DAY TWELVE: Campaign Quick Hitters (#2 in a series)

/ Wednesday, April 6, 2011 /
Not discussed in any detail yet on this campaign was the gutting of an important Canadian institution: Statistics Canada. For those with short memories here is a sample of the fear-mongering, that preceded their doing away with the mandatory long form census, that came from the mouth of Industry Minister Tony Clement: “I cannot support the opposition's belief that Canadians not wishing to answer these questions are criminals,” Mr. Clement said in a statement released Tuesday evening. “It is truly regrettable that the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois will not take a reasonable approach to addressing personal privacy rights of Canadians in the pursuit of invasive data.”

 Mr. Clement decided to double down and deliberately misled the Commons Industry Committee (in the real world such acts are referred to as lies) about how the head of the agency felt about such changes to Stats Canada by telling the Globe he assumed Dr. Sheikh found the change acceptable. In response Munir Sheikh iterated that... No statistician would have made such a recommendation, said Dr. Sheikh, who struggled with his emotions as he addressed the committee. “It really cast doubt on the integrity of the agency,” he said. “And I, as the head of that agency, cannot survive in that job.” So to hold on to his integrity Mr. Sheikh felt he was left with no options other than to resign.

The importance of Stats Canada can't be overstated: Every kind of industry, labour, academic and charitable organization had sent petitions, letters and press releases saying the same thing, backed by a truckloads of statisticians and economists, said in effect that a voluntary survey would effectively gut the census. For a list of those that opposed the Tory move go here and see for yourself the wide array of diverse organizations who were dependent on the once reliable information Statistics Canada could provide.
Census surveys form the basis of much of Statistics Canada’s other analyses, including vital labour force measures such as the unemployment rate. It drives everything from corporate fundraising drives in Toronto to the deployment of B.C. lunch programs for school kids; and from the layout of suburban subdivisions to the prescriptions of think tanks of every ideological bent.

Restaurants use information from the long form to help determine where to locate and how to target their marketing. Census information turns out to be an unexpectedly effective fundraising tool.

Census data such as mother tongue and family income also allows provincial education officials to target resources for services such as B.C.'s breakfast programs for schoolchildren and English-as-a-second language instruction in Ontario cities with large numbers of newcomers. In Penticton, B.C., two elementary schools receive extra funds for a hot-lunch program thanks to census tract data that reveals which neighbourhoods have relatively high concentrations of poor families.
I mention all this because there's a report in today's Globe and Mail about how Corporate tax cuts do not spur growth their analysis reveals. Guess where the information for this analysis came from? analysis of Statistics Canada figures by The Globe and Mail reveals that the rate of investment in machinery and equipment has declined in lockstep with falling corporate tax rates over the past decade. At the same time, the analysis shows, businesses have added $83-billion to their cash reserves since the onset of the recession in 2008.
This is an important issue because the Conservatives are using this issue to claim that the Liberals are raising taxes and hindering job growth and recovery from the recession. The Liberals are pledging to roll corporate taxes back to 2010 levels to free up billions of dollars for their platform which includes spending on family-focused social programs, including day care and tuition. The Globe analysis puts the lie to the Harper regime's claims and supports the a plank central to Ignatieff's platform.

Getting rid of Statistics Canada was more than throwing a bone to the Conservative base it serves to get rid of information that's inconvenient to the narrative the Tories are trying to spin. It's a way to marginalize the poor and given a majority one wonders how many other inconvenient Canadian institutions would be got rid of?

DAY TWELVE: Campaign Quick Hitters (#1 in a series)

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This is rich! The Liberals have quickly put a very timely ad out there about Canadians being denied the right to attend Harper rallies if they're wearing the wrong t-shirts or have the wrong bumper stickers on their cars or have befriended sketchy liberal types on their facebook pages. The quick turnaround so far as this ad goes is very impressive. Have a good laugh and ask yourself if this reminds you of anything?

