Liberals doing it all wrong
March 13th, 2013
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[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.