Thursday, March 31, 2011

Questioning Quotas for Questions

As we close out Day 6 of #elxn41, I am happy to say that we have started to see issues come more to the forefront.

Through their announcements over the past few days, the Liberals have started to do their part to offer Canadians a choice. With their full platform to come on Sunday, we should have plenty to talk about next week, particularly as the other parties follow suit.

Putting that aside for now, I think it is worth discussing the different strategies being employed by the Liberals and Conservatives in regards to taking questions and allowing for the uncertainty that comes from unscripted and less tightly controlled events.

I raise this because their respective approaches also offer Canadians a choice - a choice in terms of what they should expect from their prospective leaders. Let me start with the following observation:

If you went to a job interview and limited your prospective employer to 5 questions, it's a fair bet you wouldn't get the job regardless of how strong a candidate you were.

Yet, this is what we are seeing from the Conservatives. With a limit of 5 questions per event, the Conservatives are not offering media much of an opportunity to engage Mr. Harper on the issues, on the campaign, on, well, anything.

Now to be fair, this is not being done because they are hiding something. This is about control and safety. More questions equals more opportunities to get off message, to face the unexpected, to stumble.

As the front runner, employing a safety-first approach is not atypical. I suspect a large part of their thinking is that the comparative openness of the Liberal campaign will inevitably result in some misstep; one on which the Conservatives can pounce. A hit them on the break approach.

So yes, tactically, I can see the point. But I go back to my opening observation about applying for a job - in this case the highest job in the country. While you can argue that Canadians know where you stand after over 5 years in office, it is reasonable for the electorate and the media to expect more opportunity to hold you to account for your record, and to question you on the issues of today and your party's plans for tomorrow.

By contrast, the Liberals have opted for a more open campaign. Events feature both the standard stump speech moments, but also the chance for voters to ask unscripted questions (yes they are - no one would script some of these rambling questions). Media also has far greater access to Mr. Ignatieff, to ask multiple questions.

Where the Conservatives are playing it safe, the Liberals have to take some chances - hence the more open campaign. Mr. Ignatieff needs to reverse the damage done by negative ads against him and by early performances that simply did not connect with anyone. He also needs to define a clear choice for Canadians; to offer up quite concretely what a Liberal government will mean. He needs definition.

To date, their approach has worked. By all accounts, there is good energy at events and he has found his legs (the summer 2010 bus tour was a wise investment). He has remained on message, without coming across as being fully scripted. He has also handled potential missteps, in the form of unhappy voters, well. Early polling suggests that the Liberals may be seeing some dividends from this approach.

As you can no doubt tell, I favour a more open campaign. I have no patience for quotas on questions.

Canadians deserve an opportunity to hear more from the people who aspire to lead them. We cannot lament voter apathy, poor turnout results, and a mistrust of politics if we are not prepared to do something about it. That should start with a campaign - the ultimate Canadian job interview (non-hockey related).

So what do you think? Will safety prevail? Should Liberal fortunes improve will we see a change? What can we expect in the coming weeks?


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Character Debate (well actually, 140 characters)

The 41st federal election is being called Canada's first social media national election. Four days in, we are seeing heavy use of blogs and Facebook to comment, generate awareness and get the message/spin out. But what has really struck me in these early days is the use of the instrument of brevity and immediacy known as Twitter.

I am going to trust that anyone reading this blog (as always, fingers crossed!) will know what Twitter is and how it works. So moving beyond that, let's take a moment to consider the impact that it may have on #elxn41.

Twitter offers its users an opportunity to share and read tweets - 140 character messages - with virtual immediacy. In an election environment it can be a powerful tool. Briefly...

- For the general public it offers a chance to stay informed by connecting with a wider network of information sources (importantly, without having to search - once you have set yourself up a good list of people to follow, you have a virtual news / spin feed).

- For journalists it offers an opportunity to report and disseminate information in real-time, be it from a studio, the hustings, the bus, wherever.

- For political parties it offers an opportunity to get the message out, to challenge opponents, and promote initiatives to a wider audience, again in real-time.

It's the last point on which I want to focus for a moment. Above and beyond what a party may do via Twitter, the potential for supporters to engage in the debate, share their views, etc. has the effect of creating multiple spokespersons.

What I have noticed in the past few days is the increasing frequency with which party advocates are tweeting and re-tweeting...

