Don’t Let Media Dictate Strategy

A political strategist has to learn how to deal with hate.

Or more specifically, a strategist has to accept the fact that media pundits will most likely detest and publicly berate his or her tactics, especially if those tactics involve the use of so-called “negative ads”.

Indeed, whenever such negative ads hit the airwaves, the media’s initial reaction to them will almost always be subtle variations of “Oh God, how I hate them!”

And the script is pretty much predictable

Sometimes media pundits will blast a negative ad as an attack on “civil discourse”; sometimes they’ll say it’s laughably “simplistic”; sometimes they will call it “bullying” or “wedge politics” or “dumbing down” debate to the lowest common denominator.

And, of course, here in Canada, the most commonly employed insult is to label a negative ad an “American-style attack.”

Also predictable is that pundits, columnists and editorial writers will typically follow up their vehement denunciations with a heart-felt plea for all politicians to shelve their attack ads and to commit themselves to being positive and to talking more about the issues and to staying on the moral high …. Zzzzzz.

Oops sorry, I dozed off there for a second.

Where was I?

Oh yes, my point is, if you’re a political strategist you need to understand all this, meaning if you go negative against an opponent, you must expect and you must be ready for any media blowback.

For one thing, the media will probably call you all sorts of names, i.e. “Lord of Darkness”, “Merchant of Venom”, “Attack dog”, (I was once likened to a street gang member!) but that hardly matters.

More worrisome is your candidate or your donors might panic at the media’s negative reaction to your ads and thus might call upon you to discard your aggressive approach and get positive.

In short, they’ll want the media to say nice things about the campaign.

And that’s just normal. After all, nobody wants to be assailed in the press for destroying democratic decency.

This is why if a campaign has decided to go on the attack, the strategist in charge must prepare the candidate for the inevitable negative media reaction.

That means plainly laying out the strategic purpose behind any attack (it helps if you have polling data to back you up), i.e. maybe going negative makes sense in the context of the campaign you’re running either because you’re coming under attack from the other side or because the other side’s “unfavourables” offer too good a target to resist.

More importantly, you have to explain to the candidate why any negative reaction to your ad campaign from the media is actually irrelevant, since the ads are designed to sway voters not columnists.

It might also help to bring up the British Columbia provincial election of 2013.

If you recall, that’s the election the BC NDP, under the then leadership of Adrian Dix, ran a campaign that was brimming with positivity; Dix denounced negative politics and promised to stay on the high road.

As Dix’s campaign manager, Brian Topp, would later write, “This was ….widely praised in the media.”

Yet unfortunately for the NDP, such media praise didn’t insulate Dix from the real world.

In fact, the BC Liberals, who didn’t seem to care much about the media’s opinion, basically sunk the NDP with relentless and highly effective attacks, attacks which Dix failed to respond to in kind, because he wanted to remain positive.

So in the end, although Dix’s positive strategy may have won him the hearts of pundits, it also likely ended up losing him the support of voters.

(This article originally appeared as a column in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

 

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Political Civil Wars and Why They Happen

(Note: This post originally appeared as a column in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

Back in the summer of 2010, while working in America, I responded to a sincerely offered peace initiative with an equally sincere declaration of war.

And no, I wasn’t a diplomat.

Rather, I was part of a US Republican Senatorial primary campaign team and the “peace initiative” took the form a letter from the state party chairman, who was urging my candidate (and the other candidates in the race) to refrain from attacking fellow Republicans.

As the chairman’s letter put it, “That tactic will not help you win the general election, and in fact, can even destroy your primary chances. I urge all the campaigns to be smart, and not let this escalate into a Democrat-benefiting spectacle.”

It was an impassioned plea to be sure, but our campaign, which had been coming under heavy fire from hostile “Third Parties,” was not in any sort of mood to play nice.

So our response, which I helped draft, had our candidate boldly declaring: “I will not back away from my engagement in this campaign on the issues, and I will not walk away from defending myself.”