DAY ELEVEN: The Bush/Rove Propaganda Playbook

/ Tuesday, April 5, 2011 /
When writing about the 2011 Canadian election, it could be a pretty facile exercise to point to the Conservative candidate, proclaim he's just like his American counterpart (Bush) and then go further and declare that the tactics used as being the same as those used by the oft vilified Karl Rove, aka Bush's Brain. So let's get specific and take a hard look at exactly what is this playbook all about.

 First, go on the offensive and establish the public perception of their candidate, define what the major issues of the campaign are and do everything in your power to influence the public perception of the opponent. If you're Stephen Harper, you have spent the last two years two years doing exactly these things. In fact our Prime Minister likes to run vicious attack ads all the time — before, during and after elections. This is a no-brainer for the Tories in that these ads turn voters off depressing turnout at the polls and it delights and energizes his rabid base.

Next from the playbook, attack your opponents strengths. For example, if your opponent is a whip smart university professor who taught at some of the world's finest universities, Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, the University of California, the University of London and the London School of Economics, then you have to make that sound like a bad thing. Seriously. You have to find a way to demonize that and the Tories certainly gave that a shot with ads that feature ominous tones and insinuate something dark is afoot with people who go to "other" countries to be professors.

Sticking with the playbook, you will want to accuse your opponent of whatever he/she is going to accuse you of (like lusting for power). Harper was, by all accounts, ready to form something quite like a coalition back in 2004, and so opens up this election run by accusing Ignatieff of plotting a "reckless" coalition. Now in all likelihood were Harper in Ignatieff's shoes he would be looking at a coalition if he could not win a majority or even a minority. Pay attention to whatever else they accuse Ignatieff of because it will point to their next move.

The next tactic has yet to be pulled out of the bag of tricks this election but bank on it coming to pass: go negative and then cry foul. Conservatives across North America love to dish out attacks but get kind of weepy when they are the subject of similar ads. At some point during this election Harper will decry all the negative ads the opposition parties are running against him even though he has spent his entire time as PM smearing his opponents whether it was election season or not.

Then there's the big lie, or a whole bunch of little ones so that there are too many to keep track of them all. As Harper talks about how this "unnecessary""election somehow threatens Canada's economic recovery, it would benefit one and all to remember that Harper promised not to call an early election last time out but then quickly turned his back on that promise and called an election more than a year earlier than promised just as the country was entering a recession and a deficit situation. Was that not risky? There are a litany of such reversals by the Harper Tories. Good examples are him swearing he would never tax income trusts, and his complaints about the unaccountability of the unelected Senate to which he  has appointed 36 Senators who, it's worth noting, scuttled a couple of private members bills in this last session of Parliament. Then there's ethics problems he said he'd fix, accountability and transparency he said his government would ensure and put a stop to the hiring of lobbyists. None of which came to pass.

There's the appeal to moral values which coincidentally Harper was speaking about to rural Canadians just yesterday, declaring that only the Conservatives understand and share their values. This is clearly meant to divide people along lines of not only urban and rural voters but also along lines of faith. There's the underlying suggestion that somehow all the homo lovers living in the cities are very "different" from them and could never understand what people of faith who live in the country believe.

There's the selling of the leaders persona and so Harper has been imbued with all kinds of characteristics that belie how he has governed. He's been cast as a great leader whose strengths are wisdom, compassion,  and his personal warmth (that's why he sings and plays the piano every chance he gets).

The combination of exploiting and demonizing the media is a tried and true tactic. The Harper message is crafted with no details left to chance and if the media wants access to the PM from time to time they had better not complain too loudly about all of his rules like no press scrums, only answering a handful of questions, and being caged. Anytime the media is serving up a Harper or Tory scandal, the Conservatives simply declare that the media is biased and you can't believe what they say in the first place... unless it's good news about the Conservatives of course (the hue and cry over the so-called liberal media continues to this day in the US in spite of all the proof to the contrary).

