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?



  1. I think if Harper doesn't loosen up it will backfire on him. He may not be doing it to hide anything, but people will begin to think there is something to hide. It's creating a needless story that really feeds into the contempt issue (secrecy, withholding documents).

    I like how Ignatieff is so open, but I fear for him sometimes. Personally, I think he can, unintentionally, come off a little arrogant sometimes.

    It's very interesting to see the two extremes.


  2. Thanks for the comment. We will see next week whether the Conservatives change the approach - I suspect they will, though not too drastiscally. I think the combination of limited access and what is essentially an angry/fear-based message could be a problem for them over the length of a campaign.

    Ignatieff is doing better at opening up and showing more of himself. The "knows best" tone that occasionally pops up can be problem, but I think it can be mitigated by the "his choices versus your choices" rhetoric.


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