My Latest Column from Power and Influence Magazine

We have all had a lot of fun watching the Donald Trump show in the United States and of course people up here in “politically correct” Canada have done their fair share of fingering pointing at him. There has been much said by political pundits, the media and even politicians about how awful American politics has become, but is this a sign of what is to come in Canada?

Over the years we have seen much of what is practiced in the United States slowly blend into the Canadian political landscape. Many of us can remember the introduction of some of the very first negative attack ads in the USA. The “Daisy Girl” ad used in the 1964 Presidential campaign by Lyndon B Johnson against Barry Goldwater is one of the most famous ones. The George H.W. Bush campaign successfully used attack ads against Michael Dukakis in 1988. In the Canadian election of that year the Liberals ran one of my all-time favourite ads on the free trade issue showing an eraser wiping out the Canadian border if the Mulroney Conservatives won. When attack ads were first introduced in the USA, we gloated that Canadians were different, but today such ads are a regular occurrence here. While Canadians still like to say they don’t work here, we know they do-just ask Stephane Dion or Michael “Just visiting” Ignatieff.

Some readers may remember the Presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon. Today in Canada, we can’t have an election without some type of leader’s debate. As boring as they often are, they involve weeks of negotiations between the various political camps and the media spend hours trying to rev up the public’s interest in them.

After the federal election in 2000 (in which the Progressive Conservatives didn’t fair to well) the House of Commons research budget was so small we had to cut costs and that meant cutting staff. The net result was a very small staff that wasn’t able to find the time to do the type of opposition policy research needed. That was the reason we switched tactics and using the example of Bill Clinton’s advisor, James Carville, I set up a permanent war room under the guise of “Issues Management”. In those days we were an attack team that created the issues for the Chretien Liberals to handle. Issues management eventually moved to PMO in 2006, but it switched its focus to a defensive role. Incidentally, Carville was also hired by the Liberals on occasion to help train staff.

The Harper PMO often looked to Australia for examples that could work here. Internally there was a lot of discussion that focused on what and how the Australian parties did things. In addition, we had members of one of the Scottish political parties visit our war room in 2006 to see how we ran a campaign including our rapid reaction team. The Liberals in 2012 held a convention in Ottawa and among the presenters were some of President Obama’s campaign’s digital experts to explain how to use modern technology to build voter data bases and use it to win elections. On the Conservative side, The Manning Conference in Ottawa which is often viewed as a training ground for Conservatives also invites political experts and trainers to give lectures.

So while Canadian pundits and media types like to think that we are different, I would be wary of being too smug. For those who think that it couldn’t happen here, we only have to look at the media frenzy generated by one man, who like Trump is not a politician and who aimed a few words at the Premier of Alberta. In this case it was Kevin O’Leary who got the media all worked up, especially when he speculated he might run for the Conservative leadership.

Politics is often described as a blood sport with a winner takes all attitude. The strategies and political tactics used south of the border should matter to us as they do have a tendency to cross that invisible barrier.

One last point that might help to illustrate this can be found in the 2008 Presidential campaign. John McCain’s Republican Party ran an attack ad aimed at Barack Obama that included the tag line “But, is he ready to lead?” That does remind you of the Conservative attack ads aimed at Justin Trudeau which claimed he is “Just Not Ready”. As Canadians, we should be paying very close attention to what works and what doesn’t work in this latest Presidential campaign- it does matter to us.


Our Latest True North Politics Panel

Our panel from Monday 4 April:




Membership has no privledges

I don’t often agree with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, but I do think he is going in the right direction with his open membership proposal. In this country our politicians often lament that the population is largely disengaged from our political process and we try to find all sorts of ways to attract young voters- Trudeau just did that.

Membership will no longer have its privileges. Anyone who signs up with the Liberals (with no membership fee involved) will have the right to take part in policy development, nomination meetings, conventions and future elections of the leader.

Unlike the Conservatives who after their last election loss circled the wagons and fired inward, the Liberals have taken a bold new step. The Conservatives have gone in the opposite direction to the Liberals with their new $25 membership fee that has to be paid by cheque or credit card. In effect the Conservatives have managed to make themselves more exclusive rather than inclusive. The Liberals have broadened their tent while the Conservatives shrank theirs. Time will tell who made the right move.