In other words, we were politely telling the state chairman to “stick it.”

Indeed, mere hours after posting our defiant reply on the campaign’s website, we launched TV attack ads targeting our main Republican rival, setting in motion a “Democrat-benefiting spectacle”.

Just as the state chairman feared, the race quickly escalated into a series of vicious attacks and counter-attacks, leading one prominent journalist to dub it America’s most “toxic” primary.

Ahh, good times.

At any rate, the reason I’m bringing this story up, is it illustrates the dilemma currently facing both the Conservative and New Democratic federal parties as they carry on with their own respective national leadership races.

Simply put, during such races there’s always tension between those in the party who hold a long-term perspective and those who mainly focus on the short term.

The “long-termers”, such as the state party chairman in my tale, are those who see any internecine conflict within their party ranks as ultimately self-defeating.

“What’s so good about winning a leadership race (or a primary),” the long-termers ask, “if the victor is battered, bruised and covered with mud?”

The “short- termers”, on the other hand, care less about the future and more about the present.

And if in the present, their side needs to go negative against fellow candidates in order to win, well, so be it, consequences be damned.

“Win now, worry later” could be the short- termer motto.

Of course, the main difference between long-termers and short-termers, is the latter usually has “skin in the game”.

That’s to say short-termers are usually the candidates in the race (along with their entourage of consultants, strategists and pollsters), who naturally have a big stake in winning.

My point is, it’s easy for somebody like interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, who actually isn’t in the leadership race herself and who has nothing to lose personally, to hover above the fray and lecture, as she recently did, all the leadership candidates about the strategic importance of speaking with “one united voice”.

But if you’re battling out in the trenches, if your career or reputation is on the line, if your campaign is sinking, it’s hard to accept the idea that you should gracefully lose for the sake of some partisan “common good.”

By the way, in the American campaign I mentioned earlier, my candidate ultimately lost in the primary, but the Republican rival we incessantly bashed with TV attack ads went on to win the general election.

Take that long termers!

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The Problem with “Big Tents”

(Note: This post originally appeared as a column in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

The thing that makes Canada a great country, besides its vast maple syrup reservoirs, is we Canadians enthusiastically embrace diversity and tolerance.

(And if you don’t agree with me on that, it clearly means you’re a dunderhead who should be deported to Borneo!)

Yet, despite the obvious wonderfulness of Canadian diversity and tolerance, I’d argue that political parties in Canada which get too diverse and too tolerant are unwittingly planting the seeds of their own demise.

Yes, I know that sounds terrible, but before anyone gets overly outraged and reports me to the nearest Human Rights Tribunal, hear me out.

The point I’m simply making here is that whenever a political party dilutes its ideological core belief system by welcoming into its ranks people of varying ideologies and agendas, it’s just asking for trouble.

And I say that fully realizing that opening up a party to different ideas — this is often called practicing “Big Tent” politics — has many undeniable political advantages.

After all, a party that’s less ideologically dogmatic and more tolerant to differing viewpoints can draw upon a greater talent pool of candidates, it’s often more flexible when dealing with national problems and, of course, it’s more representative of the population as a whole and thus has more potential voter support.

But history shows us that political tents which get too big are invariably unstable.

Consider the case, for instance, of the Progressive Conservative Party of the 1980s when it was led by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who deliberately created a “Big Tent”, when he opened his party’s flaps to Quebec nationalists and allied them with Western populists and Ontario-based Red Tories.

It was an unlikely alliance of factions which had little in common ideologically, yet Mulroney somehow managed to lead this heterogeneous political force to two consecutive majority government victories.

But then, almost overnight, the PC “Big Tent” collapsed on itself – in the 1993 election it won only two seats.

What caused this Armageddon?

Well, once the euphoria of their electoral victories began to fade, the PCs resurrected their tribal resentments, grievances and prejudices which ultimately caused them to turn on each other like hungry wolves.

