Friday, October 1, 2010

So what's the question?

The phrase "framing the ballot box question" is one you will have read here and heard in the media. It refers to the one thing an average voter boils all of the electoral noise down to as they prepare to cast a ballot.

My money is on Canada having an election in the late winter/early spring of 2011 (I don't see this Fall happening). If so, we are now entering the period when parties begin to more deliberately frame the question.

For the government, this means getting out quickly and defining an opposition that has thus far failed to define itself. Hence Mr. Flaherty's highly partisan (and highly uncharacteristic) speech last week.

For the opposition, the trick is more difficult. Opposition parties like the NDP and the Liberals need to differentiate themselves from the government. However, they also need to make distinctions between one another. For the NDP, its gets a bit more complicated when you factor in the Greens. For the Bloc it's, well, nevermind. They're the Bloc. It's all good.

So what are we seeing in terms of the party's preferences for "the question?" To start, we have a government focused on making the economy the issue (rightly so), but taking an important issue and wrapping it in the very charged "coalition" blanket. The question will be "Do you trust us or the coalition?" This may (ok, will) be misleading, but it can extremely powerful in making distinctions for voters, generating financial support and putting opponents on the back foot.

For the Liberals, the plan seems to be about defining a broader, more inclusive Canada. Mr. Ignatieff's comments about family and household issues not being seen as "touchy-feely" gives you a sense as to where they are going. It will be a have your cake and eat it too message - Canada can be progressive, inclusive, prosperous and financially sound. However, without the details voters will struggle. The Liberals will also look to convince voters that they, and not the NDP, offer the best chance of stoping the Conservatives from getting their majority and offering credible opposition.

The NDP is fighting the government, the Liberals and the Greens. A tall order for a party that took a credibility hit during the gun registry vote. They will appeal to the voter who is looking for the House to keep the government honest; the voter who knows it will be a minority and therefore sees the need for a third party in the House that can be effective and has experience. Theirs will become a riding-specific fight as they look to hold back the Greens.

As for the Bloc? Nevermind.



  1. Bonjour,

    I would like to know the difference between the NDP and the Bloc? To me they are the same, two parties that cannot aspire to be in power.

    You wrote "To start, we have a government focused on making the economy the issue (rightly so)", I agree the economy is important, unfortunately they will never do anything to make it better and make Canada a leading economy in the world. The federal keeps cutting services and dump it in the provinces backyard.

    Now "Do you trust us or the coalition?", well let's see the campaign a lot of things can happen but I doubt Ignatief will be able to get the Liberals back to the power. He does not have any charisma and much credibility.

    Who ever gets in will do like the others did and does, old recipies, same messages, same results, same failure. The health care system, the education (I know it is the province competence, unemployement, nothing will get better.

    The truth is, the middle class will keep getting poorer, the poorer will never get more money, the poor kids that do not eat before going to go to school will not eat more, the elderly will not get better care etc...

    I personally do not have any faith in any of the politician we have in Canada.

    Sylvain Plourde

  2. Thanks for the comment. The NDP-Bloc question is an interesting one, given their more social-democratic leanings. On non-national unity related policy they are quite similar. However, the national unity question is not a trivial element that can be dismissed such that they can now be seen as being similar. It's a raison d'etre for the Bloc, defining who they are.

    In terms of the question and the "trust us or the coalition" approach, look at debates in the House, look at the talking points issued to government MPs - this is the line they are using with increasingly regularity.

    Please, keep the comments and feedback coming! The points you raise are important ones if we are to have a good dialogue on the choices we, as voters, face.


  3. We could eventually have a discussion on the national unity. I probably have a different way of explaining it than most people.

    As for the question I have to admit,"trust us or the coalition" approach is a good one. The coalition already failed. I also have to say that the strenght of Harper during a campain is the simplicity of his message. That is where the Liberals have failed. Liberal or Conservative will not make any difference both parties are clueless.


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