Will Professor Ignatieff make us go to summer school?

At the moment, the Prime Minister and Michael Ignatieff are meeting to discuss infrastructure funding, possible changes to EI eligibility and, as we’re quite sure, engaging in rational discourse.

Last week, the government released its second report on the status of the Economic Action Plan and Ignatieff told reporters that it was too serious to grade the government, yet he stated that it had “failed” yet Canadians “don’t want an election right now”. What is the state of our system? A student fails the course but gets a pass because the parents have already planned the summer vacation? And to torture the metaphor a little more, I ask, is Michael Ignatieff really advocating that while failing Conservatives, he allow Canadians qualify for a fully paid sabbatical after six weeks of work? The 45 day work year, set to be defended by Liberals on an election trail near you, surely will not cause a stampede of voters to the ballot box. This really cannot be Ignatieff’s plan.

So what is really going on here? Flashback one year to the hapless Stephane Dion going into the summer, the Prime Minister’s neutered foe who rubber-stamped every piece of legislation by heading up the abstaining opposition. There is chatter around town that Michael Ignatieff is following Dion in his indecisiveness, however, this may instead represent an element of political narcissism for professor Ignatieff. The shovels are in the ground, the money is leaving the federal treasury to build infrastructure projects all over this country and Michael Ignatieff tells everyone to wait; Iggy has an important decision to make. To threaten to plunge the country into its fourth election in five years (with a $1.2 Billion tab) just so the media doesn’t frame him as the second coming of Stephane shows that he wants to know that his opinion – whatever he finds it to be – is relevant. As for his pensive pondering, he spent enough time in university seminars musing about the prolix and banal, yet as he transitions from the theoretical to applied, Dr. Ignatieff is showing that he is finding it difficult to both suck and blow.

In his press conference yesterday, Ignatieff used soft words such as “replace confrontation with cooperation”, “we cannot allow ourselves to act irresponsibly”, “if the government needs to sit a little longer, so be it” , “the Liberal party accepts the need for deficit spending in tough times”, “we want to make parliament work for all Canadians”, “I just want to give a sign to the Prime Minister that I’m a reasonable person. If he has employment proposals that he wants to bring forward, he needs a little more time, let’s not let the arbitrary deadline of Friday the be the all and end all. Let’s keep this serene and calm and business-like” Do these sound like bellicose words? So, why the drama Dr. Ignatieff?

He supported the Conservative budget earlier this year, he voted for the Conservative changes to EI. The Conservative government is spending billions of dollars in an effort to stimulate the economy. Why is this about him?

Michael Ignatieff knows that Canadians want him to allow Parliament to work, but he pauses to let us all know that it will only do so after he’s scowled at our exams.

Absent Liberals – The video player

UPDATE: The code is now working. Copy and paste the code below.

Be sure to put this on your blog. Instructions are below.

I was browsing YouTube earlier this evening and came across some recent uploads by somebody messaging against Stephane Dion for instructing his party to sit on their hands during the last session of Parliament. Dion’s Liberals abstained 43 times and could have brought down Stephen Harper’s government with any of these skipped votes. The videos that I found were uploaded by a user called “AbsentLiberals” and I’m fairly certain that it’s an NDP war-room effort. I believe that the NDP campaign created these videos to emphasize the point that their party was the only national opposition party to stand against the government. The NDP is making the point during this campaign that the Liberals gave Harper a de facto majority because they allowed the passage of his agenda by abstaining from votes. Of course, if Dion had voted against the government, we would have been in an election long ago as the Conservative Prime Minister made most bills issues of confidence. I also think that these videos are a product of the NDP war-room because they are also provided in French. Most unofficial activists would make the videos in either French or English but not both (there are 43×2 videos). UPDATE: As I suspected, these videos are from the NDP war-room.

Despite this likely being an NDP production, the message is plain for Conservatives and their supporters too; these videos show that Stephane Dion does not show leadership.

Years ago, I wrote a video distribution technique for Blogging Tories television and I think that the same can be applied for these videos. I modified my BT-TV program to deploy these “Absent Liberals” videos easily on your websites whether you support the Conservatives, the NDP or perhaps you are a Liberal that doesn’t support Dion. Just copy and paste the code into your own blog’s sidebar to embed the “Absent Liberals” video player. Imagine the player embedded on hundreds of blogs both left and right.