In short, without a unifying ideology to bind it together, the once mighty PC party split apart at the seams and sank into irrelevance.

And the same sort of thing happened to the federal NDP.

Recall how, when he led the NDP, the late Jack Layton decided to play down his party’s socialist platform in an effort to broaden its base.

In the short term, Layton’s strategy worked; in the 2011 federal election his party achieved the greatest victory in its history, with the NDP becoming the Official opposition and gaining a stronghold in Quebec.

And a more ideologically-tolerant NDP even elected a former Quebec Liberal, Thomas Mulcair, to succeed Layton.

Yet, during the 2015 election, when the more tolerant and diverse NDP came under ideological stress over such issues as banning the niqab, many of its new Quebec converts jumped ship and the party’s base cracked.

Maybe this is why a common theme in the ongoing NDP leadership race is that the party must return to its left-wing roots.

Or maybe the NDP is just learning from the Liberal Party, which certainly seems to prefer ideological conformity over tolerance.

Keep in mind it was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau –the self-proclaimed champion of diversity and tolerance — who basically purged his party of pro-lifers.

I guess the Liberals realize that in politics you can either have a “Big Tent” or a “Peaceful Tent”; you can’t have both.

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How to get “What’s his name?” elected.

(Note: This post originally appeared as a column in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

Back in they early 2000s, I was with a group which commissioned an opinion poll to gauge potential support for a guy who had ambitions to lead a national political party.

As it turned out, the results proved a little embarrassing; actually, make that a lot embarrassing.

Indeed, the poll revealed our want-to-be leader was unknown to about 99 percent of the country’s population, which is not exactly encouraging news.

I mean, it basically meant our guy could stand at any one of Canada’s busiest intersections all day long waving a red flag and not a single passer-by would recognize him, which is another way of saying he lacked that one attribute which is so vitally important to politicians, i.e. name recognition.

It might not be fair, but the reality is if your last name is Eisenhower or Reagan or Schwarzenegger or Trump or Trudeau, you’ll have a big advantage in politics.

Yet, as it happened, that unknown politician in the early 2000s was eventually able to overcome his lack of national fame; his name was surprise, surprise —- Stephen Harper.

Yup, Stephen Harper, former Canadian prime minister, was once a non-entity as far as general voters were concerned.

And this should give at least some faint glimmer of hope to all those Conservative and New Democratic leadership candidates out there not named “Kevin O’Leary”, who are currently toiling in relative obscurity.

My point is, you don’t necessarily need to be a TV star celebrity to be a successful politician.

However, if you’re not famous it means you must work harder to get noticed.

In the United States, working harder usually means candidates will spend lots of money on self-promotional media ad campaigns, just to let voters know they exist.

For his part, Barack Obama, who let’s not forget was once a little known junior senator from Illinois, effectively used social media campaigns to raise his profile.

Of course, here in Canada our ridiculously super-tight rules, which limit how much money people can donate to politicians and which restrict how much money politicians can spend, make it virtually impossible for any candidate to mount an effective awareness-raising media campaign.

One unintended consequence of these restrictions, by the way, is they give a huge advantage to incumbents, since just holding office is usually enough to make you better known than most challengers.

And of course, these restrictions have little impact on celebrities running for office, since they don’t need paid advertising, their fame is usually enough to attract all sorts of free media attention.

Donald Trump’s presidential primary run proved this.

Anyway, getting back to strategy, let’s examine how Harper managed to overcome his relative obscurity.

What he did was essentially create for himself a brand.

For example, when running for the leadership of the Canadian Alliance, he didn’t say vote for me because my name is Harper, he said vote for me because I’m a true conservative, I’m one of you, I’m part of your tribe.

His plan, in other words, was to identify himself with the party’s ideological conservatives in the hopes they would support one of their own.

And it worked.

Mind you, to pull off this tactic Harper needed to have the credentials and legitimacy to back up his claim that he was the true champion of conservatism, which is probably why in 1998, he took on the job as president of the right-wing National Citizens Coalition.

This is a lesson for anyone who has hopes for a career in politics, but who lacks star power.

Before you run for office, build yourself an identity.

 

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Trump’s Trade Tribalism

Note this column originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.

US President Donald Trump is living proof that being a good politician often means being a bad economist.

To see what I mean by that just consider Trump’s protectionist position on trade.

This is a stance that drives the majority of economists crazy, since they tend to see freer international trade as a policy that helps makes the entire world a more prosperous place.

And it’s likely economists are right.

Certainly, they can support their pro-free trade stance with tons of studies and statistics and facts.

But none of that matters so much in politics, a sphere where studies and statistics and facts, are no match for emotions.

In other words, it’s emotional appeals, rather than intellectual ones, which motivate voters.

And from an emotional point of view, free trade is a policy that’s easy to attack and difficult to defend.

And that’s because protectionism, which is basically the notion that we should protect our country’s workers from foreign competition, very much appeals to the human race’s inherent tribalism.

Millions of years of evolution have so hardwired humans to be wary and suspicious of strangers from other “tribes”, that we’re naturally receptive to any argument which makes the case that trade with foreigners helps “them” and hurts “us”.

As a good politician Trump is taking advantage of this particular emotional hot button.

In his recent inaugural speech, for instance, he talked about how U.S. trade policy had “enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry” and about how “we’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.”

That’s a tribalist appeal if ever there was one.

And so is Trump’s slogan: “Buy American and hire American”.

By the way, if you simply change the “tribe”, that slogan could actually work anywhere.

I mean, if a Canadian politician were to say, “Buy Canadian and hire Canadian”, he or she would surely garner applause.

Indeed, ever since John A. Macdonald and his “National Policy,” Canadian protectionism has always had a tribalist flavor, in that trade tariffs were justified as a way to safeguard Canada’s independence from Americans.

This attitude reached its apex during the 1970s and 1980s, when Liberal governments instituted protectionist measures such as the Foreign Investment Review Agency and the National Energy Program, both of which were specifically designed to limit American economic influence in our country.

In 1988, the Liberals also used fear of Americans to justify their opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as negotiated by the then Progressive Conservative government.

Sounding an awfully lot like the Trump of today, the Liberals back then repeatedly warned that if we signed NAFTA it would transform Canada into an impoverished, exploited economic colony, lorded over by American corporations.

Then Liberal leader John Turner even dramatically accused the Conservatives of “selling Canada out with one signature of a pen.”

Of course, it’s ironic that today the Liberals, who now wholeheartedly support NAFTA, must convince a protectionist US president that freer trade with Canada is actually good thing.

And so far, the Liberal messaging strategy on this issue has been pretty good.

In a statement congratulating President Trump after his inauguration, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted: “Together, we benefit from robust trade and investment ties, and integrated economies, that support millions of Canadian and American jobs. We both want to build economies where the middle class… have a fair shot at success.”

In short, Trudeau isn’t talking like an economist, but like a politician.

His message is basically, we’re from the same tribe, so don’t shut us out.

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Professionals Should Respect Other Professionals

Political professionals — the men and women who work behind the scenes to plot strategy and to make politicians look and sound good – must understand and appreciate the power of emotion in politics, without ever succumbing to it themselves.

But unfortunately, sometimes they do succumb.

A case in point is pollster Bruce Anderson who recently penned a column for Maclean’s magazine which savages the strategies, tactics and methods of political consultant Nick Kouvalis.

Rather than providing a rational analysis of those tactics, Anderson, who uses phrases like “political thuggery” and “low information vote whisperer” when describing Kouvalis, offers readers nothing but an angry rant.

And what seems to anger him the most is that Kouvalis is successful.