The last thing I'm going to mention, in this long list that could be subtitled 'how to politically divide and conquer your own country,' is strawmen. You'll recall that during the Bush years there was the constant drumbeat about terrorists around every corner and if they weren't sure to destroy America then gay marriage would. When discussing these strawmen it was also important to misrepresent your opponent's position on whatever issues you're dredging up. You can do this by quoting your opponent out of context or
presenting their beliefs in a form that people will reject. As for the strawmen Harper has given us, why there's the coalition with its' socialists and separatists and liberals, oh my!

If all of this sounds familiar that's because it played on our TV sets for the eight years Bush was in office, and is currently in reruns in the US and here in our own backyard. There's nothing new here but don't discount the effectiveness of such tactics. Without a fourth estate willing to be skeptical and do its' job the public can be sold anything as history teaches us.

DAY TEN: Still TheTeflon Tories... but for how much longer?

/ Monday, April 4, 2011 /
As the parties enter their second full week Harper's strategy of attacks based on a fictional premise, taking credit for the recovery, avoiding answering inconvenient questions and pretending he has nothing to do with the sketchy cast of characters surrounding him is working... at least according to the latest NANOS poll. Their lead over the Liberals has increased in the last week in spite of numerous missteps by the PM and his party in the opening week of the campaign.

 Today there was more of the kind of news that would rattle some parties and their followers but not this party, not now. The Canadian Press reported Sunday that Bruce Carson, one of Mr. Harper's closest advisers, was convicted on five counts of fraud – three more than previously known – and received court-ordered psychiatric treatment.

Harper says he wouldn’t have installed former adviser Bruce Carson in his Prime Minister’s Office if he had been aware of his past. The Conservative leader claims he was never told of Mr. Carson’s full criminal record. This seems unlikely and Carson's lawyer told the CP that Mr. Carson disclosed his entire criminal record during a security check as was required to become a senior staffer in the PMO.

The latest revelations should raise questions about Mr. Harper's judgment in hiring Mr. Carson as his chief policy analyst and troubleshooter. Mr. Carson would have been privy to top secret government files in his job as a senior adviser to the prime minister up until leaving the PMO in 2008. The PM's claims of "I didn't know until you just told me," ring false as someone in Mr. Carson's position would have been subject to a thorough review by both the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

So he had a five times convicted fraudster as his top advisor. What's the big deal?

Today on the trail Harper was doing what he could to further divide Canadians resurrecting the long-gun registry as an issue. To put extra emphasis on the divisiveness he seeks to create he said “We are the party that stands with rural Canada and understands your values and your way of life,” during a stop in Wainfleet, Ont.. Does that mean they don't understand urban Canadians or stand with them? Please, can someone call them out on this patent idiocy?

Jack Layton gave it a shot accusing Harper of "driving a wedge" between Canadians through the long-gun registry issue. "He goes into Welland for the second election in a row and doesn't even acknowledge the fact that hundreds of workers are losing their jobs and that the middle class is being wiped out in Welland!"

Jack had a campaign stop in Toronto where he talked about doubling public pension payouts. It's not a new pledge but it is one he hopes will appeal to Canadians who are approaching retirement. The NDP were also reaching out to workers who have lost their company pension plans when their employers have gone bankrupt. Pensioners and workers on long-term disability would be the first creditors to collect when a company goes under, according to the NDP proposal.

Michael Igantieff meanwhile was in the Maritimes today where according to a Canadian Press story, the Liberals are setting their campaign sights on military veterans with a $120-million “Vets, not jets” promise. Ignatieff told supporters in Halifax today that a Liberal government would pay the full costs of tuition, books, accommodations and living expenses for up to four years of post-secondary education or technical training for veterans.

The 94-page Liberal document that outlines and costs the Liberal platform which was released on Sunday was given faint praise in today's Globe and Mail. They called it prudent and pragmatic which is okay but then there was insult as it was likened to a document that could have come from Harper. There was some good news for Ignatieff as the Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll has him within seven points with the Conservatives at 35 per cent support, ahead of the Liberals at 28 per cent. The NDP was at 17 per cent, while the Bloc Quebecois stood at 10 per cent and the Greens at eight. (spoiler alert: there's excerpted video of an Ignatieff campaign speech at the link, his best line being "How can you trust a man who doesn't respect you?")