Sidebar player

Large player

Stephane Dion suffers strategic communications leak

The Prime Minister recently announced a new set of by-elections to be held in early September. Stephane Dion, the Liberal leader, is facing renewed pressure to deliver during these contests and a number of observers have declared this to be a test of confidence in the man as quarterback of that party. If he fails in one or more ridings, Dion will face calls to step down. This comes after the announcement of the beleaguered Green Shift, a hail mary of a policy for Dion and commentators have noted that the policy will be the cornerstone of any future Liberal platform and will serve as a test run for this round of by-elections.

Therefore, it should be troubling for Dion to learn that there are members of his own political staff that are actively undermining the man at this critical time by leaking strategic communications that have landed right in my inbox. Take a look at this ten-percenter template that I received courtesy of a source at the Liberal Research Bureau.

Read this document on Scribd: greenshift

The document is a template for Liberal MPs to message on the Dion Liberal Green Shift. Dion’s staff sent along the Microsoft Publisher file of the document above. It doesn’t get more original than that from LRB. You can download the file here.

If you’re trying to find a silver lining in this by speculating that perhaps this was a brilliant strategic leak in order to get a Conservative blogger to spread Liberal policy for free, this also landed in my inbox courtesy of LRB:

Read this document on Scribd: greenshaft

It appears that some kids in LRB were having a bit of fun while their boss was away. The document also came in the form of a Microsoft Publisher file and you can download it here. The derivative version of the Liberal ten-percenter is a bit disturbing as it is insulting to francophones as Dion’s staffers mock his accent. There’s also a literary reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the name of the fictional candidate Simon Legree. I haven’t figured that one out yet (UPDATE: Simon Legree is a literary reference to greed probably referring to Dion’s tax shift as a money grab from Canadians). This spoof on the ten-percenter by LRB is disrespectful of Dion and is juvenile. The lit piece leak in its original design format and the forwarding of the derivative piece mocking Dion are evidence that there are members of Dion’s trusted staff that are undermining their leader at this critical time. If Dion has a poor showing in the upcoming by-elections, he may be asked to resign as Leader and some Liberal staffers may only be trying to hasten that exit.

We’re also seeing evidence of Dion being undermined in a recent blog posting critical of Dion’s team which was recently stomped down by Dion loyalists. The posting was deleted but the subsequent apology explains the sequence of events.

Also, on the Guelph Mercury blog today, we see a pattern of Liberals using name-calling to diminish their opponents. Most disturbing for Liberal partisans though is that some of their staffers are doing it to their leader as well.

During the 2005-2006 General Election, there was talk of a mole in the Liberal war-room leaking information to the media and to Conservative bloggers. At that time there was a Chretien faction and a Martin faction. The Liberal Party under Dion is so fractured that they emphasize unity (“stronger together”) to convince their factious partisans rather than swing voters.

UPDATE (8/1): Last night, I was called and invited to meet up with Sarah Bain, a senior communications officer in Dion’s office. Bain wanted to put the Liberal side of the story out there. We had a great chat, and while it would have been helpful for them for me to reveal my source, Bain was respectful of confidentiality and didn’t even ask. I asked her to email me a quote,

“The Publisher file of the Green Shift ten percenter was distributed twice in the normal manner in which all LRB products are distributed. It was e-mailed to an extensive mailing list including all MP offices, as well as other caucus and party officials using a mailer program. It was also posted in the LRB Intranet site to which all Liberal offices in the Parliament Precinct have access.

“These products are distributed as Publisher files so that Liberal offices can modify them to their own needs. The intention is that MPs can put their own pictures and individual message in the file to personalize it before submitting it to printing.”

What Bain is communicating here is that while the ten-percenter was produced by LRB, it met a wide distribution list across the Liberal party from LRB to OLO to MP and Senators offices to even party HQ. Therefore, Bain suggests the leak could have come from a variety of Liberal offices. The original ten-percenter was dated July 7th, 2008 and has been in internal Liberal distribution for three weeks. Though the file has been circulated among Liberal staff, my source was LRB.

Bain agreed that the second piece was childish and disrespectful of Dion and noted that the wide distribution of the original ten-percenter among staff meant that any disgruntled Liberal staffer could have made the derivative piece. This may be, and it could have been forwarded to LRB because my source of the first and second document were the same.

