“That’s kind of the sentiment we’re getting at”

People in politics have no idea how loathsome they sound

When people in politics talk about what they do — when they boast about it, as they do almost compulsively — they really have no idea how loathsome they sound:

Halfway through the 2011 campaign, a Conservative war room operative sat down in an Ottawa pub to discuss the party’s entire strategy against Ignatieff.

“They say that we try to portray Ignatieff in our ads and so on as a weak and flailing professor,” the war room staffer said. “No, that’s how we portrayed Dion. Dion was weak, you know, Dion was ‘not a leader.’ We’ve never said Michael Ignatieff isn’t a leader. We’ve never called him weak. And we’ve never called him a flip-flopper. Even when he changes his mind, we don’t say he’s a flip-flopper. Michael Ignatieff, in our narrative, is a political opportunist who is calculating, who will do and say anything to get elected.

“He’s a schemer. When he says one thing and then he changes his mind the next week, it’s not because he’s indecisive and a flip-flopper. It’s because he’s an opportunist who will say different things to different people. I don’t think we’ve even used the phrase, even internally, ‘He’s a malicious human being.’ But that’s kind of the sentiment we’re getting at. With Dion, we were trying to portray him as weak. You can’t trust him to lead us out of the economic recovery because he’s a weak man. With Ignatieff, it’s ‘He’s a bad man,’ right? He’s someone you don’t want your daughter to marry, right?”

The “strategy” of the Conservative party in this election was to spend millions of dollars — your money and mine, most of it — to portray the leader of the Liberal party as not just an “opportunist” and a “schemer,” but a “malicious human being,” a “bad man”. This is the same man for whom the Prime Minister in his election night victory speech claimed to have only the highest regard.

I don’t want to weep too many tears for the Liberals. They did much the same to Conservative leaders in the past — recall the ridicule of Stockwell Day’s religious beliefs in 2000, the fear campaigns of ’04 and ’06, of which the late campaign’s evocation of Stephen Harper’s desire for “absolute power” was a pale echo. But I can’t recall anything on this scale, or this vicious.

There are things we can do, consistent with freedom of speech, to prevent this in future. We can take away the public funds that subsidize this garbage. And we can require that party leaders voice their own ads, so that they can not pretend to dissociate themselves from the messages their minions spew.

But ultimately it’s not going to change unless we change the culture of politics: the culture that encourages people to believe it is a fine and good thing to devote their talents to destroying other people’s reputations. As Frank Graves, the Ekos pollster Liberal lobbyist Brian Klunder [Graves was retweeting him] put it on Twitter,

I’m sick of frat house nature of war rooms – thinking it fun to try to ruin lives and careers. People need to grow up.




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“That’s kind of the sentiment we’re getting at”

  1. "I'm sick of frat house nature of war rooms – thinking it fun to try to ruin lives and careers. People need to grow up."

    Well, good luck with that. That frat house nature can be found in almost every low rise office building in every office park in this country. The truly horrible aspect of this isn't that these people are monstrous, it's that they're normal.

    • I agree 100%

    • We have to remember that the leader sets the tone in all organizations, especially the government because that is the way we will be perceived by our own citizens but also on the international stage. I think we are already viewed differently , more like Americans because of the toxic atmosphere the Conservatives with Harper as their leader have brought to the government in our country.

      • Blaming the conservatives now for everything you dislike about Canadian politics?
        Chretien, of course, was beyond this? Chretien went after people in his own party.
        Political strategy is given by advisors. Harper is not the mean-spirited control freak
        the liberals have always portrayed. Chretien was more so. Ignatieff said terrible things
        about this country in several videos while at Harvard. I consider several of the attack ads
        to be truthful. You are just a Harper-hater rambling with the old 90s phraseology.

    • Where in heavens name do you work? Please tell me so I can make sure I never send a resume there.

  2. The idea to have party leaders voice their own national ads is brilliant. Are there other jurisdictions that do this? Seems like a simple change that could have a big impact.

    • They do it in the USA, it was not Coyne's idea, in the USA they have the party leader say at the end of this message, "I'm X and I endorse this message", whether X is Obama, McCain, or somebody else.

      • And that would be the single most effective means of preventing the ads from crossing a certain line. No leader wants to be directly associated with the really negative attacks. However, that would leave the problem of third party advertisers. They could go negative, and not being attached to any party, there'd be no disincentive to be vicious. Granted, third party ads rarely are. But that too could change.

        • I could be wrong (I haven't checked anywhere; relying on an increasingly faulty memory), but aren't third-party ads banned during an election?

          • Not banned, just limited to 150k spent nationally, and I think 3k in funds allowed to be spent in a single riding.

          • Restricted, but not banned. Numerous PSAC and other government unions advertised against the Conservatives this election.

    • How easily people fall into adocating the abandonment of free speech.

      The essence of the fundamental human right to free speech is to protect objectionable political speech.

      The attack ads against Dion and Ignatieff would not work, unless there is a mustard seed of truth in them. The attack ads against Harper didn't work, because there was no mustard seed of truth.

      The Liberals and Dion and Ignatieff just never chose to respond to the substance of the attack. They chose to be offended rather than respond. Look at Layton's attack during the English debate about attendance. There was a great answer to that attack, but Ignatieff was offended by the challenge, rather than obliterate it with a response. It was the same with the ads. The content that the Conservatives put in the Ignatieff ads was all stuff that Liberals themselves brought up in the 2006 leadership campaign, which Ignatieff lost. Ignatieff just refused to ever give simple answers to those concerns.

      When you are out of the country for 35 years, and the first thing you do when you come back is declare Quebec a nation, well, golly gee, for people who have lived through patriation, Meech, Charlottetown, and two Quebec referenda, well you damn well sound like someone who is just visiting, and who hasn't come back for you.

      • Of all of the posts you could have picked to make reply about free speech you picked that one?

        I don't think anyone is saying that attacks should be banned, I think the point of what Mr. Coyne is saying (assuming it is the original blog posting you're addressing) is that deliberately setting out to paint a decent guy as deficient and having that be one of the main strategies used by a campaign is deplorable. Where in what has been said is anything that would restrict free speech?

  3. Unfortunately, from what I've seen and what I've read from Wells, the Liberals really did want power over all else, they were scheming and calculating. Attacks ads don't work unless there is at least a semblance of truth.

    Reading Wells' first chapter about the election. It really stands out, just how power-craving they were specifically in the last couple of years. They were thinking about taking power first, coming up with (bad) strategy second, then coming up with the reasons for it third, and actual policies came fourth.

    As for Ignatieff, he might not have been the primary driving force behind the thirst for power, but he was the leader, and he also went along with it. As their leader, he was calculating, he was an opportunist, and he was saying pretty well anything to get elected, just like the Conservative strategist was saying, and I say this as someone who did not see a single one of those attack ads. Could he have done things differently? Possibly, but I'm not so sure that could have happened with the Liberal party the way they are now.

    What also makes it a vulnerability for Ignatieff was the fact that he was outside Canada for 34 years, so he really was an unknown in Canada until just a few years ago. Leaders must promote their own good qualities in order to protect themself. If they are unknown, then they need to hold themselves to a high standard of behaviour – they cannot scheme and fling mud, because they are more vulnerable than their target.

    • A political party wanting power?

      This is supposed to offend my sensibilities or something?

      • Well, that's what Coyne, and the Conservative strategist, is saying. Apparently it is supposed to offend your sensibilities.

        "Michael Ignatieff, in our narrative, is a political opportunist who is calculating, who will do and say anything to get elected. "

        “He's a schemer. When he says one thing and then he changes his mind the next week, it's not because he's indecisive and a flip-flopper. It's because he's an opportunist who will say different things to different people."

        Are your sensibilities offended now?

        • Feel free to take the arrogant mantle from those libs…
          I kinda got the impression Coyne was commenting on the how, as in, being pathetically boastful, rather than the mere idea of wanting power.
          Surely the Conservatives years ago were doing almost anything to get power.

          • Surely the Conservatives this past election were doing almost anything to get power.

        • Wow, if you think that's what Coyne is saying, you've _really_ missed the point of this post.

          • I don't think you're following the conversation.

    • How is it that you did not, in your words, see a single attack ad?

      • I wasn't in Canada during the election campaign. I follow politics too much to even bother with them on the internet.

        • They were all over the internet, I don't know how you follow politics and miss them.

          • You don't click on the links. Very easy to do, actually.

          • Exactly.

          • Credibility fail.

          • "Crdibility fail"? Which junior high teacher is letting their students on the internet unsupervised?

      • I managed to go through the election seeing only one ad, and only hearing one radio ad. Mostly I listen to the CBC and, as for television, I have kids. Apparently the parties don't advertise on YTV, Teletoon and Treehouse, at least not yet.

        • Whoa, unexploited niche. Presumably this will change.

  4. Well….what country's media was it that let them get away with it?

    • And what country's voters figured it was no big deal.

      I have a theory. The Conservatives have to give something to their base without scaring away the middle. So they kick the Liberals in the gonads once in a while. The country cheers.

      • Canadians have no idea what goes on…the media in this country is extraordinarily secretive.

        • And corrupt, and biased against common sense, and frivolous, and sophomoric, and so left wing, and generally useless – the worst media of any serious country anywhere. Prime examples are the CBC and CTV, most (but not all) daily newspapers. Why is this so? Lots of reasons, but think about the left wing educational establishment and years of Liberal party/liberal conditioning.

          • Awesome! Now you types can take the arrogant label and wear it.

          • Try to be serious here

            Doesn't it click with you that the Libs lost? No conditioning is involved.

          • "…the worst media of any serious country anywhere."

            I guess that means you either don't watch the American channels, or don't take them seriously as a country.

            I can't comment on other countries, but given a choice between the US media and ours, I'll take ours any day.

          • CRAP knows they can be as lying, vicious and hypocritical as they want. They know they have their base in their back pocket. So with their own group of enablers in hand, they went after the Lowest Common Denominator of the RoC. There's enough of the greedy, uncaring and/or uninformed to make the difference.

            No doubt many will be whining 2 years from now, only they'll blame all politicians and conveniently forget their own roles in this debacle in the making.

        • It's funny how the media are now telling us all the stuff that went on during the campaign. They could have told us that stuff DURING the campaign if they had the guts.

          • Yes, a constant useless uproar of 'When is the election? Is this it? What do the polls say?' ahead of time….silence during the actual campaign….and then something like a confession during the endless post-mortems about what they knew but didn't tell us. Even then, there is much we aren't told.

  5. There are things we can do, consistent with freedom of speech, to prevent this in future. We can take away the public funds that subsidize this garbage.

    This wouldn't prevent much. Parties that are good at raising money from their base would still be able to pay for attack ads. And what's a good way to fire up the base so they donate more money? Why, advertising, of course. Thus you run the risk of a self-perpetuating cycle for parties that are successful at raising funds. Meanwhile, cash-strapped parties that suck at fundraising would be effectively muted.

    • I don't care. Kill all these subsidies anyways. At least then it isn't MY money they've pilfered to behave this way.

      • Oh, I totally agree that the subsidies should end. I'm just pointing out that killing the subsidies might have unintended consequences.

      • All of it is 'your' money….the salaries, the offices, the travel……

        So let corporations go back to funding political parties….that'll really clean things up.

        • I don't think that corporations should fund political parties, either. I think that citizens should contribute, within the limits of donation caps that make it impossible for individual donors to have much influence.

          Ideally, I'd prefer a totally non-subsidized version of the current system, with caps that are somewhat higher to compensate for the loss of the per-vote subsidy and the tax credit.