Amongst the promises are calls for a permanent home-energy retrofit program, assistance to family caregivers, a community “Heroes Fund” for fallen firefighters and peace officers, and a new Canada Service Corps. There is also a plan to reform Parliament as well by placing new restrictions on Prime Ministerial power to prevent arbitrarily proroguing Parliament for political reasons, and instituting a “People’s Question Period” which will attempt to engage Canadians online. The idea is to have cabinet ministers and the PM to “respond directly to unscripted, user-generated questions.”

A majority of Canadians believe that the Green Party Leader Elizabeth May should have a seat at the federal party leaders debate, a recent poll suggests. Elizabeth May also made news today with a campaign pledge of $450 million for the CBC on the day before party takes broadcasters to court.

Here's Ignatieff's campaign video response to the question, "Who are you?"

DAY TEN: Platforms (part three)

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Wresting the narrative away from the spinners and media is an auspicious way to begin a campaign and Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party deserve a lot of credit for taking this beast by its' antlers and waging a far better than anticipated opening to their campaign.

 The Ignatieff platform delivered Sunday, is what he is calling his 'Family Pack' of measures that will deliver relief to the Canadian middle-class. There are details about the costing of some of the already announced initiatives, including $1 billion to be spent on the Family Care Plan,  $1 billion the cost for aid to post-secondary students, $700-million annual boost to the Guaranteed Income Supplement to help reduce poverty among seniors, especially women and seniors with disabilities. The simplicity of making your spending priorities families, students and the elderly reminds me of the Clinton '92 campaign which had a nifty slogan, "It's the economy, stupid'' to go along with some good and simple ideas they had to get the economy humming and it worked. By the way, that included taxing the rich!

Now the Conservatives predictably shout 'tax and spend' as if spending weren't something governments are supposed to do with tax revenues, and holding the corporate tax rates at eighteen percent instead of lowering them one-and-a-half percent this year and again in 2012 spells doom for corporations and jobs in Canada.  Seems unlikely especially in a year when there were record profits for corporations across the board. The common weal, after all, is why we pay taxes. I hope Mr. Ignatieff embraces their spin. He indeed will be taxing the wealthy corporations and spending on as well as investing in the Canadian middle class -- there are worse things you could spend your money on like for example (according to the Tories) the arts!

The Liberals are in a good position here to defend what they want to spend money on, because as long as Mr. Ignatieff is not gonna' spend $30 billion on jets, $5 billion on prisons and $6 billion on corporate tax breaks, he's left himself some walking around money that he can use to invest elsewhere. Good for you Michael!

To separate themselves further from the Conservatives, the Liberal position is now to reduce the environmental cost of the Alberta tar-sands. Ignatieff said the past five years have seen the Harper government "walk away" from regulating the oilsands at a critical time when the world is watching whether the resource is being responsibly developed. The federal government must "walk back in" for the sake of protecting wild species, improving water conservation and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. He also promises to have a more proactive climate change policy, one that will not necessarily march in lockstep with the Obama administration. Clearly a good idea.

The thing about taking control of the spin away from the media is once you start you can never let up because the media will fight you for that purview and the right will be there to attack your perceived strengths if you falter for a moment -- this all comes from the Lee Atwater/Karl Rove playbook and is now a part of how Canadian Tories conduct themselves in the political arena.

There is an article over at the Toronto Star about how the Iggy game plan is to be 'prudent and cautious' all the way. Now this is belied by the first nine days of this campaign. I can't speak to this in a meaningful way other than to note the sources quoted are not named. As for Ignatieff's prudence, maybe caution will be a watchword on this campaign as it moves forward -- who knows?