To her credit, Bain is broadening the list of suspects and therefore trying to diminish the severity of the leak; if the ten-percenter was in the hands of more staffers then the level of secrecy of the document goes down.

As for the second piece, I’m sure that it is quite disturbing for Liberals to see evidence of their staff undermining their leader.

The Death of Oily – the tragic premature demise of an almost Canadian icon

Oily, the talking oil spotIt was the first brillantly sunny pre-summer weekend of June. Joggers in Ottawa hit the river parkway and canal while sun-bathers converged on Parliament Hill. In an air-conditioned office on Queen street, Conservative Party officials were preparing to unleash the first volley of their new advertising campaign.

A few short weeks earlier, hapless and troubled Liberal leader Stephane Dion first mused about a new policy that MP Garth Turner would later – in a turnabout way – described as the sort of idea that drove the former sociology professor into politics years ago.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien recruited the then-unelected Mr. Dion into cabinet as intergovernmental affairs minister and following that, Canada’s environmental direction was later guided by Dion’s hand as environment minister. Tethering his ambition on recent popular interest in the topic of Global Warming, Dion and his supporters donned green scarves at the Liberal leadership convention in 2006 and effectively won the contest with this topic as a single issue campaign. For Dion, it was a calculated risk and when he secured the leadership of “Canada’s Natural Governing Party” – despite its recent rejection to opposition status – Mr. Dion probably thought he scored himself quite a coup. Unfortunately for him, a shrewd Conservative Party set to work soon after defining his visibly weak personality as weak leadership and Canadians started to associate the man with the cleverly crafted Conservative catchphrase “not a leader”.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Conservative strategists are facing an alternative line of attack from the opposition. Scandal is the order (rather, strategy) of the day for the Liberal Party. Labeled as untrustworthy after the very public sponsorship scandal, Liberal minds went to work after receiving a bit of a hint from Karlheinz Schreiber and Brian Mulroney. The former Progressive Conservative Prime Minister taught the Liberals that there is no shelf-life on unresolved scandal, but more importantly that the public spotlight on perceived dubious activity could harm Conservatives as it had done the Liberals. If the Liberal brand has a higher floor than that of the new Conservatives, framing all political parties as untrustworthy may just have Liberals coming out ahead (while at the same time setting everyone back). Chuck Cadman, Ian Brodie and NAFTA, and Maxime Bernier became key nodes on the Liberal strategic whiteboard as that party worked on degrading the key strength of the Conservative Prime Minister: trust and accountability.

The Liberals felt a new sense of energy after being demoralized by the constant barrage of attack against their leader. This was especially evident in daily question period when former Liberal leadership candidate Maurizio Bevilacqua rambled off expressive Italian tabloid headlines on the “scandalo” of Maxime Bernier that were dogging the PM on his European trip. A gang of OLO staffers and Liberal researchers showed up in the member’s gallery and held their sides as the Italian-Canadian MP made a great show of his question to the government.

The Liberal leader, however, still had his own problems. Facing a ‘save-the-furniture’ style election by elements within his own caucus – namely MPs loyal to Bob Rae – Dion promoted a new policy plank in his carbon tax. Later told by senior Liberal strategists that calling his plan a tax would turn off Canadians, Dion strode forward on the well-founded assumption that the only thing standing in the way of a Rae-Harper orchestrated defeat of the government, was a party-defining policy that could sustain the embattled leader through the summer. Environment played to one of Mr. Dion’s rare if wrongly perceived strengths and for the Liberal leader it will probably be his last playable hand. Going into a summer forecasted to be a scorcher too hot for even regular joggers along the canal, Mr. Dion may believe that the “green, don’t call it a carbon tax, shift” is his trump card.

In the meantime, Conservative insiders heard that Mr. Dion was set to unveil his carbon tax plan next Wednesday, just prior to the House rising after the spring session. In doing so, the professorial Liberal leader could define his plan outside of Parliament on the – ironic perhaps – propane-fueled BBQ circuit that politicians often take during the summer recess.

In focus groups and telephone-based market research, Conservative planners came to understand that a carbon tax in the abstract is a well-received concept to most Canadians. What they also found, however, that when the details of achieving such a policy objective are understood, a broad majority of Canadians don’t think of it as feasible. Words like “tax-shifting” and “revenue neutral” were panned and uncomfortably rejected by focus groups when polled and the general distrust of politicians regarding new tax became a palatable conclusion for Conservative strategists. Conservative-Liberal switchers, a group that holds victory for either party, was found to have a distrust for any politician with a plan for creative tax manipulation.

