Must-reads: Chantal Hébert on dissing the Greens; Norman Spector on the value of another minority; Dan Gardner on election psychology; Christie Blatchford on Sgt. Prescott Shipway; Don Martin and Greg Weston on l’affaire macareux; Thomas Walkom on our dull(er) election campaign.
A most consequential campaign
Is it a dead puffin? Or is it merely pining for the fjords?
In many respects the ongoing repackaging of Stéphane Dion and Stephen Harper mimics the “carefully scripted” sales job the Republicans deployed for Sarah Palin, Dan Gardner writes in the Ottawa Citizen, and much as we’d like to think otherwise, cognitive psychologists have proven that our emotions affect our choices even if we don’t realize we’re experiencing them. “Sadly for marketers—and happily for the rest of us—it’s not quite that easy,” says Gardner. Palin was easy to pitch as “the hockey mom who will give ’em heck in Washington” in large part because nobody had ever heard of her. Altering already-entrenched emotional responses, on the other hand, is much harder than slapping a sweater-vest and a smile on Harper or a pair of skis on Dion.
Or, as Sun Media’s Greg Weston sarcastically puts it, “it’s a good thing all Canadian voters just fell off the turnip truck and banged their heads on the way down. Otherwise, the political parties would be wasting millions of tax dollars on ads portraying their respective leaders as fanciful creations of the Disney fairy.”
The Vancouver Sun‘s Barbara Yaffe speaks to various communications and advertising experts about the value of negative campaign advertising, and concludes that while it generally works for policy related issues, it generally doesn’t when it comes to personal issues—like making fun of Jean Chrétien’s face, for example, or a “manipulated photo” (yeah, that’s just what it was) of a puffin defecating on Stéphane Dion’s shoulder. We think it’s safe to say Canada’s sense of perspective is in some serious trouble.
If it weren’t for this week’s other problems for the Conservatives—playing a lead role in Elizabeth May’s exclusion from the leaders’ debate, the “anti-green optics” of cutting the excise tax on diesel” and Harper opining that he’d “choose to be a fruit” over a vegetable—the Calgary Herald‘s Don Martin suspects the “rogue puffin” incident “would have flown off the radar to little lasting consequence.” (Lord, how we’d like to believe him. As Martin points out, Paul Martin and Jack Layton still await their apologies from Harper for suggesting they support child pornography.) As a package deal, however, he believes they comprise a very unexpected good few days for Dion.
The National Post‘s John Ivison couldn’t really see yesterday’s developments any differently. The puffin issue is utterly dead, he declares, thanks to Harper’s willingness “to be humble”—in stark contrast to his former self. And saying he’d “choose to be a fruit—just who I am—sweet and colourful,” in response to the sort of “curveball” question that led to Michael Ignatieff’s puffin analogy in the first place? Genius! says Ivison. “Liberals probably let out envious groans at the presence of mind on display.”
By Saturday, L. Ian MacDonald summarizes in the Montreal Gazette, Harper’s campaign will have hit everywhere from Vancouver to St. John’s, and he has to give Layton credit for the “very audacity” of steering his airplane immediately towards Calgary. Dion, meanwhile, “has spent the better part of his campaign launch on the ground in Montreal, campaigning in some of the safest Liberal seats in creation,” which only highlights “the weakness of the Liberal campaign in Quebec” off the island. This is not good, says MacDonald, not good at all. But it is, of course, “early days.”
Another minority government would be good for everyone, Norman Spector argues, rather convincingly, in The Globe and Mail. Starting with the most counterintuitive, he suggests it would be good for Harper and the Tories because a majority “would raise expectations among his hard-right base that he will implement their policies, including some that go well beyond the mainstream of Canadian public opinion,” while angering the “large majority of Canadians [who would] have voted against him” even more. In a larger sense, Spector argues, another minority would “consolidate our return to competitive party politics at the federal level,” and with no bold policy ambitions evident that “would require a majority in the House of Commons to enact,” he sees little reason to fret about it.
