John McCain’s party

Last night, I sat a few rows behind elected delegates on the floor at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota where Senator John McCain accepted his party’s nomination for President of the United States.

In all, the night was somewhat less charged than the previous; the night that featured Governor Sarah Palin saw speeches from Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and the Alaskan Governor herself. Last night featured a handful of moderately important senators and governors, but the speech by Cindy McCain who would be first lady sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. It nearly put me to sleep. Mrs. McCain clutched the microphone tightly with both hands and read her speech awkwardly from teleprompters telling the audience about her warm feelings about her husband. McCain ran in 2000 and had an extended run, obviously in this primary season, yet Cindy McCain is still not ready for prime time.

John McCain’s speech was direct and outlined his case for President. His record of military service and sacrifice for country is incomparable, he says, to that of the “community organizer” from Chicago.

For some time, I was confused by the McCain campaign’s lack of ability, or want, to match Barack Obama’s brilliant and attention-gathering campaign. Why was McCain not responding directly with massive rallies, trans-Atlantic trips, and buzz-generating speeches? Was it a factor of the campaign’s failure to reach voters? Perhaps. But, I think that the McCain campaign may have had a strategy of letting Obama’s star burn bright while they would sustain and build their campaign reliably and with a moderate tone. Why would they do this? I think that John McCain’s campaign did this purposefully to allow the election to become a referendum on Obama. If Obama got more attention, the question would be “is this the change we’re looking for and do we take a chance on him”. The difference in experience between Obama and McCain is striking and therefore when the ballot question has been defined, McCain is able to step in to answer the specific question they intended to shape on Barack Obama.

In my opinion, the most effective lines from McCain’s speech were:

“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it not just for the many comforts of life here. I loved it for its decency; for its faith in the wisdom, justice and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place, but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again. I wasn’t my own man anymore. I was my country’s.

“I’m not running for president because I think I’m blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save our country in its hour of need. My country saved me. My country saved me, and I cannot forget it. And I will fight for her for as long as I draw breath, so help me God.”

The speech ended using a method that caused a crescendo of applause for the Senator:

“I’m going to fight for my cause every day as your President. I’m going to fight to make sure every American has every reason to thank God, as I thank Him: that I’m an American, a proud citizen of the greatest country on earth, and with hard work, strong faith and a little courage, great things are always within our reach.”

crowd rises to their feet and applauds.

“Fight with me.”

louder

“Fight with me.”

almost literally says “louder”

“Fight for what’s right for our country.”

“Fight” is an action word that evokes a call to action and a sense that McCain and the crowd are doing this together.

“Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.”

Each “fight for” line enunciates values important to Republicans and to those who can put McCain over the top in November and elect him President in November.

“Fight for our children’s future.”

“Fight for justice and opportunity for all.”

“Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.”

“Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America”

Fight, now stand up. Literally stand up. Cheering louder.

“Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight.”

Elections are about engagement for participating in making a change that one can believe in. Each “stand up” emphasized with pause to get the crowd to get even louder and build excitement.

“Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.”

Message of unity and common purpose in order to act together to elect McCain.

“Thank you, and God Bless you.”

Here are some of my photos from McCain’s speech last night:

Being a non-partisan international observer of the process was still quite exciting. Americans do these events and speeches like nobody else. Barack Obama addressed a stadium of 80,000 in Denver and both racked in millions of viewers. McCain, however, had a slight edge in TV viewership.

Stephen Harper channeling US Presidents?

Stephen Harper on the economy today in the Northwest Territories:

“Somebody said a recession is when people start losing their jobs, and when your neighbour loses his job. There are job losses, but overall employment is pretty stable”

That somebody the Prime Minister refers to was former US President Ronald Reagan during the 1980 Presidential campaign:

“A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.”

And remember the Conservative line?:

“The Conservative Party supports Canadians that work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules”

Thank Bill Clinton:

“My tax cut plan will give families a $500 per child tax credit. The congressional plan denies the child credit to up to 4.8 million families who make less than $30,000 a year. But these families work hard, pay their taxes, and play by the rules.”

Kory Teneycke is Stephen Harper’s new Director of Communications

Congratulations to Kory and thank you for taking up the cost of the job. A former lobbyist, Teneycke is now subject to future lobbying restrictions of the Federal Accountability Act. Though with this cost comes greater personal honour of serving Canadians.