          • Yes, I think that's what I'd want too.

          • Which is very short-sighted of you both.

          • But you point it out yourself.. we do that, and they get into a cycle of simply chasing those who they can get money out of, which means their resources and attention goes to those folks and not to the folks who are too poor to chip in the extra $100 bucks — which when you think about it, are probably the people who most need the attention of government to help them out of their situation.

          • Do the caps really need to be higher at all?

            And why not have an overall cap as well as an individual cap.

            How mych money does a party really need to operate? What is the minimum? At what point do marginal dollars stop funding positive activities and start funding the negative activities?

          • I think an overall cap is undemocratic. Political parties are a fundamental component of our democracy. Why should we be in the business of denying Canadians the right to contribute $50 (or even $1000) to a political party they support, just because some artificial limit has been reached?

          • I'm not so convinced that political parties have all that much to do with democracy, per se.

            For example, would you make the case that civic elctions, where (in general) there are no parties, are undemocratic? I would argue that in practice civic politics are at least as democratic than provincial or federal politics, if not more so.

            I suppose that more than arguing against financial support of political activities I'm actually arguing against financial support of political parties.

            Setting aside the infringement of my "right" to make a donation to a political party for a moment, exactly what benefit does Canadian society get from giving the 5 major political parties about $100 million total?**

            **That total is my recollection from the Wiki article that someone eles linked to within the last few days.

          • Here's my 5 cents[ receipt please] I agree with CR. A limit on donations, it could be argued prevents a party from growing ie., undemocratic. To follow up on your point above. Seems to me it's important to keep the individual limits down. And try and keep a preponderance of small donors over larger ones. That way at least there is an incentive for parties to listen to the little guy too.[ so i don't support rasing ind limits]. My fear in any case is that the parties are simply going to use the little guys as a kind of reverse fire brigade: "C'mon chaps! The dastardly ? are at the gates – we implore you give – or we all die, sort of thing.] The CPC have already mastered this art.__ Chase votes not $__. I'd like to see some empirical evidence that per vote subs are emasculating the more dependent parties.__This may be moot in any case if what Mendes argues is true. It is a constitutional matter. Something that Harper has overlooked for political reasons, or another case of him not getting our system. I doubt it though since he was around when the Chretien deal went down

          • Hmmmm. I'm still having very mixed feelings.

            On the not peripheral, but somewhat side question of parties and democracy – do you really believe that the existance of parties is actually a fundamental part of democracy?

            Seems to me that democracy, at its root, "just" means that citizens, collectively, have ultimate control over the government – parties are very much an after thought, and if parties are causing more grief than benefit, we should not automatically feel that democracy is in any way under threat if we attempt to curtail the power of the parties. And money and power are linked.

            And how much money do parties really need to provide whatever benefits they bring to the table?

          • You're in luck. I live in one of only two jurisdictions where there are no parties – NWT. The other being Nunavut??
            I'm no expert. But i did hear an interesting debate on CBC north involving our local mla Jane Groenewegan [ you could email her if you're really interested] who definitely likes our system. The liberal mp C.Bennet came here as part of her reform of democracy shstick and claimed the acrimony was worse if anything here then Ottawa…Jane disagreed quite strongly, as did the guest from Nunavut[ the losing lib candidate in this election] The conventional wisdom holds that this system wouldn't hold up in a place where everybody doesn't know each other well, the way they do up North.
            My amateur view rests mainly on a couple of thoughts: that it would be a lot easier for lobbyists with deep pockets to corrupt one person then a whole party.

          • In addition it seems to me human nature being what it is that sans parties individuals would sooner or later start to form their own cliques and alliances in any case. Must stress i have no evidence for these opinions. And i do like the way things work here in principle. You should look it up[i'll put a link in if i have time] The whole of the leg forms one caucus from which they elect the govt and the premier[ going from memory here] and then the rest of the cacus acts as the opposition. It's a very curious system indeed.

          • To quote another post on this thread:

            Parties that are good at raising money from their base would still be able to pay for attack ads. And what's a good way to fire up the base so they donate more money? Why, advertising, of course. Thus you run the risk of a self-perpetuating cycle for parties that are successful at raising funds. Meanwhile, cash-strapped parties that suck at fundraising would be effectively muted.

            This strikes me as an excellent argument for not accentuating the effects that removing the subsidy may have. Anyway, I suspect this'll lead to more polarization, as playing to the base in order to drum up funds becomes more and more important; things are more likely to get worse.

          • The base may not be as stupid as you think. I quit donating to the Conservative party in 2007 when they decided they had enough money to run childish attack ads on Dion in between elections. And that's precisely what I told them when they phoned asking for donations. "You've clearly got more money than you know what to do with."

          • Let's hope most Conservatives (and most Canadians, for that matter) are like you.

          • Many are. Many aren't. Rabid partisans are the minority I believe. In any party. If they weren't, party support would not fluctuate so much from one election to the next. The rabid partisans do, however, get a disproportionate share of the attention.

          • Unfortunately, parties seem to be slaves to their tiny cores of paymasters. And the rest of us are screwed, being a captive market for our cozy little oligarchy. What are we gonna do, vote Green?

          • "What are we gonna do, vote Green? "

            Though it seems ridiculous now, if the NDP suck as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and the Liberals can't get it together, a lot more people may start viewing them as a viable alternative. Especially if May doesn't prove to be as big a fool as many currently think she is.

            (Not an endorsement or a prediction; just thinking "aloud")

          • Limit the contributions of rabid partisans…problem fixed. A simple non multiple choice questionaire should do it, or we don't take your money[ choke gag cough] ie., what is the unladen air speed of a conservative swallow over say a liberal one…no feed back though..or they're bound to ask African or European?

          • This is what i like to read/hear. I hope you're right and, based on this election, I think you might just be. Thanks for promoting democracy the way it should be.
            Sincerely,
            Guy who voted liberal (one of the few, it seems)

          • I think the best approach is to wean the parties off the subsidy gradually, by reducing the subsidy every year for the next four years. This gives all parties time to adjust.

          • I'd rather the country went entirely in the opposite direction and weaned the parties off donations. That way, instead of going to their base for funds they'd be obliged to go to voters.

          • I totally agree. Up the per vote subsidy and ban all donations.

          • Why up the subsidy?

            Reduce it and set a low cap on the total payout, with another lower cap on advertising; cripple the parties financially and force them to communicate through action rather than through ads.

          • I don't share your desire to "cripple the parties financially". To me, the whole concept of financially crippling political parties is undemocratic.

          • I have really, really conflicted feelings about the way our parties here in Canada are run (and about parties in general, given what I've seen and experienced elsewhere).

            On the one hand, I have a huge deal of respect for the belief that people should be allowed to do what they want and that should include donating to parties, and that parties should be free from excessive, specific regulation as that could have a whole host of really negative outcomes. In fact, I think that there is a fairly solid argument to make that we're already seeing some of these outcomes in things like the "In & Out" mess: unclear rules have put both the Conservatives and Elections Canada in a bad position.

            On the other hand, parties are beginning to behave more and more like businesses (with party members as their shareholders and the electorate as their potential customers) and this is having some very negative effects. Not only are we moving towards permanent fundraising and advertising, but in a way that is similar to how businesses answer to their shareholders (or rather, how limited shareholder influence actually is), parties aren't accountable to their members on a day-to-day basis and often are only indirectly held responsible. The party executives and party leaders have incredible amounts of power and they really aren't accountable to anyone for the periods between conventions.

            While I'd agree with the statement that "parties are necessary in our democracy", I don't necessarily view them as democratic institutions as they behave in ways that are, frankly, anti-democratic on a regular basis. They exist for their own interests and are not very accountable, which run entirely contrary to the principles of democracy.

            One of the few ways I can resolve this internal conflict is to suggest a solution which cuts their funding and limits advertising dramatically while letting parties and their members sort out all on their own how they operate and what kind of structure they should have. It isn't an ideal solution by any stretch, I'll admit.

          • To add to this a little:

            Parties don't exist to get elected, parties exist to ensure the success of the party in perpetuity.

            This is almost explicitly acknowledged by the Conservatives, from what I've read. I think there is a strong case to be made that this was the case with the Liberals as well, and that one main reason why they've fallen is because they thought perpetual success was something they'd accomplished and could therefore stop working. I've not read enough about the NDP, but their actions at the provincial level suggest that they believe the same thing.

          • Just a nit. Parties aren't necessary in our democracy. But they may well be inevitable.

          • True. Strictly speaking, we could have an entire houseof independents who voted strictly on an issue-by-issue basis. But that could make it very hard to set a direction for the government to follow – and how would they select ministers for the various departments? the need to effectively organize to get anything accomplished would almost necessarily lead to the formation of like-minded coalitions of MPs, which in all likelihood become formalized groups…

            Nonetheless, I definitely would like to see a greater degree of autonomy for our MPs; more freedom to vote their conscience. A greater degree of independence would force the party elite to listen more closely to the rank and file MPs. Too many of them these days are benchwarmers despite their best efforts.

          • Bench warming is a condition of their obtaining a party franchise. They get to ride the national level promotion focused on the leader, in exchange they have to do what they are whipped/told to do.

          • And isn't that a sad commentary on the state of our democracy! But all too true.

          • I too wish for more backbencher independence. But the US has exactly that, which means that the allegedly independent members of Congress are owned individually, instead of as a group. Campaign finance legislation might somewhat alleviate that, but I'm not sure by how much.

          • How so? No party is being discriminated against. If all we had was televised debates, free-time political announcements, party web sites, and the media, citizens would have to just…you know…take responsibility for getting to know the parties through less toxic means.

          • (and I'd add that sometimes I think we could do without the media….fun as it is to participate in these forums)

          • Parties and candidates should have the right to tell people about themselves without restriction. If I want to tell you why I should be elected, I should be allowed to do so. Since it's impossible to have 30 million conversations, parties need to spend to get the word out. They should not be restricted with some kind of artificial limit that prevents them from doing so.

            Not only that, the act of governing is one long continuous act of providing the incumbent exposure. To deny the opposition from promoting themselves to counter the government's exposure would provide the incumbent a massive advantage.

          • The incumbent usually has a massive fundraising advantage, too, and for fairly natural reasons. Elections without spending limits also serve to entrench the incumbent.

            Sounds like damned if you do, damned if you don't.

          • Actually, we've seen that the incumbent advantage is often much more fickle than is often believed. Kim Campbell – 1993 – being an obvious example. John Turner – 1984 being another.

          • "Parties and candidates should have the right to tell people about themselves without restriction."

            Sounds good in theory, but as we've seen over the past decade, what this really translates into is the party with the most money spending it on vicious attack ads between elections, rather than selling their own platforms. First it was the Liberals, then the Conservatives.

            I'm in favour of banning advertising altogether between elections (party websites excepted as they are more than just advertising).

          • Yes. We've seen what it does to the Liberals. Besides, how would a new movement like Reform ever start up if they couldn't raise money?

          • Up the vote subsidy, keep the donations (perhaps a 50% tax credit instead of the 75% or whatever it is up to $400) and get rid of the 60% back on expenes! How much you spend on expenses has nothing to do with supporters and voters–at least once you get over the 10% of the vote thing, which has always struck me as patently unfair, since you spend the expense (or don't)before you can know. In other words, that is the subsidy that most aids attack ads and that most leaves opponents silent. Which of course then affects the vote subsidy and the donations.

