Thursday, August 25, 2005

Liberal Caucus and Conservative Ads

The newspaper today brought word from the Liberal caucus meeting in Regina that their principal strategist, David Herle, sees the real prospect of a parliamentary majority emerging from the next election, while conceding that the sponsorship scandal is hurting in Quebec. This implies winning an additional 20 seats minimum in the rest of Canada, a very tall order. Herle makes some suggestions about how this might be done. Let me comment on them:

1. “Make real gains” in Ontario. Given the pattern of recent polls, in my view this is all but impossible. To do so would require raising the Liberal popular vote above the 45.6% received last time. In most recent polls 46% is roughly the highest level of support the Liberals have achieved. For most of its electoral history Ontario has been a three party province. The elections of 1993, 1997 and 2000, when the Liberals won almost all the seats in Ontario, are, in the broader run of history, exceptions not the rule.

2. Win between eight and ten seats in the Prairies. Let us assume he means Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. In the latter, they will be lucky to win back the two they won in 2004, especially given the fact one of the MPs, David Kilgour, has left the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent. Most polling in Manitoba/Saskatchewan has not been kind to the Liberals. The most recent Ipsos Reid poll reported the following: Conservative 34, NDP – 32 and Liberal -29. This would produce a net gain of one for the Liberals, the riding of Kildonan-St. Paul in Winnipeg. Doesn’t look like eight to ten to me.

3. There is a “paradigm shift” in B.C. and it “could move to us”. This is the most plausible of his assertions. The Liberals have quite consistently been ahead of the Conservatives and the NDP in polls in B.C. However, some in the spring were taken just before and just after the provincial election in which the provincial Liberals received 45% support. This almost certainly meant some spike in federal Liberal support. There is also a previous pattern of Liberal support in B.C. being higher between elections than on voting day. Nevertheless I don’t dismiss out hand his claims here. B.C. with its growing urban and increasingly ethnically diverse populations is changing from the B.C. of yesteryear. A strong Liberal result here at the expense of the Conservatives, who won 22 of 36 seats with just 36% of the vote in 2004, is conceivable. It is also equally plausible that there will be a strong NDP showing in B.C. that would limit Liberals gains.

David Herle has a reputation of being arrogant. And perhaps the news report doesn’t do justice to his presentation, given that later in the day he denied the report, embarrassed by the implication that the Liberals could ignore Quebec. The problem with the denial is that if you believe his scenario to be true, then a majority with zero gains in Quebec would be a possibility. Whatever the context, he does seem to be working with some very optimistic assumptions.


On another front, the Conservatives are running some ads in Ontario that were clearly intended for airing in the last election. You can watch them on the web here. I would give them about a B- overall. They have an amateurish look to them with MP’s and Stephen Harper delivering scripts to a shaky hand held camera (to give it a faux cinema verité style) in a slightly wooden manner.

A few observations:
1. The health care ad, although ostensibly about waiting lists, appears to me to be intended to offer reassurance that the Conservatives will protect public health care.
2. The ads feature a number of women MPs. The visual grammar here implicitly addresses a Conservative weakness among female voters without explicitly talking about the issue. See, we wouldn’t really re-introduce a new abortion law with all these professional looking women in our caucus, would we?
3. Despite their weaknesses, the ads do have specific messages targeted at an audience of target voters the Conservatives hoped to win over including parents using private daycare, immigrants and suburban families.
4. There are moments when Harper comes across as just a bit too partisan/angry – reinforcing a real image problem he has.
5. The slogan ‘Stand up for Canada’. Not original. Used by another man of the political right, George Wallace, in 1968 as ‘Stand up for America’.

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