Liberals doing it all wrong

March 13th, 2013

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

Earlier today, Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau dropped out of the race after failing to generate a debate on substance versus flash.

This is too bad, because he never really tried.

Garneau wanted a debate on substance with Justin Trudeau, but he never raised a substantive issue for the debate. The best he came up with was to ask "what is your position on the middle class?". How can you even have a position on that? I don't know what that would even be.

It's like the hackneyed start to so many badly-written political speeches: "This campaign is about leadership". It's not *about* leadership, if you have to say it is. If a campaign is truly about leadership, then show some. Same goes for substance. Actions speak louder than words.

The young woman who ran the organic farm stall at the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market, and challenged Justin Trudeau on fossil fuel subsidies and inter-party cooperation last weekend, could have taught Garneau a thing or two. She didn't issue a news release, hold a 130-S, and dispatch her spinners on Twitter. She just asked Trudeau the questions. And then watched him skate.

Instead the Liberal leadership race has been marked by a series of too-clever tactics and gimmicks, by a gang of folks who don't even do them well for the most part anymore. For example, if you're going to make a big attack, don't signal it to your target days ahead of time and give him the chance to prepare.

And now comes the inevitable battle over the rules. What Liberal contest is complete without one of those. Because no-one trusts one another to act in the overall good of the party, rules multiply and become unwieldy, and then when they crack under their own weight, people argue over them and try to press their own advantage all over again.

One candidate who is doing most things right is Joyce Murray, who although I disagree with her crazy elite-accomodation scheme to withdraw electoral choices from voters in the hopes of steering their choice elsewhere, at least has a clear unique selling proposition to distinguish her from the other candidates. She has also made sustainable development and electoral reform key parts of her platform, and has an actual electoral strategy to try and win the leadership contest using the contacts of organizations like LeadNow.ca and Avaaz.org.

Another is Deborah Coyne, who is making a clear pitch to the policy descendants of the Trudeau Sr. era, if not the groupies, with her work to update the classic strong central government strain of federal Liberal thinking — though she doesn't seem to have a political strategy for winning the vote, and seems intent on winning a role in the party's future policy development instead.

Even Martha Hall Findlay staked out some turf on the right of the spectrum, mixed with a personal style that is usually charmingly frank and self-depracating, and an electoral strategy that focussed on building up a concentration of support out west. But again, she hurt her own cause when she made her own big attack move personal rather than substantive.

But, no, political "substance" isn't found in 44-point economic plans that no-one can remember, or earnest invocations to "be bold" either.

It's taking a substantive policy issue, that resonates with the political coalition you want to appeal to and creates a meaningful difference with your opponents, finding compelling language to distill and communicate its essence, and then provoking debate over it for the purpose of winning people over to your perspective.

At one time, there was nobody better at doing that than the federal Liberal Party. But on the eve of their fifth and final leadership debate, and the deadline for voter registration, it seems many of them have just forgotten how.

19 Responses to “Liberals doing it all wrong”

  1. Kevin Logan says:

    “Elite accommodation scheme?” Wow, dipping deep into the bag of tricks for that one.

  2. Emma says:

    Nailed it, Alice!

  3. It does have the benefit of being the exact same thing I’ve said about strategic voting and electoral coalitions all along, however.

  4. Kevin Logan says:

    Oh, OK. Pardon me. Guess I have not read enough of the “guide” to get my mind right.
    That said, “elite accommodation scheme” is a fine description of the current government. Of course, I guess minority supported, majority man sits well with you as a result. I mean, once you get past the fact the place looks like a used oil can, I guess things are not so bad…

  5. You have come up with one idea. Others disagree with its effectiveness, but it doesn’t mean it’s the only idea.

  6. While frontrunners are often (and deliberately) light on details, the complete absence of substance from Trudeau fils shows just how far the Liberal Party has fallen. The Liberal leadership is less substantive than Survivor or American Idol. And now, in the effective failure of the “supporters” initiative, we see that the Trudeau campaign is as light on competence as it is on substance.

    It is inconceivable that the Liberal Party of even five years ago would have permitted an empty suit with flowing hair to become the prohibitive frontrunner.

  7. Shadow says:

    This contest isn’t helping Trudeau either.

    He promised, along with every elite party member, that this wouldn’t be a coronation and they would really kick the tires and have a substantive conversation on the way forward.

    That’s not true. Everyone knew that wasn’t true. But could they have at least put on a good show and pretended it was for public consumption ?

    The strategy is a celebrity leader.

    Policy can always come later. Its a gamble, high risk high reward type of thing. You can either end up with an Obama or an epic flame out.

    The problem is that this race is just feeding the attack lines that are starting to develop around him.

    The speaking fees. The elitism. Its the celebrity/messiah thing.

    A really hard fought issues heavy race could have really inoculated him against some of that stuff.

    After all this was supposed to be the guy who could step in the ring, get bloodied up for a few rounds, and still come out on top with a knockout punch.

  8. Kevin Logan says:

    While I appreciate the acknowledgement of the origin of the notion commonly called “cooperation” I will have you know it was not my only idea. See the BC NDP positioning on Enbridge and refer back to efforts to establish coalition government. Albeit, it is true that we are unable to gauge the effectiveness of said “ideas” however, that is only a result of a coordinated effort to ensure we have not yet achieved them. The result of course being conservative government, something I am sure you appreciate. That said, the NDP enjoys the status of official opposition, largely as a result of “winning” Quebec. Oddly those of you who are hell bent on having every party on the ballot in every riding, were not so keen then when some ridings in Quebec were never honored with even so much as a visit, from those crucial ndprs currently representing them. Clearly not so important after all, but there is no doubt you believe the notion that Quebec’s support for a separatist political party stood in the way of the majority forming a coalition government in the Country had nothing to do with the “Orange Crush” (I don’t how they spell in that French) No need to thank me. Just try and keep it together, cuz my sense of it is Trudeaumania 2.0 may require actually campaigning this time.

  9. Jordan says:

    Though not a big fan of him, I think Trudeau is right on now giving policy proposals. It shouldn’t be up to the leader to decide all policy, that IMO is what has been wrong with the party. I think it’s good to give views on current issues, give your vision but let the grassroots choose policy.

  10. Observant says:

    It’s not a political contest, it’s a popularity contest now.

    Let’s just understand that Justin Trudeau is just a Liberal beard, controlled by the backroom hunchbacks pulling his strings, writing his words and making him pirouette on command. This is a last ditch attempt by the lugubrious Liberal party to resuscitate it’s rotting body politic.

    Harper is watching in amusement and Mulcair is waiting to pick up the remainder of the Red Grits when the Liberal Beast is finally declared dead.

    Ironic that today, Garneau virtually declared “habemus ducem” (we have a leader!), and pledged his obedience and fealty to Justin Trudeau… leader-in-training… PM-in-waiting !!

  11. Observant says:

    @Kevin Logan:– “…the “Orange Crush” (I don’t how they spell in that French)…”

    Ummm… “l’Orange Crushez”(koolaid)…

  12. Mr. Logan, while I can tell some of your rant above is intended to be ad hominem, I can’t tell for sure just who it’s intended to target much less what the point is supposed to be.
    All I’m really gleaning is a general sense that anyone who isn’t inspired by the notion of amalgamating candidacies between non-Conservatives in some ridings is opposing the idea because they hate freedom, or are with the child pornographers, or something–basically, it’s all some kind of basic hostility or vile compulsion they cling to even at the expense of their own interests. This seems relatively unlikely.

    It is possible you’d have more success persuading people to join you in a co-operation plan if you didn’t denounce them as evil schemers for disagreeing with you.

  13. Ron Faris says:

    In the recent federal byelection in Victoria Justin spent several days with the media and elite groups.

    On election day the Liberals garned about 13% of the vote – 2nd lowest percentage in the last 60 years in Victoria riding!

    Justin does not have long coatails here, however Garneau would have quite likely attracted the veteran and Esquimalt base voters living in Victoria.

  14. chg says:

    Murray’s negative campaigning is a turn-off, she resorts to questioning the ethics of her competitors when things don’t go her way. The reaction to extending the deadline was particularly bad form and she didn’t care about those who couldn’t register in time if they weren’t voting for her.

    Deborah Coyne is offering both substance and a more positive style of politics. Her reaction to the registration problems was the opposite to Murray. Quite a contrast in values between Murray and Coyne. Cony has also spoken out about the idea of a one time deal, highlighting the different values they hold.

    I don’t hold Hall Findlay’s exchange with Trudeau against her as she apologized later and I don’t see her repeating any character attacks. It seems to have been one badly articulated example where she actually wanted to talk about Trudeau’s use of the term middle class and not question his character.

  15. Hmmm, it seems that NationalNewswatch traffic leads to degradation of the quality of commentary. I am sure that traffic is up, but not much in the way of insight.

  16. Brian Lessard says:

    To think we might have to listen to Justin Trudeau and Justin Beiber on the news for the next couple of years (2014 election for sure because Harper would love to rumble with Justin) which might get ya to avoid the news which may be a good thing for you if you get upset seeing the backroom boys divy up the spoils of war; but have no fear it’s not over yet!

    Think positive! Momentum is everything and April 14th is a long time to keep trying to arrest it.

    The perfect storm is about to form in Canadian politics and Joyce Murray is the one riding the wave. I’ll be supporting her with all my strength because I’ve done my homework and I’ve come to appreciate what Joyce Murray has accomplished privately and publicly so I tend to respect what she has to say. Her obvious political savvy, demonstrated strength in negotiation, and her will to stand for what she believes in would really bide well for the party, strengthen it, re-establish its core. Give the country time to find out what Joyce has to say and you can bet you’ll see the first Liberal woman as prime minister and because of her ability and honesty she’ll reign for a long time.

    Joyce will decimate the competition in debate with her objectivity, logic, and common sense, The whole country will rally behind her ‘sustainable community’ and the optimism will be palpable. Her policies including electoral reform are the gold standard for socially, economically, and environmentally progressive countries around the world. A long list of talented, accomplished, and respected sponsors http://www.joycemurray.ca/ agree with me.

    Joyce Murray is the future of politics in Canada. It may not be her because of this ‘blind optimism’ in Justin Trudeau but what she stands for and how she intends to get it, is the future…. Joyce is the true Liberal with the business sense to develop the economy, the social sense to develop a sustainable community, and most importantly the political sense to lead the party and the government of Canada.

  17. Andrea says:

    u cant really understand wut we should be prioritizing politically and fighting for in canada until youve driven up and down the roads in afghanistan or the central republic of africa wondering if ur gonna be blown to bits. every policy idea can be readily googled or twitter-searched. every somebody who knows stuff about stuff is on linked in or a few phone calls away. but that global perspective the leader of a country needs to define itself…. who can make us feel the same way we did when sidney crosby scored that goal or when we see the mother of a fallen soldier in tears, there’S ONLY ONE CANDIDATE who has that emotional credibility…. and that sense of urgency when it comes to decision making and leading a party. im sorry if that offends those of u who have chosen a life of canadian comforts.

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