As they did before, the Conservatives moved to define the Liberal leader, however this time on his carbon tax, before Dion could do it himself. The party faced two decisions. On one hand, they could engage the Liberals in a debate on their carbon tax proposal, and on the other they could tap into the public’s well-grounded suspicion in creative tax schemes proposed by politicians. The Conservatives chose the latter. Using the specific terms of carbon taxation would be instrumental to the party’s strategy and this would not allow Dion to speak about it in general feel-good terms. Conservatives tasked themselves on warning Canadians of politicians promising new models of taxation. A key weakness for Dion in attracting swing votes that exist between Liberal and Conservative is that the Liberal leader is not viewed as a fiscally frugal Liberal and that he instead occupies the “tax and spend” left camp in the Liberal party. On trust numbers, Harper scores much higher than Dion on the issue of taxation. If Dion’s strength is in the environment, the Conservatives did well to frame this as a tax issue instead. From alluding to the then-promised temporary measure of income taxation to pay for the First World War to the recent McGuinty health premiums, Conservative messaging sought to enhance Canadian skepticism in Dion’s plan yet to be unveiled. Warning tape was streamed at the “willyoubetricked.ca” website the party built to compliment the campaign and scores of volunteers donned yellow shirts – yellow being the colour of warning or caution – to alert Canadians to what Conservatives claim would be Dion’s “tax on everything”. Indeed, the primary message of the campaign was caution underscored by the primary catchphrase “don’t be tricked”.

The party also signed a contract with Fuelcast, the company that runs the video screens at the gas pumps for very focused messaging. While representing less than 5% of their ad buy, the fuelcasting represented a unique angle to land coveted free advertising via earned media; no political party has ever used the gas pump video screens for political advertising and the unique nature of this advertising was a great news hook for the networks. Although the agreement unexpectedly fell through, the campaign earned increased exposure even in the negative attention that certain media outlets gave the ad spots as some reporters speculated that “Oily” (the talking oil spot in the fuelcast spots) was a deliberately engineered failure in order to get earned media.

Oily, as he’s been dubbed by reporters, was never intended to die. Though the Liberal response to the advertising was that such a campaign indicated that the Conservatives were in the pocket of big oil – in that the party purchased advertising on gas pumps, the irony is that the Fuelcast company eventually rejected their advertising citing that they didn’t want to be political. Oily was meant to be an eye catching, sort of in-your-face character to draw the attention of gas pumping consumers and the spot compliment the yellow warning colour of the campaign website. The willyoubetricked.ca website was meant to be a zany, humourous and interactive website that people could pass on to their friends.

Any successful campaign gets a lot of attention and it’s without dispute that this one did. A multi-faceted campaign that included the novelty (or promised novelty) of fuelcasting, an interactive website, a pedestrian literature push in yellow t-shirts and panel after panel of Conservative strategists warning Canadians not to be tricked by politicians promising crazy tax schemes. Surprisingly on Monday, while Conservative prodded Dion on redefining himself (after they had done so) on his carbon tax, Dion accepted the challenge and we bizarrely saw an opposition leader in fact responding rather than challenging. This suggests that the theory that Dion is desperate to cling to a medium-term campaign (rather than a snap election) to save himself as the leader of the Liberal Party.

So this summer, Dion will jump on a jet to visit all parts of Canada, flipping non-organic transited burgers on gas or charcoal grills telling people that he’s in a shifty mood when it comes to their taxes, the summer sun that Canadians will seek to avoid inside their cooled homes may prove to have too much disconnect when it comes to the tax they’ll pay on their gas, their groceries and their respite from the heat. For Conservatives, the party planted a successful seed of well-founded doubt among Canadians concerning Mr. Dion’s plan.

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.

Decoding Harper’s Political Strategy on Afghanistan

This article by Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail describing Defense Minister Peter MacKay’s comments on Afghanistan on CTV’s Question Period this past Sunday, left me a bit unsettled and confused.

OTTAWA — Canada has made it clear to its NATO allies that they cannot count on our troops to fight on the deadly battlefields of southern Afghanistan after February of 2009, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday.

