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Dept. of 20-20 hindsight


 

I asked this already, in the comments to another post, but it’s been nagging at me:

Why did the Conservatives spend two years buying pre-writ ads against Stéphane Dion, in French, in Quebec? There wasn’t a single month in that entire time when the main opponent in French-speaking Quebec wasn’t the Bloc Québécois. And the Conservatives just let them be. Doesn’t seem clever in retrospect.


 

Dept. of 20-20 hindsight

  1. Have to agree with you re: not going after the Bloc.

    But one thing I would guess the CPC has learned from past experience…once you’ve got your figurative foot on the figurative neck of the Liberals, don’t let up. Because if you do, sure as hell they’ll come back stronger than before.

  2. Paul: on one of the At Issue panels during the campaign, they dug out some footage of Harper saying that negative ads were dangerous because they drove down support of the target, but not toward the attackers. In a multi-party system like Canada’s, the third parties benefit whereas in the US, they have nowhere else to go.

    Weakening the Liberals made sense because the Bloc will never dislodge the CPC from power. I assume the CPC thought they could use a more positive message to win support away from the BQ.

  3. An alternative view is that despite their technical expertise, the polling, the focus groups, the navel-gazing analysis, the boys in the back rooms aren’t the real big foreheads that we’ve been persuaded them to be.

  4. More to the point Paul…the ads they did run didn’t work. Quebec is the one place where Dion can probably find some semblance of a moral victory. The Bloc vote was actually down a fair bit relative to 2006 (notwithstanding the “p’tite affaire”), but those votes (along with quite a few Tory votes) went to the Liberals and (to a lesser extent) the NDP.

  5. In this particular instance, I’m leaning toward Sisyphus’ point of view.

  6. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Given the antics the war room/Little Shop got up to during the campaign, I can understand your position, Paul. That is, unless the juvenile tactics of the Little Shop were deliberate, targeting a segment to which that kind of strategy appeals. I am at least a bit skeptical that someone as famously controlling as Harper would give so much rein.

  7. I should emphasize that this never occurred to me at the time, hence the headline.

  8. I’m 26, well educated and I think I know it all. But in reality, I totally don’t. I have a huge amount to learn and the only real way to do that is to experience things the hard way through trial and error, and long periods of time.

    Take a look at Tory war rooms filled with young Ryan Sparrow-types. It’s all hip and cool to employ young people in senior positions, but there is a reason those senior positions should go to people with experience.

  9. Agreed: it was a cock-up. However, what they did try on the Bloc (the truck talking about wasted tax dollars) blew up in our faces. Afterall, Bloc voters are who we want to court and we just told them they were stupid to vote the way they did for the past 18 years. Telling people they are stupid, explicitly or implicitly, doesn’t win votes.

    There’s lots of vulnerability to exploit in Bloc country. We didn’t get it done, to quote Iggy.

  10. I tend to think that since the bloc is a party focused on advancing quebec interests, any attack on the bloc comes across as an attack on quebec. Attacking the bloc comes with the real risk of being counterproductive.

    As we have seen however, attacking the Liberals in quebec wasn’t productive either.

    I think this stems from the miscommunication or mistrust between french and english canada, and the federal parties merely beating each other over the head in quebec certainly doesnt help.

    We need a leader who can supersede the Bloc, who can make the bloc irrelevant by showing quebecers that a vote for THEIR federal party is a vote for Canadian interests, which includes quebec interests as a whole. This leader must repair the mistrust between french and english canada, and only then will we see real gains against the bloc.

    You can’t just throw advertising dollars at this problem, the quebec electorate is way too sophisticated and would see right through that.

  11. I wouldn’t bother over-thinking Tory backroom intentions or intelligence levels. There was a nation-wide strategy to destroy Dion as an electable leader and they applied that strategy in Quebec as elsewhere. It obviously worked in English Canada (and I’ll concede Dion didn’t do enough to help himself, though I still disagree with much of Paul’s Dion post-mortem column) – but in Quebec, it seems voters tuned the negative messages out.