So far, however, Mr. Ignatieff has proved himself willing to take far more risks in this campaign than his Conservative opponent, Mr. 'five questions' Harper, even going so far as to accept an invitation to a political street-fight that Harper quickly backed out of. Those are some good optics even if such an offer is unfair in the first place. So Harper, who when not on the defensive has been repeating tired old lines about the opposition parties that don't have the same sting anymore (you can only say "tax and spend liberals," so many times before it becomes meaningless). I'm pretty sure this is not the start Harper was looking for. Whether he pays a price at the polls to Ignatieff's benefit is anyone's guess.

As for Michael, well has his identity, his platform and his own ideas of how he wants this campaign to go. Now all he has to do is defend every last scrap of political turf with every last ounce of his energy and he might just stand a chance. People will rally to someone who fights for what they believe, and based on the early campaigning he looks ready to do just that. It's the kind of action that fleshes out his campaign promises and makes them more than just words on a position paper. It's also a lot easier said and written than done.

DAY NINE: Platforms (part two)

/ Sunday, April 3, 2011 /
In the previous post about media coverage of the NDP, my desire was to illustrate one of the many ways in which the media can help to marginalize ideas and even an entire political party. It all depends on what aspect of a story they choose to emphasize.

 This can work both ways of course. You can help make a party look good by omitting mention of important parts of their tacit platform. This past week, so far as the Tories are concerned, the platform they wanted to discuss had little to do with the reality of the policy they're supposed to be defending. That, after all, is the essential question here, right? Do we want more of the same Conservative policies that we've been witness to these last five years, or not?

As the media reports on the roll-out of the Harper platform they've mentioned his bizarre, 'money I'll spend if we balance the budget' promises. There's also been his obvious attempts at bribery of Newfoundland and Quebec for votes. All well and good but these are not the tenets of this government that the opposition parties are running against.

They are running against the Conservatives spending $30 billion on sole-sourced jets that poorly suit Canada's needs, spending billions to incarcerate more Canadians at a time when crime rates are on the decline in Canada, imposing American style mandatory minimums for certain non-violent crimes, spending billions in tax breaks for already wealthy corporations, taking away the per-vote subsidy thus making our electoral system yet more advantageous for themselves. They have also tied our environmental policies to those of the Americans at a time when their Congress is in full meltdown over the issues of global climate disruption and the continuing degradation of the environment, as they are clearly more moved by wealthy corporate citizens and their lobbyists than by scientific reason and consensus.

And that's just domestic policies! Canada's foreign policy as it stands now has  lost us standing as a world leader in pressing for human rights, in part by taking a one-sided view on Middle East rights issues, according to  Amnesty International. These are likely reasons that prevented Canada from winning a United Nations Security Council seat. 

Oh yeah, they're also running against contempt because the Harper government refused to disclose the costs for their programs to Parliament. Mr. Ignatieff  declared, “We are the people’s representatives. When the government spends money, the people have a right to know what it is to be spent on. Parliament does not issue blank cheques.” You're excused for not knowing that. After all, if it's just barely news worthy, why mention it at all?

So, near as I can tell, that's their platform, Those are the policies you are voting for when you cast your vote for the Conservatives. That's what needs to be debated in this election. Do these policies reflect Canada, and Canadian sentiment and values on these issues? Whether or not that will happen is largely up to Canadian voters. If there is demand for a substantive discussion which people can express by rejecting the character assassination attacks that have been lifted from the likes of Karl Rove, they may well get it. If they remain complacent then they can continue to read stories about how the Harper campaign has the momentum of a runaway train and how it definitely hasn't fallen flat.

DAY NINE: Platforms (part one)

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There's little chance that Jack Layton will get a fair reading of his platform and people's response to it from the mainstream Canadian media. A great example of this is a sleazy little piece written by Gloria Galloway, who's covering the NDP campaign for the right leaning Globe and Mail. She chooses to lead off her article by insinuating that the last time the NDP held a town hall meeting in a northern Ontario locale, it was staged. No proof, just a snide aside and an unsubstantiated rumour.