          • The problem is, how would a new party like Reform or Green ever get off the ground if they weren't allowed to raise money? They'd have to wait until they got some votes before getting a subsidy. And how do they organize and run candidates and attract votes if they don't have money and are not allowed to raise funds?

            Donations are capped at a very modest amount in Canada. I do not believe the donation limits as they stand right now pose any sort of threat to corrupt democracy.

          • :…the donation limits as they stand right now pose any sort of threat to corrupt democracy."

            But what about honest democracy? LOL!

          • I'm not sure what you're saying. Do even small donations corrupt democracy? I doubt that.

          • I was just having fun with the (I assume) unintentional double meaning of your comment as worded. Read your comment again; it can be taken to say that corrupt democracies are not threatened by the current donation limits, so I facetiously asked about the impact of the spending limits on honest ones.

            I thought I was being funny and clever, but if my joke required explaining I guess I'd have to say I failed. There's a reason I never tried my hand at stand-up…

          • Spending limits should be cut by about half to 60% for campaigns (they clearly have too much money to work with). I might also like to see caps on how much money a political party can accept in donations. If the idea is a level playing ground, allowing parties to wildly outspend their opponents is not in the interest of democracy, unless democracy is about converting dollars to votes (and more dollars).

          • As for the matter of personal donation caps, I don't think upping them is a very good move. Or, upping them too much. The thing is, not everyone has enough slack in his budget to shed 1000$ like that ca, use they "believe in a cause". If you make the cap too high, you effectively give a disproportionate influence to well-off donators, who are the only ones likely to have such money at their disposal. That's what I like about the current system: no matter your level of income, your vote has an influence on your favorite party's resources, and if you want to give, it's still affordable (not for all, but for many).

          • Given that Youtube and various other means of web-publishing and broadcasting are almost free, I don't think the negativity is going to be eliminated that way either.

          • I was going to say do what i heard Israel does – ban all advertising…
            [ why not polling too - howls of outrage in the macleans waroom.." Fascist bastard...someone get him off the blog!"]
            … during the writ period. New media would presumably make that a nightmarishly difficult task?

          • I'm more in favour of banning ads between elections; let 'em use ads as part of the way they reach people during the campaign. I do like the suggestion made upthread to force the actual candidate running the ad to do an American-style "I'm So-and-so and I endorse this message", in the (probably pointles) hope that it will reduce the venality of recent attack ads.

            I've long been on record as supporting a ban of publishing poll result during the writ period, precisely because it would force reporters to actually discuss policy or behaviour in order to fill inches / broadcast time now filled analyzing the tea leaves.

          • Agree with everuthing you say. Except…i'm curious why Isael went that way. It seems counterintuitive. Let em at it during the writ period. There is a chance i've got it wrong and Isael agrees with us.

          • Without official polls, there would be endless "leaks" of unofficial polls, resulting in even more obsession with polls. Or at least that is one possible scenario.

          • Yeah but no one would know for sure which polls were reliable, which were pure fantasy. How much n would that be? Come to think of it. That's sorta what happens now. Still like to know why Israel went this route though.

        • For once I agree with OE.

  6. There has to be a way where Elections Canada can be enabled to police campaign statements (official or otherwise) for falsehoods, misleading statements and other such crap. I don't think it has so much to do with funding, you don't money to lie, you just money to propagate the lie. With the Internet, the cost of lie dispersal drops dramatically. If EC finds that the Liberals have uttered 15 falsehoods about the other parties/leaders then the punishment is that other parties can use that number in their ads. Incentive to keep it clean.

    • What you're describing is a threat to democracy. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Telling candidates what they can or cannot say is stifling to freedom of speech and democratic freedom.

      • I'm not telling them what they can and cannot say. I'm advocating for a mechanism that publicly judges and punishes falsehoods after they have been publicly uttered or promoted. If we can keep the entire process in the public eye we can mitigate censorship or freedom of expression issues.

        In any event, there are rules about what can and cannot be uttered in the House of Commons, if that restriction is acceptable when MPs are talking to each other, surely something similar can be used when MPs are talking to us.

          • The public makes terrible judges then–the offenders have a 100% recidivism rate.

          • I never claimed that the public was a good judge of anything. But I don't know of a superior way of judging these things. Ultimately, the electorate decides, for better or worse, who is going to win.

          • There's a big difference between honest policy differences and blatant lies about one's opponents or about the Canadian political system itself. Blatant lies designed to sway voters should result in some concrete form of punishment.

            During the course of the election itself, there may not be time for a proper evaluation, but parties or members of the public should be able to protest parties' false claims for after-election hearings, with punishments ranging from partial or full refusal of reimbursements of electoral spending to subsidy losses and even subsequent election spending reductions, depending on the severity of the offence.

            The publicity at the time of an adverse ruling, coupled with the likely frequent reminders next election, might go a long way to improving honesty. And few parties would want to cede advantage to an opponent by risking a smaller election spending ceiling than that available to their opponents.

      • You can behold gravity as not affecting you all you want.. go jump off a bridge and see what happens. Personally, I just think they should really lower the bar for slander/libel, and let it get done that way — make it slander if you attempt to tell what someone else plans to do, unless you have evidence for it.

        Just visiting? See you in court.
        Soldiers in our streets? Let's go see a judge.
        Raise corporate taxes? That's fine.. it's right in there in the proposed budget.
        Define marriage as only being between a man and a woman? Sure, it's there in their latest policy documents.

        Basically, stop them from playing with their crystal balls and have them stick to what the other guys have actually said.

        • I'm pretty sure some of that stuff is covered by our defamation laws now. Perhaps politicians just need to make use of them. After all, the "fair comment" defence, fails automatically if there is malicious intent behind the words. I can't think of anything more malicious than those attack ads.

          • In fact, Harper did take the opposition to court at one time (for good reason), and of course was demonized for doing so, by the same people who lament attack ads.

          • I'd argue strongly against that "for good reason".

            He took them to court to stop them from speaking about what he'd done. Note that's a lot different from making speculation about what he'd do.

          • His case wasn't obvious. Truthfulness is a defense in defamation, and the evidence I've seen is consistent with 'consideration' being extended in exchange for a vote.

        • That's called libel chill, and it would be a disaster. I didn't like what the Tories did to Dion a couple years ago with their frivolous law suits, and what you're proposing is that everybody behave that way and worse.

          • Yes. Chill people from committing libel/slander. I don't see what the problem with that is.

            Unless you're saying you like it when they commit slander.

          • I'm afraid I can't agree that libel chill can ever be a positive. It favours those with more resources to fund court cases for one thing. (Like the cash-flush Tories vs. the nearly broke Dion Liberals a couple years ago.) You are confusing my wariness of libel chill with support for libel. Deliberately I suspect.

          • True, I was taking a bit of a pot-shot there, but that's because what you're arguing is silly. You're actually arguing against requiring election campaigns to have documented evidence of what they say about someone else — because it might restrict what they say.

            Except that's EXACTLY the point! To restrict people from saying something they don't have evidence for.

            Think about it, you really are arguing that the threat of being sued for lying shouldn't apply. The only reason that libel cases are so expensive and so chilling is that there are a variety of ways that they can be applied and defended against typically.

            I'm saying ditch all those. Ditch all those "presumption of truth" defences, ditch all the "potential damages even if true" arguments, and tie it to a single criteria for political campaigns: "You said this. Got documented evidence for it? Yes? Case closed. No? Case closed." Boom. Done.

            Make it a defined penalty. 5K to the other party per offense.

            It's quick, it requires no argument from either side. And yes.. it does provide chill.. if you're making false statements. If you've got the documented evidence, there's no chill at all.

    • Why not pass a law that allows parties to promote only their ideas/platforms in their ads and not talk about their opponents. If your platform is so much better that the other guys' platforms, you should not need to attack your opponent to convince people to vote for you.
      Just a thought…

      • Not possible. Pointing out a weakness in your opponent or platform is legitimate. Extremely negative attack ads cross the line of legitimacy, but who can we possibly trust to make impartial judgements on what is allowed and what isn't? I believe we're better off just holding our nose than attempting to control what is said and how.

        • No naming opponents in ads. Only the party?

          • What if he's an independent and he's a nutcase?

        • I'll give you half a thumb on that one; I agree with the first half but not the second. I think much of the problem is that we've been holding our noses so long we're often not even aware we're doing it. And so they think they can make even bigger stinks with impunity.

  7. Does this mean Frank no longer thinks "culture wars" are a good thing??

    "Frank Graves of Ekos Research, in agreement with the analysis, has told the Grits that the wedge politics of the Conservatives provide them with an opportunity to stake out a stark alternative. Stop worrying about the West, he's told them. No need to fear polarizing the debate. It's what worked for Mr. Chrétien against Preston Manning and Stockwell Day.

    In his advice, Mr. Graves could hardly have been more blunt. “I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don't like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.”

    • He had the right idea…it IS a culture war.

      • Started by you and your kind…but WE'RE gonna finish it…

    • Would Graves be sick of frat house antics if the Liberals had won 167 seats and the Conseraties had 34 ?

      • He would be grinning, ear to ear the way Jason Kenney was Monday night, lol!!!

        • Enough with the propaganda folks…the election is over.

          Graves polls showed the same thing as everyone elses at the end

          • Yes, tell us we're in a culture war, then tell us to knock it off with the "propaganda". You've turned illogic into an art form.

          • That's your parochial thinking kicking in. The 'culture war' is going on all over the world, and doesn't involve just your local little political party.

          • I guess I'm just not "worldly" enough to compete with your obviously superior intellect. But you knew that already, as I am part of the 42% of the country who you've labeled functionally illiterate.

          • Well, water seeks it's own level, so you'd know best on that score.

            However, the figure is from StatsCan

          • Would you like a tinfoil hat?

          • If you've read Emily's posts elsewhere, you'd know exactly what I was talking about.

    • He's sick of frat house antics because they're no longer working for his side. He'll embrace them again when they start succeeding again.

    • You really need to stop reminding the Lieberal of their hypocracy…it makes them sad…lmao…

  8. The Liberals ran negative bads against stockwell day in 2000 & made fun of his religious beliefs by having warren kinsella appear with barney the dinosaur on national tv.

    Can you imagine the uproar if the tories ran negative ads against those with muslim or hindu beliefs?

    The fact remains that the Liberals & NDP made a strategic error in defeating the government this spring on the ethics issues.

    They should have waited until the Auditor general issued her report on G8 spending.

    • Only a small difference between an appearance on a news show for a ten-minute interview during an election versus bringing to bear multi-million dollar marketing machine outside of writ period for years sans cesse.

    • "negative bads" – nice Freudian slip! ;-)

  9. Mr. Coyne, I'm afraid they enjoy it too much and it probably pays too much as well.
    Mr. Pearson's blog post that you pointed out drives it home. The question is how can you either malign or undermine this candidate…and then do it.

    • Pearson? Not exactly a great reference or source for ethical matters at this moment…
      http://ipolitics.ca/2011/05/01/liberal-mp-on-hook
      http://www.lfpress.com/news/london/2011/05/06/181

      Pearson hid from police and parliament the fact that a staffer was stealing public money. Apparently he thought it was better that none of the public knew about it and paid for it himself. Another Liberal/NDP misdeed that the media somehow didn't get out until after the election.

      • Oh I know. 'Glen Pearson not just an “opportunist” and a “schemer,” but a “malicious human being,” a “bad man”'.
        Hope you got paid for that post S.

        • I never claimed he was malicious, but he participated in unethical behaviour. He did return the money, but he failed to notify the public or the police.