Interestingly, he also suggests the media should ignore Kouvalis’s success. (Though ironically, by attacking Kouvalis in Maclean’s magazine, Anderson is giving him more publicity.)

Now maybe I’m old fashioned, but to my mind such an attack is in poor form.

It’s one thing for a pollster or a consultant to criticize a candidate or a politician, but it’s quite another thing to go after someone else in your own discipline.

Certainly, it seems wrong in my mind to use a public forum to harm a competitor’s business or to undermine his or her reputation.

It violates what should be a code of honour, whereby you respect your fellow professionals, your colleagues.

That’s not to say Anderson has to admire Kouvalis or like his tactics, but he should at least gracefully accept the fact that other consultants have the right to conduct their business as they see fit.

Also please note, in his column Anderson does not accuse Kouvalis of doing anything illegal nor does he suggest Kouvalis is cheating in anyway.

Rather what gives him such moral pain is that the campaign Kouvalis put together for Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch is “flimsy and cynical.”

Well, all I can say is if that’s a sin than every political strategist in history is going to hell because those two words can be used to describe virtually all campaigns.

I mean, Justin Trudeau’s strategy of selfies and photo ops isn’t exactly heavy in intellectual content, is it?

Anderson also assails Kouvalis for exploiting “fears and resentments.”

But again, exploiting such emotions is par for the course in politics.

To be logically consistent, Anderson should write a column denouncing other strategists who use similar tactics, such as the ones behind the campaigns of Jean Chretien, Kathleen Wynne, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton to name but a few.

Why single out Kouvalis?

Is it personal animosity? Professional jealousy? Partisanship?

Also, there’s an important ethical question here.

Whether or not you like the tactics he’s crafted for Leitch, Kouvalis is simply doing his job as best he can; he’s trying to give his client her best shot at winning.

That’s what professionals are supposed to do.

Would Anderson prefer it, if Kouvalis took Leitch’s money and then ran a campaign he knew would give her less chance for success?

Wouldn’t that be like taking Leitch’s money under false pretenses?

And let’s not forget a more mundane issue at stake here: It’s simply good business sense to stay on friendly terms with other professionals. After all, it doesn’t really make sense to attack a colleague who might one day want to hire you.

Due to the ever shifting nature of political circumstances, today’s enemy could be tomorrow’s ally.

So why poison any wells?

Besides, at the end of the day, the market will decide.

If voters find Kouvalis’s tactics unpersuasive or repulsive to, his candidates will lose.

Let wrap this up by saying Anderson isn’t the only professional in the business who engages in public spats with other professionals.

Indeed, it’s a growing trend.

Social media has made such confrontations all too easy.

Yet I still believe it’s unseemly and which I wish it would stop.

And yes, I realize that by criticizing Anderson in this blog I am perhaps violating my own code about attacking professionals.

But then again, in his column, Anderson used negative tactics to attack negative campaigning, so I guess that makes us even in the hypocrisy department.

 

 

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Politics, Potatoes and T-Shirts

This is the month the federal Liberals will make a gut-wrenchingly difficult decision.

And no, I’m not talking about a decision related to foreign policy or to democratic reform or to the deficit; I mean the Liberals face the daunting task of choosing a new design for their official party T-shirt.

To see what I mean just visit the Liberal website which this month includes a survey asking loyal party members to help them choose among “3 amazing T-shirt designs.”

This, says the website, is “a fun and innovative” way for party members to show their support both for “real change” and “for Justin Trudeau”. (It’s also, of course, a fun and innovative way for the Liberals to get donations, since anyone who contributes $99 or more to the party gets a free T-shirt.)

Anyway, I’m bringing all this to your attention because the T-shirt designs on display actually tell us a lot about the Liberal Party’s overall communication strategy.

If you haven’t visited the site, I’ll describe the designs.

One features a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looking his typically dreamy self; another design simply has two words “More Love”, while the last is basically a line drawing of a blank face topped with Trudeau’s trademark hair style, surrounded by the phrase, “Positive Politics.”