    Their strategy w/r/t the Bloc appears to have suffered due to disagreement on how nasty to be about the Bloc’s right to exist – and once the p’tite affaire blew up, they had no fallback argument against the Bloc. The flipside of the Bloc not running an explicitly separatist campaign is that in such a context it’s harder for federalist parties to figure out how to attack them if they don’t have a clear read on the mood of the electorate.

    As it turned out, the motivation level of Quebec voters was relatively high – as I’ve mentioned previously, voter turnout in Quebec didn’t suffer nearly as much relative to ’06 as it did in other areas of the country. I would argue that Quebecers rewarded parties that, in their view, spoke honestly to them and treated with respect, and punished those parties that didn’t.

  12. d. andy – you make persuasive points.

  13. Perhaps they had just hoped to replace the Liberals and take over their strategy of coalescing the federalist anti-Bloc vote.

    Maybe they believed that their best case to the voters was as an option to “bloc the Bloc”, and that for this to work, there actually needed to be a Bloc for them to fight against.

    This would fit with one of the strategic themes that you’ve outlined before … namely that the Conservatives hold their base by having someone or something to run against, even in government.

    But Andrew is right … there is always the unpredictable element to running attack ads in a multi-party regionally diverse country like ours. Attacks aimed at one party can wind up helping another party instead of your own. Attacks targetted at one part of the country can create backlashes in other parts. It’s a much harder chess-game to master, and one that breeds humility in organizers and strategists after a few elections.

  14. Perhaps they had just hoped to replace the Liberals and take over their strategy of coalescing the federalist anti-Bloc vote.

    Maybe they believed that their best case to the voters was as an option to “bloc the Bloc”, and that for this to work, there actually needed to be a Bloc for them to fight against.

    This would fit with one of the strategic themes that Paul has outlined before … namely that the Conservatives hold their base by having someone or something to run against, even in government.

    But Andrew is right … there is always the unpredictable element to running attack ads in a multi-party regionally diverse country like ours. Attacks aimed at one party can wind up helping another party instead of your own. Attacks targetted at one part of the country can create backlashes in other parts. It’s a much harder chess-game to master, and one that breeds humility in organizers and strategists after a few elections.

  15. Sorry about that … I got a 500-Internal Server Error, so re-posted the above comment. I hate repeating myself…

  16. A reader,

    It just happened to me on the next posting too. You’re not alone!

  17. I think it’s pretty clear they were just going after the elusive Orleans and Northern Ontario francophone vote, and just wanted blanket coverage.

  18. I hate when people post the same comment twice.

  19. HOLY COW and then I tried to post the same comment — it was all meta-humour! — and WordPress wouldn’t let me!

    I hate when software ruins my lame jokes.

  20. On the topic of hindsight, I just read Wells’ latest Paul Martin article in Macleans about the nice little reflection Martin makes in the book. Thank god someone was willing to write something other than a love-letter to Martin.

    Every interview, newsarticle I have read so far has been heaping full of praise for that wind-bag. Nobody asked “how come you couldn’t take the ten minutes to vote on a war you initiated?” or “what happened to your agenda for democratic reform?”.

    CBC’s The Hour did a really nice interview where George said “you’ve been really critical of this government, where other PM’s have not, why is that?”. Martin just sat there all smug. But seriously, how often has Martin complained about this gov’t? I can only think of a few times in the last month or so that he has been outspoken, which just happened to coincide with his book launch. Hunh, imagine that?

  21. I think it’s the same reason the Liberals don’t run ads against the NDP. It’s harder to argue the a party is irrelevant if you feel the need to run ads against them.

  22. Also, let me mention that the werewolf/vampire/creature thing was the kind of genius writing that few reporters in Canada seem to display. Points for creativity, Halloween-tie-in, and clever metaphors.

  23. Well then the question you should be asking yourself is what the Conservatives or the Liberals for that matter would actually put in an attack ad against the Bloc that would have any effect at all.