Today the news hit the wire: Kory Teneycke is the new director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office.

In Langevin, I’ve heard that new chief of staff Guy Giorno is telling communications staff that the theme from now until the writ is “be political”. As the new director of communications, Teneycke will assume this role of actively building positive political momentum in the messaging of the government, something that was somewhat muted under the former director.

Under Sandra Buckler, the communications strategy seemed to be more of a shield; the former D.Comm. was effective in circling the wagons closely and the government only messaged to mitigate damage or give a basic understanding of its agenda.

Under Teneycke, I’ve come to understand that the strategy will be more of a sword. The communications strategy of the Teneycke comms shoppe will be proactive in its approach, it will get ahead of message and set the political tone from the Conservative government’s perspective.

Sandra Buckler resigns as Director of Communications

Sandra Buckler, Stephen Harper\'s Director of CommunicationsToday, Sandra Buckler informed her friends and colleagues that she’ll be leaving the Prime Minister’s office as Director of Communications.

Buckler started with the PMO shortly after the Conservatives took power in February 2006 and has served the PM for 28 months. She served in the Conservative war-room during the election and was one of the most effective communicators during that time. Her skills impressed Stephen Harper and the Prime-Minister-elect hired her on as his Comms boss.

In her role as one of Harper’s senior advisers, she often butted heads with members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery as the Prime Minister sought to define his communications style as disciplined and focused in contrast to Paul Martin’s frantic and chaotic style. Her departure comes as the PM’s new chief of staff Guy Giorno takes the helm in Langevin.

A moderate shuffle among senior staff is expected under the new boss and Buckler’s departure comes after two and one half years in government. The departure of Harper’s departing chief of staff Ian Brodie indicates a major reconfiguration has been in the works at the highest levels of government and Giorno and the new DComm will seek to put their own mark on upper management.

Sandra has earned a well-deserved rest. Best wishes and a job well done.

Many Liberal hands make light work at SHAMBA

Since news about apparent Liberal links to the SHAMBA space first broke here last week, Canwest has written about the story and included a denial and excuse from former Liberal leadership contestant Gerard Kennedy,

Kennedy, however, says the fundraising venue was completely paid for in a transaction with GlobAlive Communications Corp, a telecommunications company that started the Shamba foundation.

He said the invitation incorrectly identified the venue as the charitable foundation, creating the confusion.

Kennedy said the only connection with the SHAMBA foundation was that the space has become associated with the charity because the group uses it.

He said GlobAlive rents its spaces – including that site – commercially to both charities and private users.

“It certainly smells like a desperate kind of attempt by the Conservatives,” Kennedy told Canwest News Service on Sunday night.

Desperation? I imagine that conservatives like myself, and indeed, I’m certain that most everyday non-Liberal-membership-card-holding Canadians, are concerned about the equal application of the rules concerning partisan fundraising so that it is done above board. Kennedy, as Globalive’s PR people did when they called on Friday, blamed erroneous Facebook promotion of the event. Later, the official registration form for the SHAMBA/Kennedy event surfaced making the excuse harder to believe.

Today, the Conservative Party put out the following release linking SHAMBA to another potential partisan Liberal fundraiser involving Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty,

NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 3, 2008

CONSERVATIVES SUBMIT NEW INFORMATION TO CRA ABOUT SHAMBA-LIBERAL TIES

Liberals must come clean about fundraising practices

OTTAWA – The Conservative Party today asked the Canada Revenue Agency’s charities directorate to investigate another potential partisan Liberal fundraiser held at the SHAMBA Foundation in downtown Toronto. SHAMBA is headed by Anthony Lacavera, a prominent Liberal donor who has contributed in excess of $4,700 to Liberal Gerard Kennedy over the past 2 years.

Conservatives have learned that on August 16, 2007, the SHAMBA Foundation hosted a $500 per person fundraiser for the Ontario Liberal Party. The fundraiser featured an appearance by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. According to the Canada Revenue Agency, registered charities such as SHAMBA are not permitted to directly or indirectly involve themselves in partisan political activities.