- Talking points
- Favourable articles about their party of choice
- Negative articles about their opponents
- Their own spin about how an event went, including video and photos

Now, without question a number of these people are involved with their party of choice. However, I suspect a sizeable number are not. What they are is engaged. They have views on the issues and the parties, and for really the first time have the technological ability to share those views with the express intent of influencing.

Yes, sometimes it reads like an odd, disjointed argument. But for me, the more important element is the decision these people have taken to participate in the political process, regardless of their views or political stripe. They are engaging in debate with people across the country on a range of issues - some possibly trivial, many substantive.

In many ways Twitter is a great leveler. The technology is widely available, it is easy to use, it doesn't discriminate based on wealth or location (internet access being the only real impediment). Most importantly, we all are limited to 140 characters.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Day 3 - A little less coalition, a little more on the issues please

Day 3 is winding down in Election 2011 (#elxn41 for those in the Twitterverse), and it seems that the issues are slowly starting to make an appearance. Yes, Mr. Harper is still referencing the coalition frequently in his remarks. However, with the Conservative's announcement of their income splitting initiative we saw debate on a matter of policy. Cue the applause.

This is an interesting, and potentially expensive proposal. Allowing families to shift income from higher to lower earners offers the potential for a family to lower their overall tax burden. So far, so good right?

Yes, but there is some fine print:

- proposal would not be implemented until 2015-2016, once the deficit has been eliminated (and potentially after the mandate we are currently being implored to provide has passed).

- proposal would favour families with only one earner and those which currently have one earner in a higher tax bracket.

- proposal would not apply to single-parent families.

These limitations do not necessarily make this a bad idea. What they do is open up a topic for discussion. Let's hear your thoughts!

1. What are your views on the idea of income splitting?
2. To whom should it apply?
3. By when and under what conditions?

Share your comments, start a dialogue...

As an aside, for those of you who have not read Susan Delacourt's blog lately, please do so ( In commenting on social media and good humour shared among those covering elections, she noted that those of us who close our eyes and jump in will get to share in this humour. Today was a great example, as comments on the 2015-2016 start date for this proposal flooded Twitter (thanks in particular to @scottfeschuk).

So with that, a little less coalition, a little more on the issues please.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Social Media Election for Canada

This election will be tough on me. More to the point, it will seriously test my ability to unplug or tune out for more than a passing moment. Why? Because this will be our first real social media election.

You see, I spent a fair bit of time yesterday and today on line or staring at my ipod, getting the latest from parties, journalists, bloggers and their respective followers. I probably spent more time than I should have (or at least that was the suggestion made to me) keeping up to date and real time. This was the not the case for me in 2008.

Of course we had Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry's, blogs and the like the last time around. However, since 2008 these tools and others have grown in prominence becoming for many a crucial source of real time information, messaging, analysis and spin.

So with that in mind I have some questions for you, the reader:

- How will you avail of social media during this campaign?

- How will it compare with your use of more conventional (perhaps traditional is a better word) sources of information?

- Will you use it to simply inform yourself, or will you use it for advocacy and to raise profile for the issues that matter to you?

Finally, to the right of this post you will see the list of some people/blogs I follow. I would welcome your suggestions for others who I should read and profile here on this blog.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

And they're off!

Take one historic vote of contempt against your government, add a short walk to Governor-General's residence, mix in one hyperbolic speech et voila - the 41st federal election has begun. Canadians will go the polls May 2nd (Easter weekend for those seeking an advance poll), being asked to shape the country's next Parliament.

It did not take long for things to get..feisty. A short re-cap:

- Before Mr. Harper had made his way to the GG's, Mr. Ignatieff released a statement saying that a coalition was not in the cards.

- Mr. Harper spent the better part of his first campaign speech rallying against coalition forces, suggesting in no uncertain terms that Mr. Ignatieff was not telling the truth.

- Mr. Duceppe quite explicitly stated that Mr. Harper's assertion that the Conservatives never considered a coalition or partnership with other parties was a lie.

- Mr. Layton made it clear that Mr. Harper needs to be replaced.

And yes, this was basically all before 11:00 am.

(Note, if "coalition" was a drinking game where one had to consume a beverage of choice every time the word was uttered, I would have been in rough shape by the end of this morning.)

It really is unfortunate that the Conservatives have chosen to make this such a significant element of their campaign narrative. Yes, the other theme they are highlighting is the economy, but even that is tied back to the "spectre of a coalition." To be honest, they did not sound like a government or like the party apparently with a healthy lead. Their offensive sounded...defensive.

It will be interesting to see how much traction this theme gets, particularly if the Liberals find their legs and get into a positive rhythm early. By many accounts, Mr. Ignatieff has delivered a very strong speech in Ottawa this afternoon suggesting that he is up for this campaign.

So, thoughts on day 1? What issues do you want to see covered?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war!

Here we go! By the end of the weekend, the election should be officially underway. To borrow from Shakespeare, "Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!"

In truth, one could argue it's been underway for some time given successive minority governments, collective posturing and the threat of the election around the corner. Through it all, from all sides, we have been served a heavy plate of rhetoric and spin with often only limited helpings of substance offered.

Heads-up, rhetoric and spin are the MSG of politics watching. Tasty at first, but ultimately unsatisfying and leaving you hungry for something more filling.

This is where we come in.

We are about to enter into one of the true times when what's on our minds can matter, when we will be listened to, and when we have the potential to influence. This is our time to be engaged and to be responsible.

Demand more of your prospective MPs. Challenge them to define who they are, and what they represent. Don't accept messaging about "the other guy", if it is not accompanied by their own plan for governing; for representing you.

Think about what is important to you, your family, community, Canada. Think about it and let them know. Challenge the person who comes to your door to explain how they will address the things that matter to you. Make. Them. Earn. Your. Vote.

What is it for you?

- health care
- job stability
- the economy
- crime and security
- pensions
- the environment
- ethics, accountability and democracy

I want us to talk about these things and whatever else is on your mind over the coming weeks. Use this blog and some of the far, far better ones (see column to the right!) to raise issues, inform yourself and others, to debate.

And when the end is nearly there, please vote.

It's our democracy, our opportunity and our responsibility.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

It does not take much

Sometimes you just have to shake your head. Earlier today, during a news conference in BC, the Prime Minister noted that while Canada may not experience direct economic impacts resulting from the crisis in Japan, we should expect stock market volatility (see the story in the Globe online).

So far, so good.

However, Mr. Harper then went on to “All of these things should remind everyone, should remind everybody in Canada, should remind all the parties in Parliament, that the global economy remains extremely fragile. It does not take very much to make us all, not just in Canada and the United States but all around the world, very worried.”

It does not take much.

Now, I don't know what Mr. Harper's definition of "much" is, but I would guess that if you asked people what might fall into the category of "it does not take much", the following would not appear:

- devastating earthquake
- tsunami
- risk of nuclear meltdown

This sort of hyperbolic linkage is too often the norm in our politics. There's no need for it and I suspect little gain to be realized. Trying to link what is happening in Japan to the prospect of the Opposition defeating the Government in the House? C'mon...


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Have pen, will write again. I promise.

Tsk, tsk. Someone has been a bad blogger, failing to write and post for several weeks. I am looking to remedy that in the coming days. Unfortunately, a combination of travel, a pesky cold and that thing called life conspired to keep me away from this blog.

There's lots to discuss. Here's what is on my mind:

- Election looming -- who's ready?
- Day, Strahl and Cummins check-out, following Hill and Prentice - are the Tories now less Reform and more Harris-Ontarians?
- The election narrative - how is it shaping up?

The last point is probably the one that most fascinates me at the moment. The Conservative's narrative is, I think, pretty much set. It's about stewardship and economic competence, with a not-so-subtle suggestion that Mr. Ignatieff is in it for him. No surprises there.

It's the Liberal's narrative that I am paying more attention to right now. For my eyes, it is starting to take on a more defined shape and will present a real alternative. The "Harper's priorities aren't your priorities" theme we have chatted about will of course feature. However, it now seems that equal (perhaps more than equal) emphasis is being placed on the Conservative's approach to government and democracy.

Now on this blog I have written a number of times about the erosion of our democracy and the lack of engagement that both feeds and flows from the undermining of our political institutions. For me, if the Liberals can successfully make this a major part of the campaign we will have a chance to debate what government should mean for us. That interests me tremendously.

Of course, this will not be easy. The challenge will be to make this relevant and impactful to a Canadian voter still worried about the economy.

Canadian Blogosphere