“The signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February, 2009,” Mr. MacKay said in an interview on the CTV television program Question Period.

“Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that. The Afghan compact itself goes until 2011,” he said. “But the way the mission is currently configured, with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set.”

This is a clear step forward from the Prime Minister’s earlier assertion that a consensus in Parliament would be needed to extend the mission – in it’s current state – past February 2009.

So, what is going on here? Is this what it seems? Is this surrender by the Conservative government on a key conservative principle?

The more I thought about it, the more I started to think about this announcement in a strategic way.

So, here’s my prediction:

Afghanistan is going to be the wedge issue during the next election to take place when the government puts the mission to a vote in Parliament. The vote will fail, the opposition will indicate its majority intention to withdrawal from Kandahar and the government will fall, because Harper will make it a confidence vote.

Why? Numbers.

As it stands, 50% of Canadians support the current mission in Afghanistan while 50% of Canadians do not. Harper needs about 40% of the vote to get a majority government.

MacKay’s announcement on Sunday does a few things. First of all, it indicates an utmost respect for Parliament as the mission and extension will still go to a vote (as indicated in Clark’s article). Secondly, it makes the opposition put down their guns on the Afghanistan issue for a while (continuous shelling of the mission puts it in a weak position in the forum of Canadian opinion). The opposition looks foolish when continuing to whine about the issue when the government has indicated that the mission (in the current parliamentary climate) cannot continue past February 2009. Third, it allows the government to prepare behind the scenes to sell the mission. The governing party has an advantage over the opposition parties in that it has two forums to spread its message, the House and outside of it. By indicating that the government recognizes that it is unlikely to win the Afghanistan mission vote, this disarms the opposition from consistently bringing it up in the House. Meanwhile, the government (the Conservatives) aim to sell it as an issue campaign across the country.

While the government recognizes it is unlikely to win an extension in Afghanistan, the Conservative Party will still maintain the position that an extension is in Canada’s interests and will advance that position up to the vote. There is a bit of a dichotomy here: Minister MacKay concedes the realities of the government’s minority position on the policy, while the politics of Conservatives will continue to lobby for an extension. By playing government minister, MacKay disarms the House (because the House checks the government, not the Conservative Party).

The Afghanistan extension is a perfect wedge issue for Harper. Only the Conservatives and the NDP have a clear position on the issue and only one can form government. The Liberals are bitterly divided on the issue. Ignatieff supports the mission in Afghanistan and Rae has indicated a tough on terror position in the past. Dion’s position is weak, somewhat against but certainly not for the mission. In fact, he has flip-flopped so many times in the past on the issue of Afghanistan. Of course, this plays into the Conservative narrative of weak leadership regarding Dion. Both Ignatieff and Rae are looking to topple Dion after an election, but concerning an extension as far away as 2009, this might be a wide enough window for both Rae and Ignatieff to act sooner rather than later. Harper’s strategy is to both create both a stronger NDP and a Liberal Party bitterly divided.

What other issue creates these winning conditions?

Afghanistan is a perfect issue to rally the conservative base, a reluctant group that has become angry over income trusts and only came out to vote in their champions in the wake of the biggest corruption scandal in Canadian history.

Regarding Quebec, I’m starting to think that the media’s read on Quebec voting intention regarding Afghanistan are overblown. I think that more Quebeckers would get out to vote for the mission than get out and vote against it come election day. Quebec remains a puzzle though despite Harper’s continuous attention to that province.

Speaking of which, Harper has also taken hits among the base for increased spending. Where, however, has this government spent? Childcare cheques, the military and transfer payments (fiscal imbalance) have been the shifted spending priorities of Canada’s New Government. The latter of which should help buffer some of that anti-military sentiment that the Toronto press believes that exists so pervasively in la belle province.

Back to leadership, this issue favours Harper in an electoral footing. Because he has a better control of the timing of an election, he will obviously define a ballot issue that favours his government and personal leadership. Afghanistan is a red meat issue while the environment is assorted mixed greens. Defining the election on Afghanistan favours Harper’s strong grizzle-laden leadership style, while the weaker Dion will be left sitting in vinaigrette. Harper is not going to willingly contrast himself in an election on any other issue. The only thing green that the Conservative Prime Minister hopes to talk about during the election is Dion’s leadership and that Dion “doesn’t have what it takes”, “isn’t a leader” etc.