So what does this tell us about Liberal strategy?

Well, it tells us it’s a strategy that can be summed up in three words: vapid, mawkish, and schmaltzy. (For cynics, I’ll add a fourth word: nauseating. I mean, “More Love”! What are the Liberals, a political party or a hippie commune?)

Now, to be fair, cornball communications is not at all that atypical in politics.

The fact is, when conjuring up a political communication strategy, vapid and mawkish is usually the way to go; a political party wants a message that’s both emotive and concise, the fewer words the better.

And the phrases, “More Love” and “Positive Politics”, while certainly sappy, perfectly sum up the Liberal party’s optimistic brand, while their brevity ensures these slogans can easily fit not only on T-shirts, but on bumper stickers, billboards, lapel pins and they make for perfect Twitter “hashtags.”

Plus, as an added bonus “More Love” and “Positive Politics” are terms which distinguish the Liberals from their rival Conservatives, who are generally portrayed in the media as being for “More Hate” and “Negative Politics.”

Yet, what I think is unusual about the Liberal strategy is the way their platitudinous propaganda, which is fine for T-shirt slogans, is permeating all their government communications.

For instance, when our prime minister recently visited China, the Liberal International Trade Minister, Chrystia Freeland, declared the trip a success basically because the Chinese had bestowed upon Trudeau the nickname, “Little Potato.”

In fact, Freeland said she was “quite proud” of the moniker.

Is it just me or does anybody else find that odd?

I mean rather than emphasizing how the trip had advanced Canadian interests, Freeland chose to focus on Trudeau’s nickname, since I suppose she thought it was cute and affectionate and thus matched the Liberal Party’s schmaltzy language.

Mind you, Freeland was just assuming “Little Potato” is an affectionate nickname; for all we know, it might be Mandarin slang for “At least he has nice hair.”

Also, I can’t think of any other world leader offhand who has ever bragged about being called a vegetable.

Still, maybe this will work for the Liberals.

Maybe next year, the Liberals will have a T-shirt, emblazoned with a dreamy looking potato with Trudeau’s trademark hair style, over the words: “Our Prime Minister is Spud-tacular!”

(This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

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Justin Trudeau: Poster Child for Globalism

(Note: This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

If you’re a hip, trendy and fashionable progressive, odds are you’re also a “multicultural globalist.”

Yes, apparently the term “multicultural globalist” – doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? – is now officially a thing.

I first came across this term while reading an article in the journal Politico, in which writer Michael Lind described multicultural globalists as those progressives for whom “national boundaries are increasingly obsolete and perhaps even immoral”.

Lind also adds that for multicultural globalists, “the identities that count are subnational (race, gender, orientation) and supranational (citizenship of the world).”

I’m bringing all this up, because I’d argue that our very own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is fast becoming the world’s poster child for multicultural globalism.

To see what I mean, just consider his sterling multicultural globalist record since becoming prime minister.

For instance, you could make the case that Trudeau seems to take more pride in being a “feminist,” than he does in being a Canadian. Certainly, when travelling abroad he takes great delight in hammering foreign audiences over the head with his feminist credentials.

And after the Brexit vote, Trudeau reportedly reacted by saying, “I shudder to think what the future of feminism in the UK looks like now that it has chosen to leave the European Union.”

To me, that sure sounds like a “subnational” sort of response.

And as far as the “supranational” citizen of the world bit goes, consider how Trudeau steadfastly refused to brand various ISIS atrocities as “genocide,” until after the United Nations used that word in one of its reports.

My point is Trudeau deferred to the UN, which itself is a monument to multicultural globalism.

Plus, when Trudeau’s not being pro-UN, he’s praising global trade, as he did at the recent “Three Amigos’ Summit”, when he spoke favorably about international trade agreements including NAFTA (a trade deal, by the way, which his own Liberal Party once vociferously opposed).