          I don't take lessons on ethics from the likes of Pearson.

          • I appologize for the offense.

          • Yes, rotten and evil to the core…and paid for it out of his own pocket.

          • If you steal money, and I secretly pay it back to cover for you, then we've both broken the law.

          • He paid to cover up someone else’s crime. That’s not noble – it’s criminal.

  10. If Maclean's magazine were so averse to this type of politics, they would not be quoting and publishing (on a semi-regular basis) Scott Reid, former adviser to Paul Martin, who is a fierce proponent of this type of politics and one of the worst offenders I have ever witnessed.

    • Which is why he was fired by them in 2006. And even the nasty boys running the Conservative campaign found their morals in late April, when they canned Muttard over the idiotic attempt to portray Ignatieff as actually participating in the US war in Iraq, in a US army uniform holding a gun no less. Mind you, they probably tossed him out of defensiveness more than ethics. Given how many others in the Tory war room were upset over his firing, that would seem to be the case. Nonetheless, obviously someone made the right choice.

  11. I wish only to point out once again that Stockwell Day had every opportunity to explain how his religious beliefs would affect his political actions, and tended to make evasive unsettling answers.

    • Regardless, I think Coyne’s point is that it shouldn’t have been done by WK in the first place.

    • This is bloody nasty. Are you a failed politician? Or are you simply a smug Canadian atheist?

      • Nonsense. Creationism efforts in the U.S. have showed how this issue can easily have a political dimension. Plus it raises issues of the critical thinking skills of a man later placed in charge of the department of public safety! Remember, it wasn't his christianity that was the problem, it was that it led him to the scientific conclusion that dinosaurs co-existed with mankind.

        Stockwell Day owed Canadians answers, and of course in turn we owed him a fair hearing.

        • Absolutely! Separation of church and state is basic.

          • It's also a uniquely American concept.

          • Actually the British started it.

          • Not much was made of it here until recently. God even snuck into the preamble of the Charter – in 1982.

          • Wouldn't now. Times change.

          • Actually, they didn't. The British have a state religion – Anglicanism – and the supreme governor of the church is the Queen. Canada adopted separation of church and state by placing freedom of religion (and the resulting freedom from religion) in the constitution. Regardless of whoever came up with the idea, however, I think it's rather important to our society.

          • Actually they did.

            Catholic monarchs burnt protestants at the stake

            Protestant monarchs burnt catholics at the stake

            Elizabeth I stopped that….and allowed everyone their private religious beliefs no matter the belief of the monarch.

          • They have freedom of belief, but that doesn't mean they don't have a state religion. They do.

          • Elizabeth I killed every priest that wasn't trained in England (in a monarch approved seminary), in other words everyone who was Catholic.

            Elizabeth I did not have religious freedom.

          • Yes, it was the start of separation of chuch and state…never perfect at the beginning, but it was the beginning nonetheless.

          • Of course. A few killings is perfectly understandable for such a noble concept.

          • Yes, it is. A concept ahead of it's time…but it made an enormous difference in the world.

            Should we have given up on the idea of freedom of religion because it wasn't perfect from day one?

            Many countries, including the US, still haven't managed it.

          • I'm thinking that if a monarch orders all priests who do not preach the state religion to be killed, that this probably disqualifies her as the originator of the separation of church and state.

          • Anglicans are priests.

          • Anglicans have priests. My father is a priest; I'm nowhere close. But we're both Anglican. :-)

          • An important distinction. I was about to make the same correction. My mom was an Anglican. But never a priest. So far as I know. :)

          • We've had this conversation before Emily. Could you please point out when the British came up with the concept of church/state separation?

            Before you answer with something about Elizabeth I let me remind you that not only was she both head of the state AND the church, she also was a proponent of the divine"right to rule" idea that was in vogue at the time.

            The truth is that "secularism" wasn't even a word until 50 years after Jefferson coined the term "separation of church and state" in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. Your problem is that your anti-American bias does not permit you to give credit where it is due.

            You hold tight to your revisonist history if you want, but you should at least make an attempt at backing up your claim by pointing to the moment in history when you think the Brits came up with the idea. My guess is that you won't be able to find any such moment, as to this day the monarch is STILL the head of both chuch and state in Britian.
            (even thou they have followed the Americans lead and now have a de facto secular society)

          • I've already said so many times….right on here in fact.

            And yes, it began with Elizabeth I who stopped the burning at the stake of people who didn't follow her religion…..her older sister was known for it and was called Bloody Mary for a reason.

            Perhaps you could read up on secularism…it's a very old concept and has changed meaning many times….did you know that at one time christians were called atheists because they did not believe in the gods?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism

            I know you like attacking me, but don't pretend the Americans invented something when they didn't.

            American society today is far from secular….and they had tremendous religious violence long after their constitution was signed. Many states today don't allow atheists to hold office.

          • You have a pesecution problem if you read my post to you as an attack. I asked you a question, and even had the courtesy to say please. What part of my post did you consider an attack?

            I give credit to Elizabeth I for many things, and think she was a great monarch. She was not what you think she was. Thou less fanatical then bloody Mary, she was a devout protestant and believed in the divine right to rule. She also executed Catholics, thou not at the stake. Since you enjoy looking at wikipedia (I do as well), take a gander at what they say about her:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_Engla

            "One of her first moves as queen was to support the establishment of an English Protestant church, of which she became the Supreme Governor. This Elizabethan Religious Settlement held firm throughout her reign and later evolved into today's Church of England."

            cont. below

          • How is the esablishment of a state run church a move towards separation of church and state? It seems to me that Elizabeth I went in the exact opposite direction, melding church and state in a way that endures to this day. Ending religious persecution has nothing to do with church/state separation. The historical record will always show that the first nation to be founded on secular principles is America. It will always remain so. Jefferson was and is a hero to freethinkrs around the world. It's a shame that anyone takes credit from him, and hands it to a monarch who in no way thought chuch and state should be separate (the exact opposite in fact). That is why I try to show you the truth. You beliefs do a disservice not only to Jeffersons memory, but to your own understanding of the history of freethought.

          • Apparently she thinks the act of persecuting and killing religious minorities represents the beginning of the separation of church and state, and the advent of secular society. Albeit a very "imperfect" beginning. It is a rather odd assertion to make. :)

            People don't like to hear it, but the US, while they've regressed somewhat in recent years, was the pioneer in this regard. The Quakers and numerous other religious minorities came to the US precisely because they were persecuted in Britain and expected the same treatment in her colonies, like Canada.

            Much more recently, Britain and Canada were turning away Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany at a time when the US was welcoming them. Here in Ottawa, we just this week honoured a former prominent mayor who, among other things, lobbied to ensure Jewish refugees were not allowed to settle here.

            While we might today take more seriously the separation of church and state than our American neighbours, we certainly were not on the right side of history while this concept was being developed.

          • To be fair to Emily, she was saying that Elizabeth I ended religious persecution and killing in Britian.

            There is even a grain of truth to that (thou it's not entirely true). Liz I did do much to bring about peace between Catholics and Protestants.

            To say that that was the start of secularism is still just as baffling. As I note in my comment above, Elizabeth I had a large role in establishing the Church of England. That's hardly something a secularist would want on their resume.

          • Just watched The King's Speech tonight. Not a hint of secularism in 1930s Britain. Not even a trace. :) Society might well have been moving towards secularism at the time, but certainly not the British Crown and government.

          • I will answer you both at the same time.

            This is actually a thread about Ignatieff, but both of you have managed to drag me into some nonsense about the US inventing secularism and the separation of church and state.

            Elizabeth I became monarch right after her father Henry had taken political control of the church and all it's goods, and after her sister Bloody Mary had made religious killing commonplace.

            The major division at the time was between the protestants and catholics…..so the anglican church was meant to be a church that appealed to both, and kept protestants and catholics together….it effectively cut out the political control of England by the pope.

            Because of this, the burnings of one by the other ceased. It was a remarkable advance for the times.

            The US however was no paradise of freedom as protestants killed catholics and both of them attacked other ….now splintered….religions.

            The US also turned away Jews from Nazi Germany.
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_St._Louis

          • Nobody dragged you anywhere. You brought up the separation of church and state. Don't get upset when you offer an opinion and someone challenges it. This is typical of the game you play. You offer a throw-away platitude about something, and when someone challenges it, you accuse them of going off topic. Grow up.

          • No, actually I didn't. This sub-thread started about Stockwell Day and his religion.

            So the discussion was about the separation of church and state….something you promptly attributed to Americans, and I disagreed.

            Which led to your usual personal attacks.

    • It was, and is, considered a no-go area in Canadian politics. You can't talk about your religious beliefs. Period. He'd have been roasted for going into detail about matters of conscience.

      • He could have gone on record about matters of science, rather than conscience. And the age of the earth being ~4 billion vs 6,000 is a reasonable indication how immune someone is to reason and a preponderance of evidence.

        • Yes, he jumped on a pile of grenades when he said that. Evidence that he was way, way out of his league.

      • A reasonable respectful debate could have been had on both sides. Like the Iggy thing, I am not upset they noted he lived out of the country, obviously he did. What bothered me was that it was presented as a bad thing, full stop, with no intent of going further and discussing why this was a bad thing. There was a better debate about Iggy's "Americanization" or what have you during the Lib leadership race than there was during the 2011 campaign.

  12. Mr Coyne, you have a most selective memory. And do you not think the rancid Canadian press has contributed hugely to the guttersnipe political discourse in the country? If not, then read and think about some of the garbage, to use your qualifier, produced by your own magazine's so-called journalists.

    • I agree. I dearly wish the journailsm profession would take a long hard look at itself and its toxic relationship with the PR profession – not just in politics, but especially there. Don't you people realize that every spin-doctored non-answer, every vacuous accusation levelled against an opponent, every calculated decision not to do an interview or answer more than five questions. …. every one of these decisions is made by people whose sole job it is to study how best to get one's message out through the media? And the message the media sends to these people is "garbage allegations will be rewarded by being published," "spin-doctored non-answers to questions will be given the same number of column inches as genuine answers, so no need to be honest," and – wait for it – "we're so consumed with PR strategy and gaffes that it pays to focus your attention on running a "good campaign" rather than talking about the issues."

    • Bingo! Look at the faux outrage over Brousseau getting elected without campaigning. Gee. Was the fact that the NDP were running phantom candidates ever explored DURING the election? Sure, we heard about the vacation in Vegas, but no one in the press followed up to see if she were the only one not campaigning. No one. Would that have made a difference in Quebec? Who knows?

      Instead we were treated to column upon column about Terry Melewski getting (justifiably) shouted down when he was essentially heckling the Prime Minister. Who was, still, the Prime Minister at the time.

      THAT was important to the media.

      Mr. Coyne, I bought the paper version of your magazine to get the story on the election in one fell swoop. I will likely do that next election, assuming Macleans is still around. Keep Wherry doing what he does best (whine and attack the CPC for every little tiny perceived mis-step) and this magazine & forum may not survive the coming draught of election speculation.

      • I have to partly disagree with you there, Canadace. A leader's refusal to take questions and the hostility of his supporters to such demands for accountability are a matter of public interest. They inform voters of how this party intends to deal with those Canadians who do not vote for them. However, I agree that an exploration of candidate credentials anytime a newcomer stands to beat an incumbant is valid — so long as matters like age and perceived social status are not the impetus for the investigation. After all, who's to say a lawyer is going to make a good MP either?