Conservatives will also ask, “If Dion is a weak leader with an ambiguous stance on Afghanistan, is he ready to be Prime Minister?”

I believe that Conservative strategists are counting on a majority coming from NDP gains (hoping to catch that unambiguous 50% against the mission) and the bottom falling out on the Liberal party on Afghanistan and Dion’s leadership.

Harpers and Dions contrasted

In Chatelaine’s July magazine, the home lives of the Harpers and Krieber-Dions are both featured.

It is interesting to see the differences between the two families and what it those differences may mean to the much sought-after “ordinary” Canadian voter.

Of course, a key element of the Conservative message is family. Targeted tax relief for families that have kids in sports and a child-care tax credit are among the policies emphasized by the party to capture this key demographic. The Harpers are the First Family of Canada, and every time you check in with them, they become more and more like the family down the street (or even your own).

Conversely, the key message from the Dion camp has been the environment. The issue, with greenhouse gases, climate change, and radiative forcing seems a bit more abstract than the very tangential concept of family. The magazine even captures the extent to which no opportunity is lost to push the environmental message to the ordinary Canadian. Here’s Dion’s wife: Janine Krieber from the Chateleine article,

It was during these teenage years that Krieber took up acting, piano (she still plays) and painting. “With acrylics today – they’re environmentally friendly,” she quips.

The Conservatives will likely try and contrast the Harpers and Dions in the role of Canada’s first family and will portray the Harpers (genuinely) as traditional, nuclear and ordinary.

Consider this excerpt from the same issue:

“I’m happy with my life,” says Laureen of being Canada’s first wife … “but I don’t have the urge to see myself on the cover of a magazine. It’s just not my thing.” And she insists that she’s not the power behind the man. “That’s the story people want,” she says. “No, not true.”

Contrast this with the Dion article found a few pages over:

Dion may be the leader of the opposition, but Krieber is the CEO of Krieber-Dion Inc. She does the banking, writes the cheques, keeps the books, files the taxes and buys all of his clothes – even his underwear. … “He’s colour-blind. You don’t leave him in a house alone.” … It’s comments like this that have backroom Liberals shaking their heads. Says one, “Many suspect she controls him. She reads his briefing notes. He takes her advice and brings it back to staffers. She’s the one people need to go to in order to get to him. Who are people reporting to?” There’s even a suggestion circulating in Ottawa that Dion is saving a riding for his wife in the next election.

Ordinary seems to be the operating strategy of the Harpers; Ben and Rachel are the ordinary kids in hockey and gymnastics, Stephen and Laureen are such an ordinary couple that one or the other may forget an anniversary, similar to the story of any other ordinary Canadian couple. They’re just so darn ordinary those Harpers! Indeed, their ordinary nature has helped shirk their “scary/hidden agenda” characterization. However, accounts of Dion – such as the one above – simply plays into the Conservative narrative that “Stéphane Dion is not a leader”.

Mrs. Krieber is, to her credit, quite accomplished with complex sociological and academic views on terrorism and how it is driven by ideological radicals. However, with respect to “ordinary” Canadians, voters may find it more difficult to see themselves in the Dion-Kriebers than in the Harpers. Perhaps the last names of the two women are indicative as well to mainstream Canadian appeal. Mrs. Harper used to be Laureen Teskey before she famously stated “call me Mrs. Harper” after moving into 24 Sussex. However, Mrs. (Ms.?) Krieber remains Mrs. Krieber. Does the maiden name play with ordinary Canadians? The Harpers are banking that it doesn’t.

Conservatives will have a lot of success portraying Mr. and Mrs. Harper as the ordinary Canadian family. Mr. Harper is an ordinary guy, with ordinary hobbies (hockey) with ordinary kids and some ordinary cats. The party will likely be successful because, by definition, the “typical” person is “ordinary” and can therefore relate.

Can the Liberals make Dion an ordinary guy? Or is “ordinary” an inherent trait possessed by people like the Harpers (and a large number of Canadians).