Now it should go without saying that by taking all these multicultural globalist stances, Trudeau is ensuring that he will become a hero among the world’s cadre of progressive international elitists.

In fact, if there was such a thing as Multicultural Globalist magazine, Trudeau’s face would probably be on every cover.

Of course, the more the prime minister gets drenched with international praise, the more it will help burnish his reputation as a progressive world leader, which will help increase his popularity at home – especially with his fellow multicultural globalists.

Yet, that said, there’s also a potential dark cloud on Trudeau’s globalist horizon.

I say that because the inherent problem with multicultural globalism as a governing ideology, is it can clash with a much older, much more powerful emotional sentiment: nationalism

As Canadian pollster Darrell Bricker recently noted on Facebook, “In the rush to become citizens of the world, political and economic elites forget that the vast majority value their nationhood much more.”

Yes, our sense of “nationhood” matters, even in a multicultural, diverse, relatively new country like Canada.

At any rate, nationalism – which can be defined as the sense that our leaders should care more about “us” than about “them” — is always smoldering within a country’s borders, manifesting itself – sometimes unconsciously — as a wariness of “outsiders”.

And when you take that sense of wariness and mix it in with a dose of economic anxiety and then sprinkle in fear of terrorism, you get Brexit, you get Donald Trump, you get the emergence of nationalistic populist political parties.

In other words, you get a reaction that totally rejects multicultural globalism.

Trudeau would do well to keep that in mind.

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Conservative Rebel

 

(This article originally appeared in the  Ottawa Hill Times.)

Watch out Conservative Party establishment, lurking within your midst is an unabashed, unapologetic, unequivocal rebel, a rebel with a right-wing cause.

I’m talking about Maxime Bernier, whose candidacy for the Conservative Party leadership has taken on the form of an outright assault against traditional Canadian Toryism.

Sounds like fun, right?

Well, before anybody gets too excited, let me remind you that Bernier is only a “rebel” in the Conservative sense, meaning his “rebellion” will be about as exciting as an episode of the old Lawrence Welk Show.

But still, for the politically-inclined at least, it should be fascinating to watch Bernier kick up an ideological ruckus within a party whose motto should be – “Boring is Good”.

Certainly, Bernier’s campaign has been anything but boring.

In a bold move, he’s embraced a Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher style of conservatism, the kind of conservatism which rails against the state’s coercive powers, which believes in maximizing individual freedom, and which would never, ever get caught dead watching the CBC.

In short, it’s the kind of conservatism which hates big government.

Indeed, if you check out Bernier’s Facebook page, you’ll see a meme that claims – “Good government is less government”.

Bernier is also walking the talk; only a few weeks into his campaign and he has already adopted some radically conservative anti-government ideas, such as his pledges to end Supply Management and to scrap the CRTC.

And make no mistake; what Bernier is doing, the kind of conservatism he’s promoting, is a direct challenge to modern-day Tory orthodoxy.

After all, according to the dogma of the Conservative Party’s elites, anti-government conservatism, with its emphasis on free markets and on personal liberty and on smaller government, is supposed to be ideologically more suited for “ruggedly individualistic” Americans, than it is for “peace, order and good government” Canadians.

As former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal once put it, “The deep-seated anti-government bias that often attends upon conservative groups is not central to Canadian Toryism.”

And by “Canadian Toryism” Segal is actually talking about a uniquely Canadian brand of conservatism usually dubbed “Red Toryism,” an outlook that combines reverence for the past with a reverence for acting and talking and sounding like big government Liberals.

Anyway, thanks to Red Toryism, the Conservative Party (and before that the Progressive Conservative Party) has always accepted the status quo when it comes to the size and scope of Canada’s federal government.

Bernier, on the other hand, is brazenly challenging that status quo, which is what makes his leadership bid revolutionary.

By the way, taking on the Conservative establishment in this manner is strategically not a bad idea.

