It's April 2nd, and the first week of the warped reality of Canadian politics has drawn to a close.
Psychological Campaign Strategy of the Tories
As usual, the polls are all over the place. In general, though, there is agreement that Harper's Conservatives have continued their slow climb in popular support, breaking through the 40% level into possible majority territory. More importantly, their vote pattern is extremely efficient and predictably can be counted upon to be there on voting day.
In a nutshell, the CPC is in first place west of Ontario, and outside of Toronto, and some pickups are expected in other ridings across Canada ... at the possible expense of some losses in Quebec. Seemingly practicing a "tough love" strategy in Quebec, it remains to be seen on voting day if Quebec punishes the Conservatives, or realize the obvious ... "get with the bandwagon".
Pluses during Week One for the CPC include: commitment to a loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill Falls hydro-electric project, which aims at the core psyche of Nfld/Lab voters; successful entrenchment of the dreaded Coalition reality into Canadian minds; reinforcement of frugal spending pledges through reiteration of the CPC budget; establishment of Harper as the "family man", the preferred leader, and the "ordinary Canadian"; and solidification of the CPC as the best financial/foreign managers in these troubled economic times.
The Tough, Uphill Slog of the Liberals
Having defined Ignatieff in the minds of Canadians over the past year, the Conservatives are building on this negative image during the campaign. And, having lowered "spending flexibility" (a.k.a. taxpayer money available to fund campaign spending pledges) to an all-time low, both the Liberals and NDP have been quite limited in their ability to announce new and "exciting" spending programs.
As a result, both have essentially relied on a tried and true technique ... pledging to reverse corporate tax cuts (those "meanie" businesses, who employ us all), and use that money to fund their "bold" new programs. Of course, the NDP will never form the government, and can make any promises it wants. The Liberals, on the other hand, have a solid track record of promising one thing (to get themselves elected), and then doing either the opposite or nothing at all, should voters fall for their seductive pitches. One need only remember: "No GST", "Scrap Free Trade", Toronto's $500 million non-appearing Waterfront Renovation pledge, billions upon billions for Daycare, etc. Needless to say, none of this actually was seen over an 18 year period, but all of them "polled high" ... and so were repeated endlessly ... to this day.
In week one, voters have seen more of Ignatieff, and perhaps this has resulted in slightly higher ratings. However, it's extremely telling that only 17% of Liberal voters believe he is telling the truth on the prospect of a coalition and, if the dreaded coalition were ever to manifest, Canadians would rather have Layton leading it than Ignatieff, by a solid 59% to 27% score. Leadership and coalition perception problem here?
Campaign pledges by Ignatieff are mostly of the type that have been promised by Liberals in previous campaigns (i.e., they polled high in "desireability", remember) to keep up the appearance of a caring, centre-left party (the Big Red Tent) versus the reality of having moved as far left as Jack Layton's NDP ... in fact, right on top of Jack ... trying to permanently get the swing voters that cross between Liberals and NDP on voting day. Ignatieff begins to embrace fond memories of Moscow Centre.
Unfortunate Position of the NDP
With Ignatieff's "Liberals" sitting on his face, and restrained space for grand new spending programs, Jack Layton and the NDP are feeling the pain. Yet they have held their own, announced some illustrative but small-dollar program pledges, and have pounded home the message that Layton is the preferred politician in an Ignatieff-Layton match-up.
Apart from political junkies (like myself) who parse each and every election news item to death, the Canadian electorate is still disengaged ... notwithstanding the best efforts of the Liberal-supported news media to rouse everyone awake with screaming, lurid headlines (see more below). Usually the electorate engages in the last week of a campaign, so we have to wait a while to see if this hold true for the 2011 big bash.
National Media: A New Form of Gang Rape
The national media has clearly establish new lows for reporting in this election, led by the usual suspects:
The Toronto Star: Also know more accurately as "the Red Star", this Liberal-hugging newsletter of the party knows no bounds when it comes to biasing "news" about an election. Setting an absolute new low is the Star's "Business Columnist" David Olive who, to put it simply in my estimation, is merely a foul-mouthed, bottom-sucking Liberal parasite of the worst kind --- on a good day.
On a positive note, the Red Star has been unusually reticent about publishing survey poll data, probably because despite their insistence that the Liberals are doing (gush, gush) wonderful, thank you, the reality is that they are stalled or declining slightly. Take their (pitiful, yet still large) Quebec counts out, and they are really, really in trouble across Canada.