  13. Most of the money that paid for those ads came from Conservative partisans, many of whom may well see Michael Ignatieff as exactly the person he's portrayed to be in the ads, if not worse. With the elimination of public funding, it is hard to complain that the Conservatives are spending public dollars in a way that is detrimental to democracy.

    And, it is interesting that Graves is mentioned (though he isn't who provided the quote in the blog post, that appears to instead be Brian Klunder) as he's now receiving threating calls at home. The most likely candidates for these kind of actions vs. Graves would be rabidly partisan Conservatives who took things too far.

    Pardon me for not being optimistic about the prospects for change on this front given that the Conservatives have been rewarded with a majority.

    For Conservative partisans: Other parties can't really stand on the high ground, but that isn't an excuse for consistently damaging political discourse; pointing fingers instead of accepting responsibility just leads to a rush to the bottom and the Conservatives definitely bear some responsibility here.

    • And you're certain Graves is receiving those death threats from Conservatives? Seems they have much less to be bitter about than others.

      • If I were certain, I'd have said so instead of saying "most likely candidates". It is entirely possible that others may be responsible, but if you look at the groups most upset with pollsters (and with Graves specifically) then I'd say that some are definitely more likely than others…

        Also, I didn't say "death threats". I know nothing of this besides what Graves tweeted, and he didn't appear to say "death threats".

        • Sorry. I replaced "threatening phone calls" with "death threats" for some strange reason. Posting too damned much these days. It's time for another break. A looonnnngggg break.

          • I've been thinking the same thing the past few days about my own posting.

            It'll be too bad if you go, though, things are definitely more interesting and enjoyable with you around (even if we disagree).

          • That's nice to hear. It is reasonable commenters like you that make it worthwhile to exchange views here. However, I find myself too willing to crawl into the gutter with some of the less reasonable ones. It's a weakness that can only be cured via hiatus. :)

          • Every so often, I see something I really want to respond to and I just can't resist, and I get sucked back in all over again.

            For me, the issue I have posting here is that so many people don't actually take the time to reply. I'll write put some effort into writing something, only to see it get thumbs up or down but not for anyone to reply. I wonder sometimes about the commenters who stick around and continuously manage to be reasonable and thoughtful: how do they find the time and not managed to get depressed? :P

          • Personally, my time is limited, and I'm not always able to respond as much as I'd like because I'm too busy with other stuff. Sometimes I just thumb a reply up and respectfully let it stand on its own, as the natural end to the thread—the final word.

          • That last post was intended as praise for the patience that you and other commenters show in the face of disappointing responses, not as any kind of a criticism.

          • I didn't read it as any kind of criticism. I'm just expanding, clumsily, on my commenting philosophy.

            I get a lot of enjoyment out of sharing my views with fellow interested and engaged citizens. I do this because it's fun. I'm not too worried if I invest time in a comment that gets ignored and thumbed down, because such is life. It's important to approach things philosophically and be patient with people.

            By the way, I should mention that I really enjoy reading your comments, despite the fact that you're from Edmonton and I'm from your superior neighbour to the south. ;-)

          • Despite having my own hesitations about trumpeting the benefits of Edmonton, I can never take Calgarians seriously when they claim superiority:

            At least I can drive around Edmonton and figure out where I am, Calgary is just a gigantic mess.

  14. Ignatieff's reputation and career were not "destroyed". People don't loathe him with nearly the same intensity that they do Harper. If Liberals didn't have the collective attention span of a cocker spaniel puppy, they'd keep him as leader and rebuild under him. How many kicks at the can did Harper need before winning a majority? Ignatieff was weakened by Harper's attacks, but not destroyed. He knew the destruction was coming however. And he knew that it would come from his own. He wisely decided to step aside rather than spend the next 4 years digging knives out of his own back. I'm thinking his old room mate is carrying one of the bigger knives, but that's just idle speculation.

    • If Liberals didn't have the collective attention span of a cocker spaniel puppy, they'd keep him as leader and rebuild under him

      ****

      If he'd won 30 more seats or so and taken his own then the "see! he wasn't in it for you!" line might have some validity.

      • I don't see the point you're trying to make. Then again, I rarely do.

    • What was that you said? I'm a liberal and i deeply resent whatever it was you were attempting to er make er…oh look…it's time for my walk…i'll take this up with you some other time…what was…

  15. Because nit-picking is always productive…

    " You can't trust him to lead us out of the economic recovery because he's a weak man."

    It wasn't until much after the 2008 election that Harper admitted that was a recession going on therefore it's hard to believe that this particular narrative even existed.

    • Much of the bragging by that clown strategist seems almost a flight of fancy. I wonder how well the low brow ads even worked. If they were a turn-off for me, a committed (for now) Conservative, how must they have sounded to an undecided voter? These sleazy operatives blowing their own horns are perhaps getting too caught up in the game, and taking too much credit.

      • In January 2007, Liberal support ranged from 32-37% in three polls, while Tory support ranged from 31-35%. Following the "not a leader" ads. By late February, Liberal support was in the mid to high 20s in most major polls. Only a single poll between then and the 2008 election had Dion above 34% support.

        Fast forward to April, 2009. As Harper's coalition crisis bump receded, the Liberals came to lead the Tories in the polls once again. Liberal support across 7 polls ranged from 32-37%, while Tory support ranged from 29-33%. In mid-May, the Conservatives launched the just visiting ads. By late June, Liberal support was down to the low 30s. The attack ads intensified as a Fall election seemingly loomed, driving Ignatieff down to the mid-high 20s. Apart from a few blips (eg. the second prorogation) Ignatieff did not really recover. By the way, that includes his supposedly successful summer tour.

        • Indeed. People are being too optimistic in thinking that intelligence or reasonableness are an entirely effective defense by voters against hundreds of exposures to negative themes about an individual.

          • Attributing the dip in the polling of liberals to negative ads is misleading. The election coincided with tax deadline, and with Liberals making more spending promises than the NDP, it dinged them badly as people were preparing their tax returns. Listening to those promises, while looking at the amount payable section of one's tax return, was quite sobering. As you might have noticed the liberal's dipping in the poll followed closely to that of the looming tax deadline

          • I was referring to what hoser was talking about: the initial character assasination ads after each Dion and Ignatieff became leaders. I suppose we'll see what the Tories do when the Liberals choose their next leader. My optimistic side would like to believe that we won't hear every five minutes for two or three years how that person is conniving, malicious, unpatriotic, stupid and inept. My realistic side knows that this is too much to hope for.

            On the other hand, I expect Harper to go relatively easy on the NDP.

          • My apology for posting my comment in the wrong place.

          • I've seen that comment before, but I fail to be convinced.

        • There were other things going on at that time too. I don't think you can attribute all the movement in the polls to the ads.

  16. Liberal heads have exploded. And if Heather Mallick is to be believed then your worries are over as the new regime will be along shortly to haul your liberals carcasses off to the nearest gulag, where you can ponder to your hearts content the loathesomeness of war rooms.

  17. Some posters above have suggested that the solutions Mr. Coyne offers are unlikely to work – and they are right (and I would add that their being implemented requires the heroic assumption that the same governments that win with negative messages will unilaterally give up using them). I would go further. Negative messages, meanness and savagery are vital cornerstones of our democracy. Negative voting – ie. voting "against" somebody – is an entirely reasonable practice. Indeed, Mr. Coyne's endorsement of Michael Ignatieff in the last election was based on a negative message that Ignatieff had put forth (that Harper was an affront to democracy).

    It is not the maliciousness of political parties that drives negative ads, but the voracious appetites of the public for them. To proscribe negative messages is to deny people a legitimate avenue of information about the consequences of their vote. If ads are fraudulent, there are means of recourse (eg. the Tory yes yes yes ad, and the Liberal misquote of Harper). Living in a democracy means accepting the wisdom of one's fellow man, for better or for worse. And indeed, when negative ads are incorrect or truly wrong-hearted, they tend to backfire like the face ad, or like "soldiers with guns".

    People like to wax nostalgically about the "golden age" of discourse. When one looks back, it is hard to find such a moment. Macdonald won repeated majorities by accusing his opponents of being closet annexationists – at least the present crop of Tory ads only hint at this. And as far as negative ads ruining lives – I'm not sure I'd call being hired by U of T two days after losing an election a "ruined life". Indeed, if you think negative advertising is problematic, the hurt feelings of politicians is probably the most insignificant reason for reform I can think of.

    • I love this argument, but I suspect that may just be the contrarian in me.

      There is one part of this that makes me very wary, though that has to do mainly with the specifics of this last election:
      The negative ads against Ignatieff ran for a very extended time outside the election period. By doing this, the Tories effectively used their superior financial position to determine the course of the discussion about Michael Ignatieff. While this is certainly within the rules as they're written now, perhaps we should change the rules.

      • I would not be at all disturbed to see election advertising banned outside of the writ period.

        • Sure, but there would still be election advertising on the sly. Especially with the governing party using the media arm of the bureaucracy to promote new programs or tax incentives. So why bother?

          • Yes, the Conservatives have turned that into an art form. The sickening tax credit ads put out each year by the CRA are revolting. "You earned it. So claim it." Oddly enough, they'll mention credits on those ads that were brought in as much as 5 years ago, but not more than that. Hmmm. Why would they be emphasizing old, but not really old credits? Of course, it's to highlight the measures introduced by the Conservatives, while excluding measures brought in by the Liberals.

          • "So why bother?"

            Well, at least with a ban we should see the end of the relentless onslaught of attack ads between elections. As Ranting Rager points out, getting rid of the "see how good weare at bribing you with your own money" ads would likely continue unabated.

    • Well argued, and I think you're right. They're necessary. Here's the proof:

      Coyne argues that the attack ads were an assassination of his Ignatieff's character, and thus should not be a part of our culture. Suppose they were true (ie Ignatieff really is that bad, or that the any party at any time had a leader that bad). Suppose we had a culture or a set of regulations that prevented presenting such attack ads. Then the negative behaviour of said leader would essentially go unreported. And that would be worse than anything we have today.

      Therefore, the only real protections that could help are those laws already in place against libel or slander.

      • Suppose covers a multitude of sins rather nicely and very conveniently now doesn't it?

    • That's the Warren Kinsella argument in a nutshell. It is impossible to get rid of negative ads. There might well be legitimate messages in them. Although having the word 'VENDU!' fly across the screen in an attack on Stephane Dion was clearly unsportsmanlike.

      • The thing I like best about this argument is that it incorporates the need to call out advertising that goes too far into it; there is no inconsistency between being supportive of negative ads in principle and thinking that some go too far.

        • And who gets to judge that? What assembly of experts could we possibly expect to rule impartially on such things? Only the voters can make that judgement. As imperfect and flawed as that is. We really need to be careful that our solution isn't worse than the problem. From everything I've seen posted in this thread, all the solutions have the potential to be much, much worse. Eliminating the per-vote subsidy won't cure it either, but at least if people get too disgusted, they can withhold money. They can't withhold an automatic subsidy – not until they get a chance to vote.

          • I agree that attempting to regulate it would be idiocy, but there's definitely a need for the media and for civic minded individuals to call out politicians when they play dirty.

            As for the rest, I'd say we've covered that ground pretty well, heh.

          • Yes. Not to get the last word in or anything, but I would point out that the Tories crossed the line in 1993, with the infamous Chretien face ad, and they paid a huge price for it. Deservedly so. The Liberals committed a lesser faux pas in 2006 when they leaked an unreleased ad warning us to be afraid of our own soldiers – whom they had just committed to a very dangerous mission in Afghanistan. Don't assume the electorate cannot find its moral compass when it matters. They've shown at least twice that they can.