    Running negative ads against the Bloc would in any case defeat the purpose of the conservative and liberal Quebec strategy of the past 12 years i.e. dismiss the Bloc as irrelevant and unable to do anything. What they don’t understand is that that is precisely why Quebeckers vote for the Bloc in the first place; because it’s a meaningless gesture of collective solidarity that has no practical consequences other than to weaken the federal government and encourage it to throw more bribe money (well, I suppose the second part always happens anyway, which is why they don’t really care all that much about who gets in).

  24. HARPER IS THE SMARTEST MAN IN CANADA. IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND IT IS BECAUSE YOU ARE LESS SMART THAN PRIME MINISTER HARPER.

  25. Ted, that’s exactly the right question to ask. The conservatives tried the square wheel thing in 2006, and the NDP did something similar this past time (une vote pour le Bloc … c’est bloquer l’avenir du Québec). I didn’t see what if anything the Liberals tried there this past election, but my impression is that it was mostly anti-Harper.

    The defenses you’ve described are pretty intact and solid, so it’s going to take a Trojan Horse of some kind, I guess.

  26. hey aa – you and your other aliases on the other blog comments all have your caps lock on. it’s rude to shout.

  27. “There wasn’t a single month in that entire time when the main opponent in French-speaking Quebec wasn’t the Bloc Québécois. And the Conservatives just let them be.”

    I’m not a Quebecker but those who are who will speak to me claim that many of the BQ supporters are ex-PCPC voters. It does seem a bit of a head scratcher that they didn’t target the current nest their AWOL votes had fled to.

  28. It seems that the Cons believed that voters were sure to abandon the Bloq, and it was just a matter of ensuring they fell in the right federalist camp.

    If there are two things I know, they are:
    -whenever people start saying separatism is dead, that is exactly when it rears its ugly head again
    -whenever people start saying the Libs are dead, that is exactly when they are sure to win the next election

  29. Well, for gosh sakes, stop saying it then !

  30. Perhaps, unintentionally, it was a wise move in that it spread the idea, in the ROC, that Dion was still strongly disliked in Quebec, thereby undermining one his attractive qualities to the ROC, his pan-Canadian appeal, i.e. appeal to Quebec. So by attacking him in Quebec they were actually attacking him in the ROC. Or something.

  31. They likely theought that if you ignore something, it becomes irrelevent. It was working, until they cut arts funding and promised to send 14 year olds to jail. That, was stupid.

  32. OK, this is total Twilight Zone stuff on your comment boards today, Paul. I posted that last comment in response to “sf” at 3:30 pm, but it showed up before (at 2:57 pm). I think this means it’s time for me to stop commenting and just go back to work. ttyl

  33. Imagine if they ever actually made a Twilight Zone episode about blog comments that appeared at times different than they were posted. Freaky!

  34. Separatism died when Jacques Parizeau left politics. What Quebec has now is parties that call themselves separatist but don’t stand for separation in any real sense. They just talk about it to scare ROC into giving them what they want, and at most envision actual separation as being some kind of Meech Lake/European Union style arrangement under which they could send ambassadors to foreign countries and have a President as head of state while still sending representatives to Ottawa and receiving equalization payments.

    Once again, what both Dion and Harper fail to understand is that the death of separatism actually strengthens the hand of the separatist parties, at least in pure electoral terms, because it means that you can vote for them as an expression of general pissed off sentiment without taking any major risks.

    If I were in charge of strategic planning for EITHER of the two big parties, Liberal or Conservative, I would make it my objective to simply write off Quebec, give three dozen more seats to Ontario, B.C. and Alberta (so that winning QC is no longer an absolute necessity to get a majority), pass some kind of amendment to the elections act so that only parties who run more than a hundred candidates can get the 1.95 per vote federal funds (to bankrupt the Bloc), and then proceed to give Quebec no more attention or representation than the other provinces until la nation decides that it is willing to participate in federal politics on the same terms as everyone else (that is to say, without the endless threats, cries of humiliation and misunderstanding, and demands for more money and powers etc.).

    Harper seems to be inching in this direction. I would love it if the Liberals could pick a leader who would do the same (Manley or McKenna might have done the trick). Unfortunately it looks like we’re going to get Ignatieff, and shameless destructive pandering on an even bigger scale.

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