 Those are some crazy journalistic standards they're held to over at the Globe where even the title of the article is misleading: "Nary a rotten tomato at NDP town hall in Sudbury." By all accounts, even those of Ms. Galloway, if you read between the lines, the people of Sudbury were highly engaged and for the most part in agreement on the issues with Mr. Layton -- they in fact gave him a standing ovation after every question. That's remarkable!

What in H-E-double hockey-sticks this has to do with rotten tomatoes is anyone's guess? If Stephen Harper held an unscripted town hall get-together (with more than five questions!) and all his answers received a standing ovation this would be headline news coast to coast and proof that he was indeed the second coming. When Jack does it, it's apparently just surprising that no one threw any rotten tomatoes.

What's also remarkable in the above two linked articles of what took place at the town hall meet-up that Mr. Layton held at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario is that somehow the Globe reporter failed to mention Jack Layton was using this particular backdrop to unveil his party's platform on health care and the Sudbury Star reporter picked right up on this little tidbit. Jack says his plan will bring 1,200 more doctors and 6,000 more nurses into the country's heath care system in the next 10 years - that's a news worthy announcement that would seem to trump reporting on unseen rotten tomatoes. But it is illustrative. Not only will NDP policy ideas have a hard time getting a fair reading in the media, sometimes they won't even get a mention.

Since the Globe and Mail prides itself on being a national newspaper, the failure to report on the NDP platform announcement about their health care plan is more than puzzling. This would seem to be the singular most important aspect of the story at least so far as Canadians not living in Sudbury are concerned. Yet it fails to garner mention and there were some pretty specific details too: Mr. Layton proposes creating a fund to repatriate 300 Canadian doctors now practising abroad -- investing $80 million a year over four years to upgrade medical schools across Canada to make room for the next generation of family doctors -- and his party would forgive student loans for medical professionals who choose family medicine for at least 10 years, regardless of where they practice. He calls these "...practical first steps to ensure that you and your family have access to the health care you need -- when you need it."

Our health care system is currently a mess where five million Canadians do not have a family doctor to call their own and these are good ideas. Certainly worth consideration, but how can the public evaluate them if they go unreported? Maybe we can all get ourselves subscriptions to the Sudbury Star.

You can go have a listen to brief but incisive interview with Mr. Layton about local issues over at the Sudbury Star as well.

DAY EIGHT: The Media And The Narrative (the media sucks! part 3,756)

/ Saturday, April 2, 2011 /
You can't overstate the importance of the role the media plays in shaping how election campaigns and the candidates themselves are perceived. So early on here during the race I've been keeping track of things the media is trying to spin for us. For example did you know Harper got off to fast start in this campaign and had Iggy on his heels over the coalition fear-mongering? You didn't? Well that's because it's preposterous!

 It was only seven days ago, I was there and Stephen Harper got off to as bad a start as an incumbent PM can have. Starting with his government falling, not on the budget but on charges of contempt of Parliament; the first time such an occurrence has come to pass in Canada's history. Then first thing Saturday morning Gilles Duceppe was happily mocking Harper over his signature on a document signed in 2004 about forming something very like a coalition -- the rank hypocrisy on display in the very first steps of the campaign. Ignatieff for his part answered all reporters questions (unlike the PM) and unequivocally pronounced there would be no coalition.

Even in an article in the Toronto Star that describes an iffy first week for the PM, it still opens with a caveat, A week that started strong for Harper — by putting Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on his heels with accusations of plotting to lead an opposition coalition... Ignatieff didn't really sound like or have the appearance of someone who was back on his heels either. In fact, probably for the first time since he became leader of the Liberals, he looked to be genuinely comfortable in this element. But that's not what the media wants to say about the first week and yet very early in the game my local fishwrap along with the Globe and Mail were asking the PM to cease the coalition fearmongering. Is that an indicator that the Tories opening salvo was effective?