The Liberals will find there are lots of hiccups along the way, especially at the constituency level. In weaker regions, membership fees helped to keep struggling associations going. There will always be the fear of single issue groups hijacking nomination meetings (as there is now) and we will have to see how they manage fundraising and what amount does the national office share with ridings or keep of monies raised by riding associations.

Speaking of fundraising, the Liberal fundraising machine must be rubbing its hands in glee waiting for all these new Liberals to give them their name, address, telephone number and email address.

It will also be fun to watch what happens when the central party wants to get things done a certain way and folks at the grass roots level refuse as they don’t think they owe party headquarters any loyalty or any deference for that matter.

But compare that to a large influx of new members, who are excited to be part of the political process, who bring fresh new ideas to the table and who can serve as a broad based group for policy development rather than it being initiated by party insiders.

I expect the NDP will have to move in the same direction as the Liberals or risk losing large numbers of their members to the Liberals, many of whom voted Liberal in the last election. With Liberal policies already moving into traditional NDP territory this new membership proposal does pose a threat to the NDP. What about the Green Party? Could this move of Trudeau’s actually unite the left? That is an interesting question and puts even more pressure on Mulcair and the NDP bosses this coming weekend?


All Oil Workers Are Not Equal

Guess who said while rejecting offering the same EI changes to oil industry workers in one part of a province, the same help that other workers in the same industry in the same province needed:

"I think that both people in Edmonton and Saskatchewan should be pleased that they are not hit as hard as other parts of the country and indeed the province have been.''

Answer: It wasn’t Stephen Harper, a Conservative Prime Minister, although you can bet if it was that quote would have received at least a week’s intense news coverage; instead of appearing in the early news and for the most part only being referenced later.

No, it was our new Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. It really is a pretty callous comment. For Trudeau one oil industry worker does not equal another if you live a few miles apart. When you translate the political speak, what he said was that workers in Edmonton and parts of Saskatchewan who are out of work, scrambling to pay bills and scrambling to find ways to pay their mortgage and put food on the table are supposed to be thankful that he didn’t include them with workers in the same industry, who are out of work, scrambling to pay bills and scrambling to find ways to pay their mortgage and put food on the table, just like they are. And Trudeau thinks that they should be thankful for this!

Perhaps our “silver spoon” Prime Minister when he is on his next $2500 a night vacation should show a bit more empathy for families who aren’t even thinking about a vacation, but trying to figure out how to save their home.

Does this Prime Minister have any clue as to what it is really like to know that your EI payment is all that stands between you and possibly bankruptcy? From his comment he obviously doesn’t- so much for sunny ways.


There Is No Life Like It

With it being Easter weekend, I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Easter especially all of those hard-working MPs and ministers and of course the Prime Minister too. Then again “hard-working” might not be an accurate description of our elected representatives.

We are two thirds of the way through this session before our tireless MPs break for the summer and another 99 days off and away from the Hill. With the PM off on another vacation break, he leads by example.

As we all know, the country is humming along just fine, there is no crisis in the oil patch, ISIS is of no concern and our dollar is doing just dandy thank you very much. With the middle class having been saved by the Liberal government and their latest budget, we really don’t need our opposition MPs on the job holding the government to account. Nor do we need the government side introducing new policies through legislation that should be debated. Come to think of it with one opposition leader distracted and trying to hang on to his job and the Conservatives still trying to fight the battles of the last campaign, the opposition might as well be on holiday.

A quick look at the numbers shows that from November 4th to the June break we have 232 days of which 144 have passed. In other words we have coved two thirds of this session. Our hardworking MPs have managed to squeeze in 51 working days at this point out of that total of 232 days. To be fair, not every day in a month is a work day so let’s look at it a bit closer. In November they worked 14 out of 20 days, December 9 of 17, January 5 of 20, February 14 of 21 and March 9 of 21. Of course that is counting Fridays when we all know most MPs have blown out of town on Thursday evening.

Our hard working representatives will return in April to work another 10 days, plus 17 more in May and 7 in June, unless they use up some of the extra 10 days held in reserve. Judging by the above pattern, that is not likely.

Remember the old recruiting slogan “There is no life like it”, in this parliament that is certainly true.