Can't stop, won't stop

The Hill Times sizes up the permanent campaign.

Prof. Flanagan, a political pundit who teaches political science at the University of Calgary, said that House of Commons-funded activities can also be used for political purposes. For example, he said, “travel to targeted ridings and ethnic communities, mailouts with a response coupon for voter identification, public opinion research to find policies that will resonate with target demographic groups.” He added: “All parties do some these things some of the time, but the Conservatives are unique in the scale on which they operate and the degree to which everything is coordinated. They have produced a campaign equivalent of Colin Powell’s doctrine of ‘overwhelming force,’ applying all possible resources to the battleground ridings where the election will be won or lost.”  

Prof. Flanagan suggests the Canadian permanent campaign, “which was born of minority government with public money serving as the midwife,” will slow down in periods of majority government, but will continue because of the potent political weaponry of the pre-writ advertising, its usefulness for attracting new support, passing legislation, questioning the opposition’s policies, and undermining opposition leader’s images. “It is a political arms race in which competitors will have to adopt new generations of weaponry or fall irretrievably behind. As long as they can find the money to pay for it, parties will be forced to keep up in order to compete,” he said.

Joe Comartin suggests limits should be established on advertising between election campaigns. I’m not sure there will ever be an incentive for the governing party to limit itself. So far the Conservatives have mostly had the airwaves to themselves. Given the success they’ve had with previous ad campaigns, it’s difficult to imagine why they’d want to limit the use of such ads. Presumably the New Democrats and (eventually) the Liberals are going to do everything they can to join that fight over the next three years. And if ad campaigns help the New Democrats or Liberals defeat and surpass the Conservatives in 2015, why would either turn around and institute a limit?

The next three years are going to be instructive. The permanent campaign in Canadian politics is a fairly well-established idea, but we’ve not yet seen it really joined by more than one party (the Conservatives). And it’s not much of a fight unless more than one person is throwing punches. If the NDP (and eventually the Liberals) can match the Conservatives ad-for-ad then we shall really see what a permanent campaign looks like.

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