Minority government lets Harper “govern while relieving him of the necessity of being conservative” and Dion propose “tax and environmental policies [that] would wreck the government” without having to “implement them,” George Jonas suggests in the Post—or, rather imaginary dinner party guests suggest to each other in a wee play. “Is a minority government ideal for Canadian politicians?” Gucci asks Albemarle. No, he (she?) responds. “The ideal is backseat driving. The Boston Tea Party in reverse: Representation without taxation. Saddle the moral high horse. The CBC-NDP axis.” We’d be lying if we said we got that.
The Post‘s Jonathan Kay accuses CBC online columnist Heather Mallick of “dissect[ing] the appearance of Sarah Palin with the sort of predatory salaciousness that would make a frat boy blush.” And he wonders what sort of reception Neil Macdoland would receive at the John McCain White House, which would know “his network ran a column claiming the country’s second-in-command looked like a woman paid to have sex on camera.” Kay suggests “the next government will take care of” the CBC’s shortcomings if the Mother Corp. doesn’t do it itself.
Conservatives “are winning the public-relations battle hands-down,” Jeffrey Simpson argues in The Globe and Mail. It’s just unfortunate that they’re doing it with a series of “tactile, visible, understandable, simple and targeted” moves like the GST cut, tax credits for transit passes and sports equipment, the $1,200-per-child cheque, shaving two cents off the diesel excise tax and other tweaks that pale in effectiveness against what broad-based income tax cuts would do.
Thomas Walkom, the only Canadian economist we’re aware of to have supported the GST cut, says it’s no mystery why the Canadian election campaign is duller than the American one. While John McCain and Barack Obama fall over each other to assume the mantle of “change,” Harper and Dion “are working overtime to assure Canadians that … really, they are no different from anyone else” and that they won’t “fundamentally rock the boat” policy-wise. Even Dion’s purportedly revolutionary Green Shift is “designed to literally conserve the environmental status quo,” Walkom argues, and “it’s being sold [as] costless for all.”
Just a week after speculating Palin could represent “a big step backward for women,” the Gazette‘s Janet Bagnall bemoans the fact that women have a whole lot more going for them in American politics than they do in Canada. “The one woman who leads a party in Canada has been shut out of the leadership debates, including by Jack Layton, a man who wants women to think he’s working for them,” she writes. And “the governing party is fielding a slate with—so far—fewer than one in five female candidates,” having reasoned, she suspects, that they “need the support of their social-conservative base” (none of whom, apparently, are women) more than they need the female vote.
The Star‘s Chantal Hébert says May has a far better case for inclusion in the debates than either Preston Manning or Gilles Duceppe had in 1993, in that they weren’t (and aren’t, in Duceppe’s case) leaders of national parties. The parties had won seats, it’s true, but Hébert is sure Radio-Canada and TVA wouldn’t “have courted the ire of Quebecers by excluding Bouchard from the French-language debate” even had they not. Given the tenor of online outrage over their decision, she suspects the TV consortium may have miscalculated the potential backlash. And she says the whole affair “goes a long way to illustrate why electoral change has so little momentum among the country’s political elite. In a proportional system, … the Greens would already be a parliamentary force.”
Non-election issue of the day: Afghanistan
The Globe‘s Christie Blatchford speaks to Cpl. Ryan Elrick about Sgt. Prescott Shipway, who was killed this week in Afghanistan more than two years after he helped save Elrick’s life when a Canadian convoy hit an IED. “It is an odd feeling, [Elrick] says, knowing that ‘he helped save me, the victim of an IED,’ and was himself the victim of another.”
David Warren, writing in the Citizen, is “aghast to be unable to find, anywhere in the mainstream Canadian media, mention of our soldiers’ part” in successfully transporting a massive hydroelectric turbine across Helmand province. No, please, allow us. “Secret mission gets turbine through Taliban territory” (Vancouver Sun); “Britain, allies deliver turbine through Taliban stronghold” (Edmonton Journal); “NATO completes transport of massive turbine” (Globe and Mail); “Attack fails; turbine delivered; Troops fend off insurgents to provide Afghan region with needed power source” (Ottawa Citizen). That took us, like, two minutes.