Yet it seems the media really really want you to believe Harper started strong but then things went Iggy's way and it's nonsense! What happened was Harper was quickly put on the defensive and remained there all week. In fact things got so bad he decided he wouldn't take more than five questions from the press anywhere he went and if that wasn't enough, he'd put them  in cages far away enough so that his photo-ops wouldn't be ruined with someone shouting out inconvenient questions. That does not help him to answer to the lack of transparency or accountability charges that are being leveled against him by the opposition parties every day.

Another article describing the week's missteps for Harper begins, Odds are that Stephen Harper will post his third win on May 2 and there’s a decent chance he will get a majority to boot. Five weeks in politics, as an old saw tells us, can be a lifetime in politics and the polls tell us that more than 20% of voters are undecided. Now admittedly I'm an anybody but Harper guy but it's hard not to conclude, with that great a number of voters undecided, that this election is up for grabs. But not according to Canada's mainstream media.

The incumbent Prime Minister faced questions about lying on the very first day of the campaign and the proof of the charges was in black and white with his signature on the document. How is that starting strong? What Conservative political strategist is sitting there thinking if only someone could demonstrably prove that the PM is lying on the first day of the campaign then everything will be mind-blowingly awesome for getting that majority? Topping that off, every day the PM had to talk about, or duck questions, or distance himself from the sketchy people he's surrounded himself with over the years.

You could also go so far as to say that a government with the baggage that the Tories have has to be concerned that eventually all the crap that they've pulled in the last couple of years will filter through the great wall of noise into the consciousness of Canadians and cost them a few votes this election -- but remember the media is part of that wall of noise and they don't think so. And even if they did, that's not the narrative they're in the mood to advance in their newspapers and on their TV news programs in the early part of the campaign. They've got their script and dammit, come hell  or innumerable Tory scandals, malfeasance and lies, they're going to stick to it! Or is that stick it to us?

DAY SEVEN: "It's Why Your Tuition Keeps Going up!"

/ Friday, April 1, 2011 /
In a memorable rant Rick Mercer lays out a host of reasons those between the ages of 18 and 25 should get out and vote in the coming May 2 election. For starters there's 3 million such voters which is more than enough to have a massive effect on the results. For seconds the powers that be are happy that the youth aren't voting. That way they don't have to listen or even care about their concerns or as Rick Mercer puts it, "That's why your tuition keeps going up!" The best reason to take 20 minutes out of your day and vote is because you'll scare the crap out of the people that run this country and then just maybe they'll do more than pay you lip service. You know how to whistle don't you?

DAY SEVEN: Stephen Harper Tires Of Democracy

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I'm having a difficult time not writing about Stephen's petulance as if he were some whiny assed titty-baby. His contempt for his opponents, the Canadian people and democracy in general have been difficult to watch during the first week of the campaign. He's apparently decided that at campaign stops he's only going to answer five questions. That's it! Five questions and no more, and the media is to be kept in a cage away from wherever he is. Can't you just smell the transparency and accountability that Harper has brought to Ottawa these past five years?

 Now he's decided he's fed up altogether with the democratic process, and elections and wants to eliminate the per-vote taxpayer subsidies. I probably don't have to tell you this but getting rid of the subsidy would hurt Harper's rivals more than his own party as the Conservatives remain the most proficient party at fundraising. So why not give his party an extra decided edge? It's what the Republicans would do.
Mr. Harper was almost defeated when he previously tried to scrap this subsidy in 2008, a bid that triggered a coalition between the Liberals and NDP, backed by the Bloc Québécois. The alliance was set to topple his government when the Tory chief temporarily suspended Parliament to save his skin
Of this latest move Jack Layton asked rhetorically, "Do we want to go back to the days where money, and those who can finance campaigns, determine the nature of our democracy?” Rhetorically because we know Harper's answer to that question -- he doesn't like questions!

Mr. Duceppe noted that the Conservative leader is “not a great democrat. It runs against democracy. Parties trying to break through, like the Greens, would have practically no means. That guy would be happy with no opposition and no Parliament.”

This is the guy who wants Canadians to give him a majority so then he'll be answerable to no one. A considerably far more frightening prospect than the dreaded so-called coalition. I hope Canadians are paying attention.

