Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Making Character a Question

So, we've now had 12 days of official campaigning. From my perspective they have been a surprisingly full 12 days.

We've seen policy choices tabled and debated. We've seen a Liberal campaign team that has exceeded expectations (perhaps they were too low) and demonstrated a strong degree of professionalism and organization. And we've seen the Conservatives move from avoiding the word majority, to actively using it to tap into what they see as public election fatigue and fears of a "socialist-separatist" coalition.

Yet, for all of this after 12 days we may be starting to see character and comportment emerge as real issues.

Now for those of you (ok, both of you) who read this blog with any regularity, you may be surprised to see that I am raising this as an issue. A big focus for me over the 18 months or so has been the importance of highlighting the issues Canadians need to face as we look to position our country for the future - things like health care, the environment, productivity, and innovation.

While it has been great to see these topics getting an airing (some more than others - we need a real health care debate if only to get clarity on each party's position on the future of the health accord with the provinces!), the events of the past week may just be coming together to frame a character issue. Let's review:

- the allegations surrounding Bruce Carson
- the decision by the Conservatives to limit questions and engagement with Mr. Harper
- the treatment of perceived "non-friendly" attendees at Conservative events

Taken together, these points are providing the Liberals, NDP and BQ with real-time examples of what they have been criticizing the Conservatives for since the last election. Importantly, these parties now have what I will lazily call "non-Parliamentary" examples of what they see as the true character of the Conservatives.

In a campaign, it was unlikely that issues like obstruction in Committees, transparency, accountability, Speaker's rulings, document dumps and the like were going to resonate with the average voter. For many, these are Ottawa stories; procedural matters. This was the Conservative message.

However, in the space of a week we now have examples that voters can identify with...

- why was this man hired and who knew about his past?
- why are the reporters being kept back and their questions not being answered?
- what do you mean they kicked out a student?

The election was called following a vote of contempt in Parliament, yet the Liberals spent week one more focused on policy. Week two has started to gravitate towards the character issue, but not because of what the Liberals, NDP and BQ have done. It's because of the actions of the Conservatives. Ironically, they have made it an issue.

Through their actions they have now given the other parties the chance to link campaign actions to the more Ottawa-focused narrative. They can say, "This is what we have been talking about. This is a Conservative government."

Will any of it matter?

Ultimately, it will be the voters and not the politicians who frame their ballot box question. They will answer the questions they ask themselves more than the questions the parties ask them. Have recent events made character, comportment and attitude the question for a larger number of voters?

For me, I go back to something I wrote earlier this year about government and our attitudes towards politicians. Canadians recognize that we live in challenging times and we continue to see uncertainty around us, in Canada and around the world.

The challenges and opportunities we are facing demand the best of government (policy) and not the worst of politics (attitude, character, comportment).

So, what will it be Canada?


  1. claudialemire@hotmail.comApril 7, 2011 at 12:59 AM

    I heard once a great journalist say,

    "Great politicians are like mothers love, they don't look at the small stuff"

    And I think it is true, this mess with Carson the media covering the election need to let it go, let other investigative media do it, it is a waste of time, they should be asking about policy and the young people voted off the rallies, even though I don't like it I can understand 1) the bubble campaign strategy which is really good if you have the discipline to follow 2) it is their perogative, again let the other media deal with it instead of asking the same thing for a third straight day, report it and let people made their mind over it, Andrew Coyne said it best report the election not the campaign.

    I agree that it is creepy and in terrible taste what the tories did with FB, but going on and on about it won't go anywhere, that's bad strategy, they need to let it go and focus!

    I do wish we could have a more decent and kind way for our politicians to relate but dream on, I don't think that will ever happen!

    If I could give advice to the LPC would be to let go of this small stuff, it doesn't work, leaves you vulnerable because it could backfire and poeple stops listening after a while, that's small stuff not worth it!

  2. I've been thinking a lot lately about why Stephen Harper seems to be made of teflon. And I'm beginning to wonder if Canada is changing, that it's no longer the country I thought it was. Maybe it's not only that the Conservatives are so good at message control and selling it's ideas to the country. But maybe Canada has shifted to believe the ends justify the means. And if that's the case, then no, I don't think any of it will matter.

    In any event, I agree that we need more decent and kind politicians. We need an environment that's more accepting of collaboration.

    Love your posts. Cheers!

  3. Thank-you both for your comments. It is interesting that, given the challenges we face, so much air time is devoted to things which may be seen as trivial. This was very much the character of the last Parliament, where the issues weren't really discussed, as all parties focused more on sensationalism and "gotcha" politics.

    We need to demand more of the people we elect. We need them to be held to account, and to focus on the things that matter to us. Apathy in politics will only increase if we do not.


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