“A registered charity cannot be created for a political purpose and cannot be involved in partisan political activities. A political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.” (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tax/charities/operating/activities/other-e.html#pol)

This new information about partisan Liberal fundraising at SHAMBA comes on the heels of information released June 1, 2008 which revealed that SHAMBA recently hosted a $250 per person fundraiser for federal Liberal intergovernmental affairs critic Gerard Kennedy. According to documents posted on the Liberal Party’s website, the Kennedy fundraiser was identified as a “Political Ideals Celebration” and the registration form for the event was co-branded with Liberal Party and SHAMBA Foundation brand identities.

Conservatives have already written to both Elections Canada and the Canada Revenue Agency to investigate the Kennedy fundraiser.

Given the SHAMBA Foundation’s raison d’etre is to provide charities with no-cost event space and negotiated rates on food and beverage, Conservatives want to ensure that Kennedy did not violate Elections Canada’s rules by receiving an illegal non-monetary contribution from the Foundation.

“A non-monetary contribution is the commercial value of a service or of property or the use of property or money, with the exception of volunteer labour, provided without charge or at less than commercial value.” The Elections Canada Handbook for Leadership Contestants, Their Financial Agents, and Auditors http://www.elections.ca/pol/lea/EC20194_c2_e.pdf) (Page 15)

To date, neither SHAMBA, nor the Kennedy campaign, have disclosed:

· The original contract for the event;

· The “commercial rates” supposedly paid for use of the SHAMBA space as well as the food and beverage sold/consumed at the event; or

· Any information that could assure Canadians that terms of the contract for the event were not altered after the appropriateness of the fundraiser was questioned on the was questioned by blogger Stephen Taylor on May 28, 2008. (http://www.stephentaylor.ca/2008/05/does-the-shamba-foundation-risk-losing-its-charitable-status/)

“We need answers from both Liberal candidate Gerard Kennedy and Liberal donor Anthony Lacavera about their partisan Liberal fundraising,” said Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro.

– 30 –

For further information please contact (613) 755-2000

When Globalive’s PR people called me on Friday, I noted the firm’s name and offered to post it to give them credit for doing their job (cleaning up a mess). They said that it wasn’t necessary and that I could just say that Globalive’s PR people contacted me. However, I didn’t put it together at the time but Narrative – a company owned by Bensimon Byrne – made the call of behalf of Globalive/SHAMBA. Bensimon Byrne was the firm contracted to make Liberal Party attack ads during the 2004 and 2006 campaign. The ads (especially the aircraft carrier/teenage girl abortion/disintegrating flag spot) was a particularly – “desperate kind of attempt” – as Gerard Kennedy might say.

When a political fundraiser titled Political Ideals Celebration is held on space that is the raison d’être of a charitable organization and it is billed in this way, alarm bells go off. Did the head of the SHAMBA foundation give permission for the organization’s branding to be used along side that of the Liberal Party, of Gerard Kennedy? Presumably, the head of SHAMBA would have seen the registration form. Being the head of a charitable organization, did he make attempts to change the branding of the event?

According to this article in Business Edge News Magazine,

Asked about the amount of money Globalive invested in Shamba, Lacavera described it as “sizable” and reluctantly put it “well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” adding that it would likely cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to rent out a similar venue for an event.

If Kennedy paid fair market value for the space, did it cost him “tens of thousands of dollars”?

“Controversial” civil rights

In every struggle for civil rights, there is controversy. By its very definition, a right implies not permissibility, but rather that permissiveness is not only inherently offensive to the concept of rights, but that this frame is at the root cause of the struggle. When one has the right, it is without question.

Controversy has existed in every struggle for human rights, for without controversy there is no struggle and without struggle there is no assertion of rights.

In the fight for racial and gender equality there has been controversy. In the struggle for equality in sexual orientation, there has been controversy. For those fighting for reproductive choice and those fighting for the right to life there has been controversy.

If controversy is definitively intertwined with the fight for any civil right, isn’t it redundant to say?

In fact, when it is used selectively for some rights struggles versus others is there a values judgment and a betrayal of impartiality to one side of a rights debate versus the other?

Consider CTV’s eulogy of Charlton Heston:

“Now to the death of Charlton Heston. As an actor, he parted the Red Sea, painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, won a chariot race and survived an earthquake. But his most controversial role was played off-screen lobbying for gun rights as president of the National Rifle Association.”

Canadian news reports thankfully would not do Martin Luther King Jr. disservice and would not describe him playing a “controversial role” for civil rights, nor would they describe the Famous Five’s role as “controversial” when they asked the Supreme Court of Canada, “are women persons?” The fight for free speech has caused controversy, yet no self-respecting Canadian journalist would selectively describe such a struggle as “controversial”.

Since all rights struggles are controversial, why do some merit the qualifying (and effectively disqualifying) label?

On naming and dealing with scandal

As some of the air has been taken out of the so-called “Cadscam”, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick look at which communications goals were achieved by how this “scandal” was named and then let’s investigate how other scandals get their names. Further, I want to take a look at how the Conservatives are dealing with these issues during their minority government.

It seems as though every scandal that emerges in the U.S. gets the -gate suffix after the famous burglary of the DNC headquarters at the hotel which came to provide inspiration for the name. Since Watergate, we’ve seen lexicographic laziness as subsequent scandals relied on the formula by which the subject of the scandal became the root of the scandal name followed by “gate”. Wikipedia has a list of scandals based on this modèle-de-mot.

In Canada, we famously have watched the progression of “Adscam” from start to finish. Andrew Coyne — then a columnist at the National Post and now a senior editor at Maclean’s — gave the moniker to the sponsorship scandal. The scandal coiner (sorry) originally cited that he wanted to avoid the familiar -gate standby and he came to rest on a derivation of Abscam, a decades-old American political scandal that netted the convictions of a number of elected officials. Adscam, however, still registers zero on political prosecutions.

NAFTA-gate is so unfortunately named because the scandal — although up in Canada, we desperately try to claim some outrage too — is rooted in U.S. politics. If the leak was anything beyond tangential, we may have had the right to name it NAFTAscam, or Obamaramascama, but we are only secondary characters in the drama at it now simmers south of our southern border. An enterprising tech entrepreneur should immediately go and register a number of possible iteration of -gate.com and -scam.ca to cash in on the mania. As the official opposition is awol in Canada, there’ll be a scandal every week as Dion and co. focus on character assassination rather than policy opposition. Bring on Harperscam, Senatescam, and Partisanscam! In the U.S., while it is surprising to see a scandal based upon policy rather than sex, we still may see -gates reminiscent of Lewinskygate as ex-lovers and past trysts are brought to the fore (we’ve already seen a McCain sex scandal resurface that was fresh 8 years ago during the 2000 campaign).

It is interesting to note that “Cadscam” originally emerged from the Ottawa press. With Adscam so recent, it’s not entirely surprising to see this name stick. However, it is a double-edged sword for those who would carelessly wield it to damage the Conservatives. The advantage of “Cadscam” for the Liberals is that it diminishes the branding of their own scandal by creating a “politicians are all the same” way of thinking among the general public. However, the very use of the name is a constant reminder of their own scandal which ultimately brought their 13-year reign to an end. Yet, on sum I would say that it is to the Liberals’ net advantage to use the “Cadscam” name for one of the main Conservative advantages has been that they have framed themselves as the team that was elected to ‘clean up Ottawa’ and they told the electorate that ‘a new era of accountability was upon us’.

If accountability represents one pillar of this Conservative administration, this scandal has Conservatives worried because it also strikes at the very base of the other pillar: leadership. As Dona Cadman has cleared Conservative leader Stephen Harper from involvement, we can understand that perception is everything in politics and as the Conservatives clean up this mess, we see that timing and credibility are the primary factors for damage control. Of course, another key element that we have seen is pushback. Harper’s pending lawsuit against Dion is evidence of this.

Some have questioned the Prime Minister’s lack of substantive enunciation on the topic and say that he should have come forward right away to clear the air and answer any questions. Since the allegations were based on old and second-hand information, what the Prime Minister’s strategy continues to be is one that doesn’t give the intense spotlight of his office to a scandal that he cannot begin to define in his own terms. In contrast, on “NAFTA-gate”, the Prime Minister has put the full resources of his government on determining the source of the leak which impaired Obama in the Ohio primary. Some say that the PM has changed the channel on “Cadscam”, and whether or not this was deliberate on the his part, this is indeed what has happened. NAFTA-gate, as far as a news story goes, has much more momentum, involves more players, and does not have any heavy legal consequences for the Prime Minister and his team. It’s an embarrassing scandal to be sure, however, it is not one that is likely to change voter intention in the next Canadian federal election. As Canadians, I think we’re just happy that we heard our names mentioned on American TV.

If we take a substantive look at both “scandals”, the so-called “Cadscam” smells bad, but in the end it hasn’t got any legs: the three people at the centre of the allegations all denied a deal (Cadman included) and anything else is completely speculative. Unless Dion has a smoking gun, the only factor that will continue to define the story is Harper’s libel suit against the oppo leader. The Liberals might continue their pressure in the House’s ethics committee, however, they should be mindful that there is a point to be made, backed up by an easily built narrative, that the Liberals are on a witch-hunt and that they have tried to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks. On “NAFTA-gate”, there are too many speculative details for this to continue beyond the continued policy-bereft warbling of Dion in the House.

If all else fails, the Conservatives should unveil what Dion would gladly term the “hidden agenda” and dare the opposition to debate on real policy rather than trumped-up scandal.

He said what?

Do you think it’s easy to get re-elected? Dion’s greatest liability is himself.

“I think a responsible secessionist leader should not rush to a referendum, should first build strong support, a clear majority for separation and once it’s done it’s time to go to a referendum.” — Liberal leader Stephane Dion

Here’s the difference between what is academically true and what is politically wrong.

[link]

The Harper Government

In political communications, an objective of prominent important is framing your political opponent(s). For example, the Conservatives have seized upon Stephane Dion, just over a year ago the new leader of the opposition and crafted a public persona for the man before he had a chance to do so himself. The Conservatives introduced Canadians to Stephane Dion rather than allowing Dion to define his own leadership. Now, even when you prompt an Ottawa reporter to fill in the blank: Stephane Dion _________, the response that you’ll inevitably get is “is not a leader”. For the more Liberal-sympathetic members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery it helps if you mimic the timbre and cadence of the narrator in the now infamous ads.

One of the classic methods of defining one’s opponent is personification (either by emphasizing or diminishing its importance). In favourable media reports on a positive event, headlines will personify accomplish while when bad news happens a favourable headline writers will often spread responsibility thin. For example, if the Conservative government announced that it was to send the coast guard to rescue a sinking ship of orphans, the National Post might trumpet, “Harper acts to save children” while the Globe and Mail might report “Ottawa approves watercraft extraction”. In a situation where a negative event occurs, the favourable press might write “Ottawa spending at record level” where an unfavourable paper might publish “Harper government out of control”. Negative messengers try to personify the blame and thinly distribute the plaudits while positive messaging personifies the kudos and distributes the blame. After all, it is easy to demonize one person rather than a collective such as a party, or, even more abstract, the city where the federal government sits.

Moving along this logic, the opposition parties in the current Parliament have sought to sharpen their criticism on one focal point: Stephen Harper. Thus, they reason, it is more effective to blame “The Harper government” than “The Conservative government” or “Ottawa” (opposition MPs are part of “Ottawa” too, in the cynical and literal sense of the term/location). However, polls on the Harper and his party are showing that the Prime Minister frequently polls higher than his party; Canadians are more comfortable and warm to the concept of “Harper” than they are “Conservative”. This may be attributed to a few factors such as the transcendence of the Prime Ministership beyond the concept of party. “Harper government” may actually be a redundant phrase to some people, synonymous with “the Prime Minister’s government”. The “Harper government” is therefore somewhat inert in its effectiveness as messaging for the opposition.

The term “Conservative”, however, is a term with which people may or may not self-identify. Since it is the weaker of the two terms (Harper being the stronger), it is difficult for opposition parties to personify the negative and take advantage of this weaker brand.

The Liberal Party on the other hand has a stronger brand (the Liberal Party) than the personification of it (Stephane Dion). This plays to the Conservatives favour as they can both personify the negative and use the weaker brand at the same time to emphasize their message.

Canada’s New Government

Today, this blogger has learned that the Conservative government will be transitioning away from the use of “Canada’s New Government” and towards new branding starting with the Throne Speech tomorrow.

The CNG branding was used to distinguish new direction and a new perception of government as the Conservatives wanted to distance themselves from the previous administrations that had been plagued by the sponsorship scandal and allegations of corruption. The Liberals had been in power for 13 years and the Conservatives wanted to establish some Canadian branding exclusive from the co-opting of Canadian icons that had been done so successfully by the Liberals over last few decades.

And now, the Conservative are dropping “New” from “Canada’s New Government”. Will Canada’s New Democratic Party follow suit?