DAY SEVEN: Tea Leaves, Mass Psychosis and Narratives

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For those who drop in and check out the election related news links I've been posting and my comments you've probably noticed I have some talent for being able to read tea leaves, but for all I know perhaps it's just a talent for the bleeding obvious. There's little need to be cocksure about this. After all, most in the progressive Canadian blogosphere had also noted that the Liberals started this election season off smartly and that their campaign had quickly gathered momentum. This sentiment was backed up by yesterday's early poll numbers. But there's five more weeks to go and so while it's a good sign for those of us who wish to see someone other than Stephen Harper as Prime Minister there's a lot of drama to play out yet and it has little to do with tea leaves and fond wishes for change. For those running to win and earn the privilege of governing, it's more about narratives than anything else. People like a good story... and will vote for it!

 Narratives in fact are far more important than good policy ideas and facts. Studies have shown that facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. They are not as compelling as a narrative that appeals directly to gut emotions. One study conducted at the University of Michigan found that some when exposed to the facts actually became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were no antidote to misinformation.
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
This is not good for democracy or for progressive causes. Wrong-headed policy based on false assumptions and beliefs has the potential to cripple whole swaths of the working classes as it is doing as I write.

This means that it's not enough for the opposition parties in this election to be in the right about the issues or to be able to demonstrate the undemocratic nature of the Harper Tories. They have to find themselves a narrative that stirs Canadians if they expect to oust the Conservatives from power. Michael Ignatieff has found the story he wants to tell the Canadian people and it's in his description of his family, who he is and has been as he asks to be Canada's Prime Minister. He keeps his story simple and straightforward but it's a pretty good story: He's the son of Russian immigrants, he was a student, a thinker and author of seventeen books, a professor at some pretty great institutions, and now he's not just a politician but a public servant. To help tell his story he has even latched onto a Bob Dylan tune, "You're Gonna' Have to Serve Someone," as an anthem emblematic of how he feels about the job he's applying for. As for the story behind the policies that he's fighting for, they are aimed at and framed as fighting for Canadian families which is a good story in of itself.

Of course this is what the Tories will now set their sights on tearing apart as they are sure to continue their rank imitation of their American right-wing cousins. Looking at their agenda and platform it's hard not to notice a dearth of policy ideas that sound like reasonable strategies for dealing with the problems of the 21st century. All that's visible is a politer version of the Republican tea party types that march across the TV screens whenever the channel is tuned to the news -- the attacks even sound the same, "tax and spend liberals..." etc.. And in fact there have already been attacks from the right on Iggy's dad. The tactic is exactly like those the Republicans use and their excuses are the same too: they blame the victim saying you brought him (Iggy's Father) into the conversation so we have the right to attack and smear him.

Well, the thing is, they don't! But if they have no shame in the lies the disseminate and there is no act that stretches the boundaries of partisanship for its' own sake too far then it has to be confronted by the opposition with more than just the bare facts... they have to meet it head on with a better story.

Now these are swift-boating tactics I'm alluding to and I fully expect to see more of them in the coming weeks. Attacking Iggy's dad is a precursor to the stream of attacks that are no doubt on the way. It sure would be great if Canadians found it all too cynical to support in any fashion but it'd be crazy to rely on that because the one thing we have learned in this era is that attacks work, and in fact one of the reasons Ignatieff has had such a hard time garnering any momentum these past couple of years is that his character has been under unceasing assault from the right and it has had the desired effect... up until now.

Over at Ian Mitroff writes about this lack of reliance on the truth as a kind of mass psychosis and argues compellingly:
Until progressives not only have a better understanding of how emotions fundamentally shape political issues, but also incorporate them into their appeals, they will continue to lose the hearts and minds of the wider populace.
He concludes that this doesn’t mean that politicians should give up trying to reason with those who disagree with them. It's just that that reason devoid of emotion won’t persuade anyone so go tell that story. Don't let anyone undermine it. Defend that story as if your political career depends on it, because it does.



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