Did someone say leadership race?

With two political leadership races underway, both of which at this point in time have put everyone to sleep, one can only hope that something happens to inject some life into them.

We have had the first NDP leadership bid if you can call it that with the declared entry of Cheri DiNovo. Declared, but at the same time insisting that she is an unofficial candidate as she won’t pay the $30,000 registration fee. One has to wonder what was gained by this PR stunt other than getting your name in the limelight. DiNovo has a good record at the provincial level, but if this is her attempt to move to the federal scene it leaves a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, for the NDP; key people such as Brian Topp, Megan Leslie and Nathan Cullen have removed themselves from contention. It would have been interesting to see those three debate the future direction of the party. It is also bad news for the Conservatives as they need a strong NDP to siphon off votes from the Trudeau Liberals.

The Conservative leadership race is almost as dull and uninspiring as the NDP one. At least Kevin O’Leary’s musing about seeking the leadership provided a bit of interest and spark and even if he never runs he did wake the membership up for a couple of hours.

The latest trial balloon from a potential candidate came from Lisa Raitt. It generated a few minutes of interest and even got a couple of paragraphs out of the media. There is no reason for her not to run providing she can put together the financing and organization. She has a good track record both in and out of politics and can certainly hold her own against the present three contenders (Leitch, Chong, Bernier) none of which will or has excited much interest. Certainly at this point they don’t look like they could inspire a nation to vote Conservative. All of them are decent people and hardworking MPs, but does anyone seriously see them with "Prime Minister" in front of their names? Of course in politics you can never say never as upsets do occur. We don't have to look far back in our political history to see examples of that happening. Joe Clark and Stephane Dion being two recent examples.

There is still a lot of time for both the NDP and Conservative races to pick up speed and interest. With Peter Julian still to be heard from for the NDP and both Jason Kenney and Peter Mackay playing it coy, sooner or later (please make it sooner) the real race will begin. Certainly the Conservatives who are supposed to be “the government in waiting” need some life and political drama injected into their leadership race. They also need someone who is in it for the long haul IE eight years or more. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to do what will be an incredibly long and tough job of turning both of the parties around.

So until we get some serious contenders out there, maybe the media can keep interviewing O’Leary and that way the voting public will know that there really is a leadership race going on out there-somewhere.


Onwards and Forward

The CPC convention has come and gone. When you look back at it there wasn’t all that much excitement. A possible exception being the motion on marriage which generated a lot of interest and once passed brought us into the 21st century, but that was about it. The media tried to make the campaign review sound interesting, but it was pretty much old stuff and really just gave delegates a chance to vent one last time before the party came together and moved forward towards the next election.

We had the obligatory photo ops of potential and actual leadership candidates, but we aren’t all that much further ahead in knowing who will run and will any of the big name candidates such as Kenney and MacKay enter the race, although Kenney at least advised that we will have to wait until the end of the summer for a decision from him.

Still nothing concrete from MacKay, Raitt or Clement so party members are still in wait and see mode. It does give Chong, Bernier and Leitch a chance to get out ahead of the big names and sign up supporters and organizers which could make things more interesting down the road when the big names throw their hat into the ring. Will the present supporters of the declared candidates stay with them or drift to the bigger names? Will they stay with their present choice or move on a second ballot to one of the bigger names? Such is the fun of political leadership races.

Of course we did have Kevin O’Leary there to feed the media with his lines and promote himself. Whether or not he ever enters the race; all the exposure is good for his business as the more media exposure he gets the more interest there is in his funds. It is a win-win for O’Leary, even if just a distraction for the majority of the delegates. If O’Leary ever wants to get serious, he will soon find that it is not as easy a game as he thinks. It will be interesting to see if he listens to advice (which he is always telling budding entrepreneurs to do) or just shoots from the lip and plows blindly ahead.

Rona Ambrose did an excellent job and although delegates wisely voted to block attempts from a small group who wanted her to enter the leadership race, she should be thanked for her efforts as interim leader. The tribute to former leader Stephen Harper was as it should have been IE dignified and respectful and Harper’s address although brief, hit the mark.

Now it is onwards and forwards as the party comes together to elect a new leader and prepares for the next election. For all the doubters out there- remember 1968 and how Trudeaumania led to a sweeping victory of Pierre Elliot Trudeau (154 Liberals to 72 Conservatives) and how that was followed by his near defeat in the next election in 1972 by Robert Stanfield. In that election Trudeau only managed to win 109 seats to the Conservative 107 and Pierre Trudeau had to rely on the NDP under David Lewis to stay in power.

 In politics, no one is ever guaranteed a win.


To Staff Or Not To Staff

There has been much fuss about nothing recently over Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s remarks that she needs more staff.

If we look at her situation it probably is true and she may very well need extra staff to deal with the volume of requests and correspondence she receives.

What the Trudeau’s need to do is put in place a game plan around what type of events will be supported and then decide who is going to pay for the staff to make it work.

Anyone who has been in government or even opposition knows the number of requests for you to support a cause or appear at events is mind-boggling. No matter how much you want to help, time constraints make it impossible. Every MP, every minister, every Prime Minister and yes their spouse has to face this head on.

First prioritize your events- political and other. Outside of politics focus on a few key areas that mean a lot to you.

Accept that by declining a request you will disappoint some of the requesters and look at other ways to offer support. If you can’t do an event in person, offer a letter of support that can be read out or use the power of technology and offer to do a short video that can be played at the event.

Who pays for the staff is always the issue. There could be issues with MPs using their House of Commons budget, but nothing wrong with PMO paying for extra staff or the Liberal Party paying for the extra staff that Sophie Trudeau needs. The Trudeau’s will have to keep in mind that if staff costs come out of the PMO budget it is still taxpayer’s dollars and those costs are still open to political attack. However, if the Liberal Party pays for the extra staff it dilutes the attacks on the wife of the Prime Minister and allows her to meet her obligations. It is a simple solution.

The PMO correspondence unit can make sure every letter addressed to Sophie Trudeau gets an acknowledgement. Staff for Mrs. Trudeau can comb few the requests and prioritize them based on the above game plan. Those that make that first cut are then presented once a week to Mrs. Trudeau and the correspondence unit sends out the appropriate note.

As I said, it is a lot of fuss about nothing.




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: