing to this torture for the sake of an extreme base. Another thing, crying about our politics on an American conservative station just alienates people.

    • There is simply no truth to your accusation that Khadr was tortured. During Khadr’s war trial (for which he was charged with 5 war crimes) he had stated in an affidavit that he was tortured, but when it can time for him to testify on those charges he refused to take the stand; essentially conceding that his accusation was untrue.

      • Again, provide a source for your claims, Go West, becaue viturally every other source says that he was tortured and/or made to confess under duress. Guantanamo Bay was not known as a resort destination.

      • Again, provide a source for your claims, Go West, becaue viturally every other source says that he was tortured and/or made to confess under duress. Guantanamo Bay was not known as a resort destination.