          • I entirely agree and suspect we're on the page on these points.

    • Excellent post as always h2h.

      I liken it somewhat to the tabloids and paparazzi stalking of famous people. Yes it's awful. Yes it's degrading. Yes it insults the intelligence of many people. But it will continue as long the tabloids continue to make handfuls of money from people whose intelligence it doesn't insult; who continue to buy that kind of crap at the grocery checkout. Personally I believe that's the audience that both parties target with negative advertising.

      Negative advertising has been so extremely effective for both parties, particularly over the last 10 years, that I unfortunately don't see it going away any time soon. Negative advertising is primarily what stopped Harper in 2004, to some extent what beat Martin in 2006, and to a large extent what contributed to the defeats of Dion and Ignatieff in the most recent two elections. The Conservatives have been particularly masterful at choosing negative advertising themes that were so effective because both Dion and Ignatieff have essentially lived up them. I can't even begin to imagine the effort and money they must spend on opinion research and focus group testing of this stuff.

      • because both Dion and Ignatieff have essentially lived up them

        That's the key. They must have an element of truth. If not, they can be damaging to the one producing the ad. But if there is an element of truth, they will be effective. And as you point it below, they cannot be over-the-top as well.

    • Further to this…some thoughts on negative advertising from Tony Blair, also clipped from Wells' piece that Coyne linked to. Keep in mind that in an interview when he first became PM, Harper indicated Blair as the world leader who at the time most impressed him.

      The Conservative staffer's laudable effort to specify the precise nature of this sustained assault on the character of a national party leader brought to mind a passage from former British prime minister Tony Blair's 2010 memoir, A Journey. Blair explains how he did away with a succession of Tory opponents.

      “So I defined [John] Major as weak; [William] Hague as better at jokes than judgment; [Michael] Howard as an opportunist; [David] Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go,” Blair writes.

      “Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that's their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it's not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain, or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground-floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don't chime. They're too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it's more accurate and precisely because it's more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that's that. Because in each case, it means they're not a good leader. So game over.”

    • "Mr. Coyne's endorsement of Michael Ignatieff in the last election was based on a negative message that Ignatieff had put forth (that Harper was an affront to democracy).

      It is not the maliciousness of political parties that drives negative ads, but the voracious appetites of the public for them."

      Both of those points are highly debatable. Ineed they undermine your whole piece IMO. First off. AC likely made up his own mind and came to conclusions which impelled him reluctantly to vote liberal based on his view of the tories behaviour in Parliament and a lot of related evidence, not merely Ignatieff's messaging.
      As to the second. Polls consistently show Canadians reject NA.

  18. Liberals carried all the wet soggy wood from the Conservs raining on their parade and did so unflinchingly uncomplainingly and with all the requisite nerve of a school chum determined not be deterred from their straight 'A' path by a school yard bully.

    Thats fine if you like rooting for an underdog by nature. If you (heh heh) believe in fairness, equality and substance over l'image/mirage.

    The NDP on the other hand have all the fire. They don't want to toast the toes of the Conservs or put their feet to the fire, they want to burn them. Whole!

    If the NDP succeeds as a whole as a good solid party in Opposition, they need to keep the same people who voted for them at the next time round, and the Liberals need to appeal to the people with voter apathy, regenerate enthusiasm in election voting and the Conservs (haw haw) need to stay the same.

    This is the only way things can ever change. Its if they stay the same. The French have always known this anyway.

    Oh and one more thing: the NDP have to demonstrate that they know the Harperites are chasing economic rainbows and riding unicorns and getting budget advice from faeries thanks to the clout like power of the Liberals, and the Liberals will have the NDP to thank for being a fiery opposition, astute and logical with fine moral sense….and Harper will just grin.

    Knowing the space between them is all he needs to rule. For now there is no turning back. Everything depends on the economy and pay checks and little else it seems. If it suffers, the Libs and P'ers will wrestle for each Conserv looking to change political stripes as well as try to reach people who did not vote.

    Just btw, anyone check the numbers on voter turnout including students?

  19. Some of you are suggesting that we do the converse of what Andrew proposes – that is, to ban all donations and have the parties rely only on per-vote subsidies. This is horribly flawed in one respect; it would forever ruin the chances of a new party entering Canadian politics. The Reform Party and the Green Party never would have gotten off the ground under such a voter subsidy regime. If a party needs to attract votes in an election before qualifying for a per-vote subsidy, then we are effectively freezing out all newcomers.

    • Yup, its not like we have had a problem with creating new parties in the last 20 years. (Reform, Alliance, Bloc, Greens)

      Probably more new parties reaching parliament in the last 20 years than any other Western Democracy. And most of them started under the old syestm. Subsidies definitely reward the current players and not encourage the future players. It is true in the economic world and it is true in the political world.

    • ….so add a limited exemption for new parties.

      Fair point, but it seems to me this could be dealt with really easily.

      • Think about it. At what point to you impose that limit? When they get 2% of the vote? 5%? So parties with almost zero support are allowed to solicit donations, but not those who have a little bit of support? Or parties less than X years old? I don't think such a serious flaw can be fixed with a minor tweak.

        • I think you're overstating how big a flaw this really is, it isn't like the "donations are necessary for new parties" narrative you're implying even holds in all cases.

          My understanding of how things went with the Greens is that they had exceedingly little support and organization until they ran candidates in every riding and managed to claim the minimum percentage required to qualify for the subsidy simply by being on the ballot everywhere.

          Off the top of my head, I'd say base it on the number of candidates a party has put up for election with a really low ceiling for how much could be solicited in donations. That'd push new parties to use their limited donations to run a full slate nationally and to let the electorate decide. Of course, if something like this were to actually be legislated I'd hope more serious thought would be put into the matter, but it isn't like there is any kind of a shortage of possible solutions to this.

          • And that turns elections themselves into fund-raising activities, does it not? Running a full slate of candidates with the specific goal of qualifying for subsidies, so you can run a more focused campaign next time? I'm having trouble seeing how this could possibly result in a superior outcome.

          • Really? I'd love to hear about the positive aspects of news parties built by donations and the negatives of new parties that are built via subsidy by running candidates nationally.

            I understand the principled objection to elections as fund raisers (even if I don't buy it), but that's an objection to subsidies generally rather than an issue with new parties specifically.

            Anyway, to reply to the general point:
            When you build via donations, you have to appeal only to your party base. When you build via subsidy, there are direct incentives to making broad appeals to the electorate and to increasing voter turnout.

          • I'll address your point specifically. You do have to appeal to your base. Absolutely. But, given that donations are strictly limited per individual, you must also work to broaden your base. A narrow base of wealthy benefactors does nothing for you if they're only allowed to give $1500 per year (or whatever the current limit is). The very act of broadening your base is what allows you to reach out to more people, to sell your message, and perhaps most importantly, to encourage reciprocal participation in the process.

            Participating in democracy is about so much more than just voting once every for years. Fund raising, with limits placed on donor size to limit undue influence from powerful sources, is a vital part of this process. I am not at all confident that this can be replaced. How, for example, can you be sure you even know what motivates your base if you don't know what motivates them to write that $50 cheque? Polling and focus groups can only go so far.

          • You're right. If a party starts with a group of 10 people, it's not going far if that group is limited to $1000 each. People should have the freedom to spend their own money on the things they believe in.

            I simply don't buy the argument that people should not be allowed to spend too much because they'll have undue influence. That's only true in a world of corruption and kickbacks.

          • …and appointments and Senate seats.

          • Well yes. In fact I think I contradicted myself a little due to Raging's strong arguments, since I agreed with Crit earlier that raised caps would be ideal, and you've brought me back towards that position.

            I suppose that means I am somewhat ambivalent to the caps issue and the undue influence issue. I am not averse to the current system of caps on donations, but I think the caps should be higher.

            However, the one issue I feel strongly about is party subsidies. And I am especially strongly opposed to the vote subsidy, because it ties a legitimate and beneficial act of voting, which should not be tied to anything else, to the act of handing over tax dollars to parties, which is NOT in any way the proper use of taxpayer money. There are also all sorts of distortions in that subsidy, such as the act of favouring the incumbent, and the act of subsidizing parties today based on their performance prior to the last election.

            I am also opposed to the party subsidies that occur in all other forms. Taxes should not be used to fund parties, I feel it is wrong.

          • I respect your position and actually agree with much of it. The issue I have is that I don't think moving to a donations-only environment removes the distortions (I suspect it may emphasize them in some cases) you list while it also changes the relationship between parties and party membership by increasing the pressure on members to donate, and may increase polarization by giving parties incentive to play to their base.

            On reflection, I suppose it isn't necessarily donations that I am opposed to, perhaps it is instead the effect of money on politics in general. In another comment, I'd proposed eliminating donations and having a low cap on the maximum subsidy payout, but I can't see any reason why it couldn't be the other way around: remove the subsidy and cap the maximum amount of money a party can collect in donations.

          • Possibly excepting the last sentence, everything in your first paragraph is also true in a subsidy situation only more so. Votes are limited, so parties must work to reach out and engage more voters.

            With regards to that last sentence and the second paragraph:
            As I've mentioned elsewhere, I have very mixed views of political parties. I view them as unaccountable and opaque, even though I think they are necessary. I am unconvinced that party leadership want their membership participating in party business, and I am unconvinced that anyone should ever donate to a political party accordingly. I have a hard time being sympathetic to the idea that donations are a necessary and useful part of the political process given the issues I have with parties.

            Even were parties to be more accountable and transparent, I still would have difficulty being convinced that fund-raising should be one of the primary forms of engagement between parties and their members, which it would almost certainly be. I would also not be easily convinced that money should be a necessary part of party participation.

          • As for parties, if you want to see what life would be like with no parties, take a look at your local city council. Any city council. The only thing worse for democracy than a party system is a system that does not allow parties.

          • I'll link to my other post, as much of what I'd like to say in reply is already contained there.

            Parties being necessary doesn't make parties as they are now "good".

    • Encouraging dependency on government political subsidies will make politicians deaf and blind on the real concerns of the constituents they serve. It leads to greater risks of MPs developing tunnel vision on party's ascendancy or positioning concerns instead of their real purpose in being there.

      Subsidies also encourages negative attack ads as a fast and easy means of bringing an opponent down instead of formulating sound policies which would resonate more with the voters they are trying to woo. Afterall it is easier to waste err spend money when it is easily available. If political subsidies continue, voters will become just an afterthought – as a ballot ticker during Election Day and completely ignored the morning after. Let politicians earn their hefty salaries, benefits, and pensions by pounding their feet and opening their ears to one grass root supporter at a time. I believe this will lead to closer relationship/trust formed between MPs and constituents as oppose to party subsidies. Politicians should monetarily depend entirely on grass roots donations.

  20. AC – you are a far more interesting writer to me when you tackle these types of issues – instead of the polling/horserace/strategy PPG vortex you have increasingly gotten caught up in the foreseaable past. Well done.

    Belatedly, congrats on your column on who you were voting for (my sentiments completely). I still think someone should look a bit closer at what happened to the Blue-Greens (esp in Ontario) – a group that Preston Manning has spoken about in the past (in Alberta politics) and that I can identify with as well.

    • What are Blue-Greens? I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that term. Is that conservative environmentalists? If that's the case, I'd likely be one of them, though I reject the term "environmentalist" as it has become too loaded and too associated with the activist left wing. I prefer to think of myself as a 'conservationist'. I would dearly love to see more focus on common sense, achievable conservation and anti-pollution goals, rather than the mega-project "green energy" cluster-pucks that have come to symbolize the environmental policies of all parties.