Globe & Mail: Previously a fairly neutral, or modestly right-wing paper, this rag now appears to be in a death race with the Red Star to see who can promote the Liberals, and denigrate the Tories, the most. On any given day 80% of their "news" and articles will be negative stories about the Tories, 15% will be positive about the Liberals, and all other parties get the remaining 5% --- take your chances of positive versus negative.
The Globe also has an amazing capability to report "good" survey poll data for the Liberals, but be totally silent when the same firm's data shows the Liberals are tanking --- which is usually the case.
But the Globe and the Red Star share one common trait: front-paging the most obscure, "alleged-only" negative news about the Conservatives. It's now reached the point that both are "reporting" (or making up) stories having the farthest mythical link to any alleged Tory "malfeasance", e.g., "Stephen Harper's butcher's wife's son-in-law's sister's third cousin "alledged" to have CPC ties; public clamouring for explanation". Upon reading this news, you will find that, yes, the linkage is that obscure, and not one individual (apart from the columnist) has made this breathtakingly tenuous "clamour".
The CBC: Compared to the two papers, the CBC could almost be viewed as an innocent. Could be, but not plausibly. Their bias is easily mildly anti-CPC, and their new "Voter Compass" has set new low credibility standards during a national election.
It should not be possible for a respondent to enter "I don't know" into every question but one and, for that one on "Daycare", to take a neutral (not strong for/against) position ... and end up with a "Congratulations, You are a Liberal" recommendation! Yet that is what happens, and is obviously incorrect considering that the liberals have had a strong position (yet done nothing, as usual) on Daycare since 1993 in every one of their platforms, including this election ... hardly "neutral". Is the Liberal Party "gaming" the Voter Compass Tool? Possibly? Probably?
While the Voter Compass fiasco may not be the CBC's fault explicitly, the fact that they contue to host it while it produces tons of recommendations erroneously favouring the Liberals, is a major cause of concern. The tool should be pulled until CBC can get an independent third party to:
- confirm the appropriateness of the model AND of party policy positioning within;
- confirm the sanctity and security of user data, especially that it WON'T find it's way into party hands.
Absent the CBC doing this immediately, the CBC should be viewed as aiding and abetting potential voter fraud on the Canadian populace. It's that simple ... this is people's eventual votes we are talking about here, and the CBC owes it to the public to ensure that no political chicanery is involved!
Some More (Biased) Observations on the First Week
The Debates: Often quoted by Liberal flamers as evidence that "Harper is a Chicken", in fact the Tories accomplish all their objectives on this planned mission. Elizabeth May was dispatched (properly) to the Hinterlands, Ignatieff was portrayed/reinforced as a wannabe PM, and the Coalition was shot in the head, once more for good measure, by positing that "Ignatieff or Layton, Harper would debate either since either one could speak for the Coalition"! Cute. Effective. Worked.
Quebec: I continue to believe that the Tories' strategy for Quebec is Tough Love. All pollsters observe that the Quebec electorate is highly fractured, especially on the "federalist champion" issue. Will Quebec, at the end, decide to not be left out? Time will tell.
Coalition: The gift that keeps on giving to the CPC. Now tied firmly to Ignatieff's ankles as if it were a concrete block, and coupled with the public perception that Ignatieff's leadership skills and potential rank only slightly higher than Elizabeth May's or Boffo the Clown's, the Coalition topic will be kept purring in the background.
It doesn't help Ignatieff that, while he (almost) firmly ruled out a NEW coalition accord, he still has the old one of December 2008 in effect until June 30, 2011. The Bloc's platform gleefully subscribes to a Coalition. Jack Layton hasn't ruled it out. If Harper only gets another minority, and the Liberals, Bloc and NDP don't support (as they have said) the unchanged CPC budget tabled in March in the House, that the Conservative have stated will be re-introduced unchanged, then Coalition will be back in the news as a real threat, big-time.
I take it back. Ignatieff isn't wearing the Coalition around his ankles, it's a millstone around his neck ... not that the distinction is that great, but ...
Liberal "Promises": For my view of Liberal "Promises", CPC supporters may want to quickly read this (satirical/humourous) article, still true, that I wrote in 2005: The Art of Promising