UPDATE: Some people have expressed dismay that I would label the Harper family as more “ordinary” than the Dion-Kriebers. I do not attach these labels as a means of passing moral judgment on any familial arrangement, but rather note “ordinary” as the meaty part of a normal population distribution. This is a commentary on political strategy without endorsement (it is rather a deconstruction). In real terms, I do not consider the maiden name to be an issue for me personally (this was never a post about my own preferences), however, I merely note that it may have some effect on “ordinary” in an electoral sense since since a large proportion abandons the maiden name upon getting married. Also, when deeming a person as “ordinary”, this is by no means a compliment. Having a PhD for example would do much to disqualify somebody as “ordinary”. Such an accomplishment is rather “extraordinary” (ie. rare). The same praise could be given to a modern woman that keeps her maiden name. HOWEVER, in a statistical sense, women that keep their maiden names and anyone that has a PhD are somewhat extraordinary and ordinary people may not see much of themselves within these types of people. As I have noted above, it may indeed be the strategy of the Conservatives to portray Harper to be as ordinary as possible in order to appeal to the majority of the population that is “ordinary” (by statistical definition). This sort of analysis is nothing new in politics and the same argument has been applied to politicians from John Kerry to Andre Boisclair. Both men did not reside within the “ordinary” range in many respects and this was likely a detriment to their electoral success because they couldn’t connect (ie. voters may not have been able to relate). Again, this is not a commentary on whether or not the electorate is at fault for behaving this way, this is merely an observation and dispassionate analysis of strategy as it relates to demographics.

Here’s such a normal population distribution.

pop-dist.jpg

It can represent a variety of population characteristics that are normally distributed from IQ to marks of a particular English class to average weight in kg.

Since, as illustrated by the distribution, most people are in the ordinary range for a variety of traits that can be represented this way, Harper may do well to appeal to these people by being like them in as many ways as possible (and to find himself within the same range). In many ways, he already is. In other population distributions that are not normally distributed, it is arguably advantageous for Harper to find himself in the most heavily populated proportion of the distribution.

UPDATE: Due to the overwhelming opinion generated concerning this post (some supportive, a lot of it angry) I wanted to measure the opinion and determine what went wrong. Most people seem to still seem to be hung up on “ordinary” (ie. “how can you say I’m not ordinary, I feel pretty damn ordinary thank you very much”). Perhaps I will try one last time to explain: in a purely statistical sense, “John” is a more ordinary name than “Tim” because a larger proportion of the population is named John. It’s not to say that Tim isn’t “ordinary” per se, just that there are more Johns than Tims and thus Johns are more common/ordinary. Perhaps there should have been less emphasis on the dichotomy ordinary/not ordinary and more of a focus on degrees of more and less. And that’s as far as I can break that down. Harper is a more ordinary character than Dion because his traits are common to more of the population than Dion. Again, no moral judgment there… sometimes it’s advantageous to be less ordinary, sometimes it’s not. My thesis is that at some level people will elect leaders that reflect them. This thesis is actually supported by this political science research article.

Moving on…

I think that this post actually went south when I referenced maiden names and the propensity of a woman keeping them/losing them as a measure of more ordinary or less ordinary. Of course, this was meant to be a short reference to another example to support the overall thesis, but I’ve found that more people have become concerned by the issue than any other I’ve raised in this post. After I published this post, I ran it by a left-wing feminist friend of mine who works for the MSM (yes, they do exist) in Ottawa. While she disagreed with the thesis (see above), she did not find the post to be offensive to her in any way. In fact, she agreed that it was a dispassionate academic argument on a perfectly legitimate debate that has been going on in the “image” field of politics for quite some time. After hanging out with some of my other women friends tonight (all right-wing), I polled them. Half (2) thought that the writing was straight forward and well-explained, the other two thought that the post might be problematic. One explained that an issue such as retention of one’s maiden name after marriage is viewed as empowering to some women and that it’s generally a domain that men ought to tread lightly (if at all). Point taken and understood! So, I’d like to apologize to anyone that I’ve offended with respect to discussing the degree of “ordinary” in keeping one’s maiden name. I found myself out of my depth (and league!) In fact, I’ve learned a couple of facts including the fact that most women in Quebec keep their maiden name. I tried to weave the maiden name topic into my overall thesis but it fell flat. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have included it. From a few personal communications via email, I know that I have significantly offended a couple of people. My post was never meant to stir such emotion. For that I am so very sorry. For the record though, I should state that as a vocal promoter of other aspects of liberty, I fully support a woman’s choice with respect to choosing her last name in marriage.