By claiming the mantle of ideological purity and by putting himself on the same philosophic plane as past conservative heroes, Bernier has set himself apart from the rest of the pack.

What’s more, leadership candidates who stress ideology over pragmatism generally attract an enthusiastic following from a party’s core of “true believers,” making it easier to raise money and easier to win over volunteers.

Still, what Bernier is doing also has major risks.

For one thing, his campaign will attract lots of enmity from the powerful and influential Red Tory brigades both inside and outside the party, who will castigate his stances as unConservative if not unCanadian.

And the other, more daunting, challenge for Bernier is that his style of pro-individual freedom conservatism has of late become passé and is actually losing ground all over the world, not only to left-wing socialism, but also to right-wing populism.

So Bernier’s path will be difficult.

But then again, nobody ever said being a rebel would be easy.

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The Summer of Justin

 

The upcoming summer season will be the best of times; it will be the worst of times.

That is, it’ll be the best of times for Liberals and the worst of times for Conservatives and New Democrats.

And I’m not just saying that for the purpose of employing a pretentious literary allusion.

The fact is the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer will create a political environment in Canada that plays to the Liberal party’s strengths and exposes the Opposition parties’ weaknesses.

To see what I mean by all this, let’s first consider the summer situation for the Liberals.

To begin with, it should go without saying that the main strength for the Liberal Party is its leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose widely adulated boyish charm has seemingly enthralled the entire nation, if not the whole world.

And, of course, Trudeau is at his delightful best when he’s away from the stifling and stuffy confines of Parliament, with all its stodgy rules and antiquated traditions and outdated protocols.

Sure the prime minister can make the odd news headlines in Parliament by sticking his tongue out at the Opposition or by elbowing an MP in the chest, but for the most part the House of Commons just doesn’t suit his hip and trendy style.

This is why the summer will be so good for the Liberals; the House of Commons will be in recess, meaning Trudeau will be totally free to be Trudeau.

In other words, he won’t have to worry about mundane Parliamentary tasks, such as you know governing the country, and will be able to fully focus all his talents on doing what he does best: posing for photo ops.

Indeed, I suspect over the next few months we’ll be bombarded with a never-ending stream of eye-catching Trudeau images; maybe he’ll be juggling babies at a British Columbia barbecue or gliding along Toronto’s Yonge Street on a skateboard or practicing yoga at Peggy’s Cove.

His options are as unlimited as a child’s (or as a PR flack’s) imagination.

And keep in mind, the summer is jam packed with events overflowing with visual possibilities.

Canada Day, Gay Pride Parades, beach volleyball tournaments – all of them offer a rich backdrop for prime ministerial photo op extravaganzas.

What I’m trying to say here is that summer time equals Trudeau time.

His presence will likely dominate the media, garnering him all sorts of positive, “feel good” coverage.

Yes certainly, the other parties will try to grab their share of media attention but this is where the weaknesses of the Conservatives and NDP come into play.

For instance, the Conservative Party’s interim leader, Rona Ambrose, is a well-respected, thoughtful and experienced parliamentarian.

Or to put it another way, she’s boring.

Then there’s NDP interim (aka “lame duck”) leader Thomas Mulcair, who even at the best of times was known as “Angry Tom.”

Now, after having been unceremoniously and publically rejected by his own party at the last NDP convention, a better nickname for Mulcair might be “Bitter and Angry Tom.”

My point is neither Ambrose nor Mulcair is exactly a photo op magnet.

What’s more, I don’t expect the NDP and Conservatives will make publicizing their “stop-gap” leaders much of a priority this summer.

In fact, both parties will likely spend more time looking inward, mobilizing and energizing their own supporters for impending leadership campaigns.

So Trudeau, almost by default, will basically have the summer field all to himself.

The best Conservatives and New Democrats can hope for is that their political situation will start getting sunnier when our weather starts getting gloomier.

(This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)

 

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