      • There was a good interview here in Macleans I think, a few years ago (2007?) with Manning. I don't have time to search, but give it a try. He has made reference to this elsewhere, in interviews. He also focuses, as you do, on the "conservationist" aspect.

  21. I’m fine with limiting Free Speech.

    Like in the argument that you can’t shout FIRE! in a crowded Theater.

    I’m sick of being Lied too, whether it be by Politicians, Businesses or Advertisers.

    Laws and Penalties against Lying would have my support.

    • And that would be great until said laws were used to quell legitimate debate or opinion. Then suddenly we'd be wishing we had done nothing of the sort. Sick of being lied to? Do what I do. Stop watching TV or listening to the radio or reading the papers.

      The Internet has been a real boon in that respect. If something outrageous or momentous happens, you'll hear about it. And the Internet allows you burrow into the heart of a matter while filtering out the propaganda and lies and screeching and other assorted noise.

      True, some folks have used the Internet to surround themselves with like-minded zealots and partisan hacks, and becoming even more narrow-minded and ignorant in the process. Which is why I no longer blog for the Blogging Tories, and rarely ever read or post comments there anymore. (Note: There are some good and reasonable BT bloggers, as there are with other parties. I'm not tarring them all with the same brush. ) An echo chamber is something I do not need. I prefer to be challenged and to challenge in return. The alternative is group-think and ignorance.

      • We've done an excellent job with defamation and hate speech. There's every indication an impartial body could come up with a workable test and apply it. The biggest issue is speed – getting a full hearing on any issue can take a long time, even the speediest hearings would take far longer than an election campaign.

        • I would be more afraid of said "impartial body" than the worst negative ads the pols could offer up. Much more afraid.

          • Theoretical concerns aside, I have never seen anyone who says hate speech laws are a danger to freedom of speech generally demonstrate a single example of misidentified hate speech (some try to name boisson, but even that was overturned on appeal). We're obviously capable of setting rules for fair discourse in political advertising. But we probably can't do so quickly and effectively enough to have it matter in a campaign setting.

      • “Sick of being lied to? Do what I do. Stop watching TV or listening to the radio or reading the papers.”

        I like that idea. I use to live like that years ago when I lived in the Far North. I completely missed the Falklands War. Since paying attention to world & national events and the media, I’ve come to really think very negatively about humans in general.

        • Not without good reason. Media is infotainment, not information. A famous economist (last name of Simon I think) said this about the media:

          We don't consumer information. Information consumes us.

          That is not to say the media should be ignored completely and forever. But I prefer to scan the Internet in the days and months and even years after an event happens, when cooler heads can prevail and more of the story becomes clear. So many media sensations ("Vaccine crisis" anyone?) turn out to be such a complete fabrication, it is just insulting.

  22. But I can't recall anything on this scale, or this vicious.

    Really?, Apparently you weren't around during the Preston Manning/Stockwell Day days in Ottawa when the Liberals and their minions in the MSM (especially the taxpayer fed CBC) took character assassination to new heights. You're just pi$$ed that the Conservatives have adopted the strategy and turned the gun on your boys, to great effect. TOO BAD, stop whining…

    • JMHO but this was the start of the 'nasty' stuff. Manning was ridiculed when he got rid of the glasses, changed his hair style and of course, the pitch of his voice. He is one of the most decent men I have had the pleasure listening to.

  23. Thank you for pointing out the implications of what what was the most devastating part of that article.

  24. lame column coyne. Ignatieff IS an opportunist. The "bad man" stuff is just hyperbole. These operatives are selling Coke vs. Pepsi and it's such a big deal when they sound like the Mad Men characters when doing it?

  25. I'm rather perturbed by Paul Wells' inability to break this story while it mattered – during the election campaign. I'm a self-defining Red Tory and maybe I'm a bit of an idealist at heart but… hell, when someone admits to you they're constructing a narrative ("Michael Ignatieff, in our narrative, is a political opportunist…") shouldn't that raise some mental red flags!? Here they are, telling you that that they've been carefully constructing this negative narrative (especially so it doesn't overlap with the Dion smears) and Paul Wells and the Maclean's editors deem it necessary to sit on it until after the election is over!?

    We've moved out of the realm of supposition on this, folks – the talking heads and "power panels" previously could only speculate and imply that such thoughts motivated those in the Conservative war room. But here it is, in black and white; in one's and zero's; for all who read Maclean's to see. Did Paul Wells not publish this out of some kind of fear that he might influence the outcome of the election? It just seems bizarre; was it not merely months ago that the collective bubble was scratching its head at the intensified Conservative attack ads?

    Astounding that Wells waited until now to release this quote. Astounding.

    • I recall seeing or hearing a statement to the effect that interviews were granted on the condition that they wouldn't be published until after the election. If so, Wells' and Maclean's hands were tied.

      • Exactly. They never would have been so candid with him if he would have gone out and published it the next day. This is standard fare. I remember reading in Trudeau's biography how he tricked the NDP into rejecting his budget and triggering an election in 1974 (or thereabouts). Up until then, the NDP had supported Trudeau's minority. Trudeau deliberately inserted a poison pill into the budget to get his election; an election he could then blame on the Opposition. He got his majority as a result. Sound familiar? You can bet that Liberals strategists NEVER would have admitted to this on the campaign trail. Backroom strategizing has been going on forever. We should be relieved that in fact we do eventually learn about it at all. We certainly aren't going to hear about it as it happens.

        • Good points all. But a moralist like me has to point out that the two cases you cite arn't entirely analogous. Trudeau didn't run a Broadbent is evil and malicious AA campaign at the same time.[ memories fuzzy. It was Ed wasn't it?] Not just trying to be partisan; who knows how far PET might have been willing to go had he been boxed in to the extent H was by having no real natural allies in a minority P. But nevertheless things are as they are and nothing else. Harper has essentially broken new moral ground here with Dion and Ignatieff, even if the liberals gave him the plough. It remains a worry for me at least. I'm with the likes of Coyne and Russell. There has been little real price paid or meaningful consequences for SH's strategic use of disrepect for process in the last parliament in particular, and throughout his whole minority tenure. I think your right that the public has taken note in its own way and still reserves the ultimate right to punish him at a more appropriate time. For me at least that's a pretty ephemeral reed to cling to.

          • ephemeral…transitory or brief…learn something new every day. Slender would have worked just fine. G.O. would not have been best pleased.

  26. "But I can't recall anything on this scale, or this vicious."

    Libs leaking info about Layton's late night visit to brothel that was being investigated for underage prostitutes was at least as vicious as anything Cons did and it didn't cost them anything, either. Negative tactics are expensive or cheap, depending.

    Also find it curious how many journos and other citizens think pols are Brahmins who can't be questioned and deserve total privacy while demanding private citizens answer the most private of questions in census.

    What you call vicious or loathsome, Coyne, is considered to be uncomfortable truth by many others. Voters discriminate between what they find acceptable/non-acceptable, '93 Chretien ad is an example of public actually being repulsed, but people across parties have been receptive to Con ads pointing out Iggy's time abroad and why did he return. I know many believe that Cons have great mind control abilities through their ads but they really don't.

    Msm is meant to "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable" but they seem to have completely forgotten that. Now journos think their job is to protect pols from the raging hoi polloi, they have completely abandoned one of their main functions.

    • Now journos think their job is to protect pols from the raging hoi polloi

      Only when it's a Liberal professor. When it's someone they don't like, they don't mind the character assassination. The character assassinations of Manning, Day and Harper far exceed anything done to Ignatieff, in part because the media were participating in it when it was a Conservative. Even this campaign, a large slice of the journalists out there (a couple of them write for Maclean's) were doing their outright best to attack the characters of politicians, primarily Conservative politicians.

      • no.

        • yes.

        • No.

          • Maybe.

          • Yes.

            Manning changes his hair style, gets rid of his glasses. oh, and the pitch of his voice when he got going. Yep, nice personal attacks on a truly decent man.

          • No

            …what were we talking about anyway? I haven't read the top of the thread yet. Just jump'n on the ole bandwagon for the hell of it.

  27. This story underscores my repeated point that there is no Conservative/Harper 'hidden agenda'. Their strategists have openly shared with reporters their intentions. Perhaps this is the reason for Stockwell's leaving. He has been portrayed, not without reason, as a backward fundamentalist with absolutist moral imperatives, or ignorant flat-earth beliefs, and the geography of the Niagara.

    But perhaps he left in the realization that this once (in its own way) very upright and principled party has hardly a meaningful vestige of its previous religious conservatism, or any moral or ethical framework in any way whatsoever. Not that it's 'immoral' or 'unethical', but amoral, mechanically pragmatist, non-ethical.

    Within the Harper mind-set, he did not 'lie' about Guergis' knowledge of the reasons for dismissal.

    He simply made statements that would be effective in removing an optics-problem for the Conservatives, as well as someone who was no longer an effective fellow-termite in the efficient running of the Government of Harper. Nothing 'immoral' about that, nothing defamatory against her.

    I imagine Harper and the other party members were scratching their collective cogwheels in puzzlement: "Why doesn't she understand she is malfunctioning, cannot recalibrate; do a diagnostic self-check, and therefore delete herself?'
    .

    • Thanks for my morning laugh. That was terrific.

    • Before the media and Opposition started holding her up as a victim of Conservative malice, they were screaming for her resignation. That included a completely false story about an alleged "meltdown" and verbal abuse of airline employees in Charlottetown. The media and the Opposition feasted at the still-living carcass of her political career precisely until they realized that the Conservatives themselves had joined them at the dinner table. If you're wondering why nobody outside the media paid much attention to Guergis during the campaign, and why her riding did not show up en mass to vote for her, it's because they have longer memories than you give them credit for.

  28. Kay should have named names if he was going to try to change it into a Liberal smear 48 hours before voting. Anything is possible of course, still…

    • Journalists have a long standing practice of not naming names if the source wishes to remain anonymous. In fact, they've been known to go to jail to protect sources. It's a fundamental principle of journalism in fact. While they also have an obligation to limit their use of "unnamed sources" – an obligation few live up to these days – they certainly are not in the habit of exposing those informants who wish not to be named, and for good reason.

  29. It would improve political advertising if we required the party leaders to say, in each ad, "I'm [insert name here] and I approve this message", like in US campaigns. They should take responsibility for the things they say.

    • Yes. It would. Because no one wants to be associated with the particularly nasty messages.

  30. Keep on plugging away at the moral stuff Andrew…somewhere…sometime it has to start sinking in or we are in deep doo doo, given all the tools and wonderful new toys all the parties have now. Whoever thought it was a good idea to let the nerds and the geeks run the show anyway? We've all seen the movies. Their sole motivation is to shaft the rest of us for making HS and JHS such a nightmare for them. Let the blue collar guys run the show i say. What's the worst we could do…insist the rewards roughly equate with the effort a person makes and equality of opportunity be more then buzz word/phrase…oh, and free beer for all of course.

  31. The culture war started long before Graves. I've no idea who really started it[ other then it began in the US] Certainly both sides have their grievances and grudges. You said, i said. It's a great shame it has become a political club regardless of who wields it.

    • Why there are Canadians attribute many ills of the world to the Americans is just so irrational. It is like Islamic countries blaming everything on the Jews. Don't you think Canadians are smarter than those people?

      • Not just blaming the US irrationally. But the reality is many of out trends, politcla aand otherwise, good and bad, originate with our Southern Cousins.

