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.
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:
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.
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.
I live in downtown Ottawa in the riding of Ottawa-Centre. The riding itself is a special one as it is populated by the workers the keep the gears turning of the very government that all Canadians voters elect. My neighbours are staffers from each federal political party (Bloc staffers know the rent is cheaper in Gatineau), bureaucrats, journalists and you wouldn’t even know the riding has any NDP inclination until you find Bank st.
Despite this, Ottawa-Centre will be a battleground during the next federal election. In recent history, the riding has been held by all three political parties (the PCs won it in 1979). While the Conservative candidate Keith Fountain lost by some 9,000 votes during the last election, he and the Green Party candidate David Chernushenko were the two major candidates that were able to raise their respective parties’ vote share while Dipper Paul Dewar (the current MP) and then-Liberal candidate Richard Mahoney lost overall party vote share from the previous 2004 election.
For the Conservatives, the strategy to win this riding would require splitting the vote among NDP-Green voters and demoralizing/converting Liberal votes. The current nominee of the Conservative Party Brian McGarry has good name recognition in the riding as his family have been prominent small-business owners in the riding for some time. The combination of the right factors and McGarry’s candidacy may just allow the Tories to challenge and win in the riding.
A key strategic element of the Conservative push in this riding has been effective use of ten-percenters. Since January, I have received not one but six of these mailings from this House of Commons program.
The Liberals have been railing against the Conservatives for sending out these partisan (perish the thought!) mailings from their House of Commons research group. As a party in perpetual opposition, the NDP has been quietly onside with the Conservatives in sending out these mailings as opposition parties (such as Conservatives themselves and their legacy parties) have needed to innovate in order to get their message out since traditional mainstream channels tend to project and focus upon the government’s message (or information about the government) as that which is newsworthy.
As I’ve received six of these ten-percenters since January, I imagine that Ottawa Centre is a target riding. This is compounded by the fact that other MPs from other ridings are legally using their ten-percenter quota to blanket this riding with information about the Conservative government’s agenda.
I do think that the messaging could be even more specific and strategic in this riding. Conservative ten-percenters in Ottawa Centre should question the NDP’s commitment to the environment and rhetorically ask who will keep Canada along the proper environmental path. If the Conservatives are not going to get left wing votes in Ottawa Centre, they should make sure that these votes are going into the most advantageous column. To win the riding, Conservatives need to challenge the NDP and get their base to move green. To best the Liberal voting total in Ottawa Centre, Conservatives need to do as they are doing elsewhere in the country; an effective Conservative campaign will not so much win on converting ardent Liberal partisans but rather by demoralizing them and have them ponder why they should get and and vote for a so-called leader that will not stand in the House of Commons and vote for them.