It’s starting to look like a train wreck. That’s my assessment of the Liberal campaign, and being the non-Liberal supporter I am, I have to say that I’m not displeased.
The latest is the cartbon-belching, old “clunker” of a 737 the Liberals leased from Air Inuit had to make an emergency landing in Montreal due to an electrical failure. While this one small incident on its own wouldn’t derail the Liberal campaign, the list of problems keeps growing.
We’ve seen it before, in 1984 with John Turner’s disasterous campaign, the Kim Campbell fiasco of 1993, and even Stockwell Day’s campaign of 2000. (I find that third assessment rather ironic, though, given that, when you compare the Canadian Alliance to its closest predecessor, the Reform Party, he lead the Canadian Alliance to its highest vote and seat count to date.)
In all three cases, the campaigns were plaged by gaffes, mistakes, and downright stupid decisions. Stephane Dion’s campaign is no exception – and it came about from a long time before the election was called by the Governor-General.
First, Stephane Dion is a “compromise leader.” He beat out far more “popular” candidates like Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff to become leader, simply because the other defeated candidates threw their support behind Dion. Dion is a “nice guy.” I fundamentally disagree with his policies, but he strikes me as a quiet, professor type who prefers to study and teach, rather than stamp all over the opposition and inspire people to support him. This presents him as meek and indecisive.
Since politics is a bloodsport, it means that behind the scenes, Rae and Ignatieff are both positioning themselves as the next leader. In short the knives are already out.
Don’t believe me? Then consider a rally Dion held in way down east recently – he had Rae there with him. At one event, Dion was there, but Rae did all the speaking, and at another, Rae introduced Dion, and completely upstaged him.
Of course, a leader only leads with the support of the organization. If Dion doesn’t have the confidence of his party – and the high-powered members at that – then he’s in a really tough predicament.
Secondly, Dion made a huge communications error when he was elected Leader of the Liberals. He made the same error Stockwell Day made when he was elected Leader of the Canadian Alliance.
He didn’t define himself strongly enough.
In politics, if you don’t define yourself, or your platform adequately and quickly enough, your opponents will define it for you. Back in 1997, Preston Manning scored a huge political victory when he was able to release the Liberal Party “red book” exactly one day before the Liberals were scheduled to release it themselves. In retrospect, Manning didn’t deconstruct it well enough, and with the vote-splitting with the PCs of the day, was only able to score a victory as official opposition, but still, it was a major victory.
Dion has also mismanaged defining the Green Shaft – no, wait – that’s Green SHIFT; his program to siphon billions of dollars out of Canada’s resourced-based and transportation companies and buy votes with it in the form of income tax cuts.
The Liberal communications machine couldn’t manage the message; nobody seemed to know the details of it, which made explaining it that much more difficult. Eventually, the Liberals were forced through public critisism to make changes to the proposal, which, in turn, just made matters worse for them.
In all of this, the slick communications machine of the Conservatives tore the proposal to shreds and defined it as a tax-grab. You can tell which side I am on, but you can also see how defining yourself is critical in politics. The campaign is far from over, and I’m not counting Dion out just yet, but after a week and a half, things just don’t look good for him, or the prospects of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Thank God for that.