        • By reading many past negative comments from suppose to be gentler and enlightened Canadians, they make Fox News and Americans more classy and polite in comparison. It is becoming embarrassing and delusional.

          Originate from US? Do you have concrete proof on this? There are always bad segments of society no matter how heavenly a place is. One might mistakenly conclude that US has it in spades, but that is a very misguided and erroneous thinking. US has over 300 million people compared that to Canada's just 34 million people, of course they will sound noisier and boisterous than we do. In short everything will be amplified due to their numbers. With our lesser population here in Canada, governing should be easier and quieter in comparison than there down south. There are many other countries to look up as good example for bad behavior, why focus on US is just beyond acceptable.

          As for political scene, those countries which suffer no boisterous debates or vocal attacks, are usually under those theocratic and authoritarian regimes – as there are just no political contest happening.

          Is the US system perfect? Of course not, not even by a long shot, but nor are WE! Having said that, both the Southern and Northern cousins are a lot better than many countries.

          We Canadians should stop this childish demonization of US. We are suppose to be more mature and rational than this. It's like two brothers/sisters trying to point at each other "He/she did it first!" The bad news is; it is usually Canadians who are doing many of the pointing.

  32. The gnashing of teeth, the wringing of hands, the tritting of teeth. Of course it was all A-OK when the heroes of the media, the Liberals reigned for so many years. Put the shoe on the office foot and SOMETHING NEEDS TO B E DONE. Hypocrisy is and will forever more be the hallmark of the left. My but this is fun. How long before Stevie dumps gun control??

    • Oh you guys are catching up fast. Remember thing are closer then they may appear in the mirror.

  33. Sadly, even if you take away public funding, this same thing will continue as freedom to spend money trumps freedom of speech any day. The Conservative party coffers are pretty full and the other parties do not have the economic engine that the Conservative party has. If you take away public funding, the attack ads will continue, but they will only be used by the Conservatives.

    Often the attack ad has been questioned as to whether or not it has value. Clearly it worked for the Conservatives and not for the Liberals as most Canadians who voted against the Liberals said that they could not trust Ignatieff.

    • People did not vote for Ignatief or Liberals in this election because of their leftist spending platform. That was the dumbest platform ever made by them. There was no show of centrist Liberals at all in this election. Their platform did not reflect nor address the economic difficulty we are facing at this time. Voting for the Liberals knowing their platform as campaigned by Iggy at each stop, would have been like handing blank cheques to a party with spending addiction. To think that Liberals touted themselves as intelligent and brilliant, none of them are smart enough to consider that we are facing the following:

      – Middle of world recession where most European nanny states going bankrupt or facing economic collapse
      - When our Universal health care is in life support and financially unsustainable
      - When our largest trading partner the US (buyer of most our goods) is in a financial meltdown
      - When the election coincided with TAXATION DEADLINE, where every day while doing tax preparation is a constant reminder how much government spending costs us.

      In short, the Liberal's most self touted intelligence/brilliance was a no show in that campaign. To blame it on something else is an insult on voters' intellect. Ah, but then that is what the Liberals are most noted for!

    • And you linking to the same nonsensical blog repeatedly is not ignorant how?

  34. I think he has some good points though !

    http://ahabit.com/mandate

    Sorry Coyne, I prejudged you. That's not a bad message, but the media needs to be better too -that's all I am saying.

    GOOD ARTICLE -IT'S ONE OF YOUR BETTER ONES !

    • Yet your foot remains planted firmly in your mouth from the above comment. Live and learn I guess.

  35. I greatly appreciate the professional approach. These are pieces of very useful information, which is very useful for me in the future. Thanks.

  36. My concern is that not only have we justified negative tactics and anti-democratic behaviour by electing a conservative majority in this election, and thus propogating more of the same, but that it represents just how little regard people have for Canadian democracy at all.

    As though we simply CAN'T expect any better, and thus have given up hoping for better.

    And while I recognize that people voted in large numbers for the NDP based on their positive messaging, it drove enough people to vote FOR Harper that he actually got a majority.

    40% is a significant number of voters for a single party to gain in a five way split afterall, and unless the NDP suddenly moves further right, or unless another competitive party rises closer to the center, you're looking at multiple conservative majorities in the future.

    • Precisely my worry. It is possible to argue the polarization has already begun, mostly to the CPCs advantage, by driving blue libs into the arms of Harper once it became apparent the NDP surge couldn't be turned back. Hard to see how this will not continue unless either the libs roar back as a radical centrist party[ NDP or cons need to screw up bad first] or the dippers become more of a pan social democratic party, killing the libs in the process. Either way the right wins[ unless the libs come back and the dippers return to their home on the left] since the centre of Canadian politics will get pulled right to the detriment of social democratic ideals and policies. Hope Jack's listening.

  37. pathetic, Andrew. you picked the Liberals – you lost. and now witgh the "conservatives are mean" bs.

    i hope business suffers as a result.

    • Wow, bitter much?

      Allow me to paraphrase your comment: "I don't like what you have to say Andrew, so I hope you burn in hell"

      Nice. Real nice.

      Sheesh.

  38. Crit Reasoning pointed out a flaw in a max cap on donations. It could prevent an individual from making any donation at all (because the cap has been reached). If an individual wants to contribute, he should be allowed to, especially when everyone is lamenting the lack of engagement by the voters. Rejecting someone's donation is not a way to engage someone.

    Thinking about it some more, I don't think there should be an overall cap, just an individual cap, whether it's per vote or per individual (and I've already described why I think that the vote subsidy is wrong, so that makes it per individual).

    If a party has a large number of individuals that wish to contribute, then the party should be able to reap the benefits.

  39. You misunderstand me. I'm by no means anti-US in a default sense. I really don't expect them to be perfect at all. Why would i? We're not perfect ourselves. In addition they have an awsome responsibility as the leader of the western world, they don't have the luxury of all the second guessing that secondary or middle power like us have. And i did say good and bad. Don't know why you assume i only meant the negative alone. As for evidence…er maybe cuz we live right next door to em. Like to make the case that our trends, cultural and otherwise, originate elsewhere? Europe is probably a distant second…nowhere near as influential as it was even a few decades ago.

    "By reading many past negative comments from suppose to be gentler and enlightened Canadians, they make Fox News and Americans more classy and polite in comparison. It is becoming embarrassing and delusional."

    Different strokes for different folks, but IMO, that pov is just plain silly. Many of us are too damn smug for our own good yes! But at least we aint insane!

  40. It's funny how easy it is to misdirect "eminent" media figures. And political opponents. And the natural instincts of the twittering media types to malign Conservatives and defend Liberals. We saw this all through the campaign, and pre-campaign, and see it again here now.

    Let me explain. You don't actually need to do something to get value from doing it. Let's say you're in a competitive campaign (for anything, local council, school board, corner office, etc.) and you and your opponent have relatively limited, finite resources. You want the opponent to waste those resources on activities which won't help him/her so you can gain an advantage. Here's an example of what might be done: 1. ID a small cluster of people close to your opponent 2. micro-target this small group with a communication (brochure, brown envelope, email, robo-sounding phone call, etc.) 3. you want them to believe EVERYONE is getting this communication, and because nearly everyone your opponent talked to received it, that is accomplished 4. then your opponent is tied up in figuring out a response, using his/her limited resources of time and brainpower to respond to something that basically no one knows about 5. or fretting about it, or making claims about it after the fact as Glen Pearson is doing (does he seriously believe such a mass attack was undertaken against him, if at all?) 6. such tactics work best as the deadline approaches and resources are strained and the opportunity to respond is limited but in Pearson's case I suspect little or nothing was actually done and he's just making excuses

    But it's interesting to see Coyne acting surprised that Liberal tactics were used on them. It was a defensive tactic, largely. It helped blunt the daily vicious attacks and claims made by the Liberals, their brown envelope drops, and anti-Harper character assassination as it rolled out. No mention was made that Iggy isn't married (which I first heard on Cross-Country Check-Up) or that he was a bad professor, or parent, or kicked his dog. His haughtiness and arrogance was always on display and the Liberals were apparently oblivious to it. Anyone seeing Ignatieff in the debates for the first time was repulsed, and that's why the Liberal vote went down. Two loser leaders in a row, losing 800,000 votes each time and they blame the Conservatives?

    As others here have noted, they had a loose-lipped leader and a party that put power before everything else. I, for one, believed they had the right idea when they convened the Montreal Thinkers' Conference in 2010. But, in the months before, it became clear it would be a failure as they first banned their own MPs from attending and failed to use it to change their policy outlook — they didn't choose "thinkers" who would help shed light on them, but ones from whom they were unlikely to receive planks. It was a gabfest not a political cauldron. It fed the narrative that Iggy was an out-of-touch academic.

    Iggy in the debate looked like Iggy in the Conservative ads. Jack in the NDP ads looked like a much better alternative.

  41. “I’m sick of frat house nature of war rooms. Me too ,thats why I don’t subscribe to anything the media party produces these days.

  42. http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/ndp-wants-a-recount-in-winnipeg-north-121374674.html?device=mobile

    An Elections Canada spokesman said a member of the riding or any of the parties can request a recount.

    http://www.nationalpost.com/story.html?id=4736786

    Recount ordered in Ontario riding puts third Tory win in jeopardy

    Elections Canada has ordered a judicial recount of votes in a Northern Ontario riding, putting a third Conservative election victory in jeopardy. Tory candidate Jay Aspin ousted Liberal incumbent Anthony Rota from his Nipissing-Timiskaming riding by just 17 votes in Monday’s vote. Elections Canada on Tuesday also ordered recounts in the Quebec riding of Montmagny-L’Islet-Kamouraska-Riviere-duLoup and the Toronto area riding of Etobicoke Centre. In Etobicoke, Conservative Ted Opitz took the seat from Liberal incumbent Borys Wrzesnewskyj by 25 votes, while in Quebec, New Democrat Francois Lapointe initially lost by 110 votes to Conservative Bernard Genereux. A first recount showed more than 100 votes were awarded mistakenly to the Green party.

    Question ,what if the CBC “accident” seemed to have skewd an NDP or Liberal win, then what ?

    Howls upon howls of complaints from the cons , as voters stayed home or change vote ! So what gives with the utter silence in the case where the Cons win ? Spread his next idea ,have fun trying even o complain, I am getting a huge run around. !!

    Join the flood , Demand Elections Canada do a re vote at CBC expense , as some voter switched or stayed home do to the breached release of poll data ,

    While some Twitter users were risking punishment online, it was Canada’s national broadcaster, the CBC that seemed to have breached section 329 publicly.

    At 9 p.m. EST, CBC Newsworld began airing results from Atlantic Canada in Ontario 30 minutes before polls closed there. Residents in the Prairies also reported seeing CBC results early on Twitter

    Can voters ask for redress due to any proven infractions

    905 area made the break for Harper , so did the above skew the results as some stayed home or changed a vote

    1-8662048448, press #2 8004636868

    7053273503 for elections Canada ,commissionersoffice@elections.ca

  43. Ironically, far from being a malicious political schemer, Ignatieff was too much the gentlemanly academic to have any success in the political arena against a Karl Rovian opponent. The Liberals should pick a scrappy leader who can duke it out with the likes of Harper next time.

  44. Check out the last segment of the May 17 issue of Steve Paikin’s The Agenda for some information from departing MPs about political parties.

    You might have to select the “Alison Loat” tab on the tvo site.

    The parties and the back room pollsters and strategists need to be crimped, financially.

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