By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 5, 2013 - 0 Comments
Mr. Harper’s party wants him to grow a bigger, more durable long-term coalition, one that attracts more women, more urban, and more centrist voters. His assurances that the question of abortion will not be re-opened are not incidental; they a foundation stone of this effort. In that sense, paradoxically, last week’s muzzle debate was probably not harmful to his interests.
Still, the cumulative effect of too much message management is a weaker, less vibrant political system, and change would be welcome. Whether or not you share Mark Warawa’s views on abortion, who wants a Parliament where he has no ability to state them?
Chris Selley considers the way forward.
How did we get here? In a column in the Ottawa Citizen this week, William Watson proposed that it’s simply our own fault: Modern Canadian journalism goes haywire at any deviation from the “Toronto media mainstream” — even when a party leader makes it clear that the deviation represents only the opinion of one backbencher. Alberta’s Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith tried the big-tent approach when a pastor candidate expressed Biblically inspired negative views on homosexuality; it didn’t go so well; now she demands obedience just like everyone else. Leaders must be “dictatorial,” said Mr. Watson, or perish.
I don’t buy it. What Canada needs, first of all, are leaders who are willing to respect their legislatures and to articulate a defence of their most basic procedures. And second of all, they need leaders with enough charisma and perspicacity simply to dismiss shrieky news reports and opposition hysterics. The ability to scoff or laugh off silly controversies is a huge political asset, and in this hyperbolic age a rare one. Mr. Harper certainly doesn’t have it.
Here is what I wrote in response to William Watson’s column.
Meanwhile, the riding associations of some of the Conservative backbenchers involved seem supportive.
New Brunswick Southwest MP John Williamson, who on March 28 backed Warawa’s right to speak, also seems to have support from his local riding group. “I think he’s doing a wonderful job,” said Lynn Thornton, president of the New Brunswick Southwest electoral district association. “There are certain rights that everyone has and he’s speaking up for that right.”
“I think it’s a great thing,” said Doug Williams, vice-president of the New Brunswick Southwest EDA.
As a general principle, I imagine voters would generally prefer MPs who possessed an ability for independent thought. Whether voters would necessarily support those expressions of independent thought would obviously depend on the thought expressed and there remains the support a political party could withhold from a candidate and the difficulty an independent candidate has in getting elected. (How many of even the most admirable members of Parliament would have struggled to get elected without a party affiliation?) But the hope here is that more expressions of independent thought—and more space for independent thought—might make the individual candidate and MP a more relevant factor, not simply in Parliament, but also, ultimately, to voters.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 8, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Last night’s At Issue panel.
I’m not sure there’s anything I can add that I haven’t already written over the last two years.
Here is what I wrote last week about one particularly silly question and here and here is what I wrote this week about another. Here is what I wrote this week about what Justin Trudeau says he’d do. And here and here is what I wrote about what Brent Rathgeber has had to say.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 11:36 AM - 0 Comments
Bruce Anderson pans Justin Trudeau’s speech.
The most interesting part of this speech may have come when Mr. Trudeau asked voters last night to trust him, trust him like they would trust a neighbour with their spare key. I don’t know about you, but of my nearest 10 neighbours, there are few I would trust with my spare key, and I trust them because they let me know more about the kind of people they are than Justin Trudeau seemed willing, or perhaps able, to do last night.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 10, 2012 at 6:32 PM - 0 Comments
Bruce Anderson figures the Conservatives need to do a better job of explaining themselves.
Critically, Mr. Clinton’s partisanship seemed rooted in his argument, not in his DNA: a difference voters notice intuitively. Canadian Conservatives would do better if they put more emphasis on being better “explainers,” and worked to shed, rather than reinforce, the suspicion that they are in politics because they hate people in other parties.
Many (not all) Conservative ministers and MPs often seem forced to utter spin lines or talking points that are almost comically partisan and simplistic. These lines cause inflammation, probably by design, but in the end they prevent voters from ever really hearing the goal behind a policy choice, or the reasons why the Conservatives believe it will work. Confidence in both conservative and liberal ideas weakens when they are presented in a highly partisan way, and the opposite is also true: Canadians are pretty open to rational ideas coming from either side of the spectrum.
Bill Clinton’s success as a speaker is a difficult standard to apply. Does his success demonstrate that voters are more interested in hearing specifics about what a politician plans to do (the so-called “laundry list” style)? Or is it only because Clinton is so talented a speaker that he is able to dwell on policy?
The answer probably isn’t that voters are interested in boring speeches. But I’d bet that voters are more interested in hearing about policy than critics—who evaluate speeches on style—often allow.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, February 13, 2012 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair talks to the Toronto Star.
We have to renew. We’re one of the only social democratic parties to never have renewed itself. One of the things that we did in Quebec was that we reached out beyond our traditional base…
(When) I was being recruited to become Jack’s Quebec lieutenant . . . I said, why in heaven’s name do you keep using this boilerplate of ordinary working class Canadians, ordinary this, ordinary that? First of all, you can’t translate that into French because ordinaire is considered a slight in French. But why do you keep restricting yourself? Does that mean you don’t want other people in the NDP? I got scolded, “you don’t seem to understand, that’s how we stay at 17 per cent,” and my answer was that I thought the idea was to go beyond 17 per cent.
Bruce Anderson considers Mr. Mulcair’s challenge.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, December 16, 2011 at 5:26 PM - 0 Comments
Bruce Anderson considers the Speaker’s ruling and the campaign against Irwin Cotler.
Does the leadership of the Conservative Party interpret the ruling as carte blanche to do more of this kind of “wet-work”? If this tactic were carried out on a broader scale, would anyone really think it is nothing more than sporting politics? (As an aside, do we really think the Speaker would have arrived at the same decision if the tactic was used against 50 or 100 opposition MPs?)
Do other leading Conservatives share the views of Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, who said that the calls made into Mr. Cotler’s riding were vital free speech and a sign of good health in our democracy? If Mr. Van Loan truly is speaking for cabinet… well, that would be kind of frightening. If not, he should seek an opportunity to step back from that argument and acknowledge that a line was crossed.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, December 5, 2011 at 8:45 AM - 3 Comments
This truly isn’t complicated. If our children tell lies about schoolmates, we punish them not shrug it off. When it happens on the Internet, we call it cyber bullying and bemoan how young people seem to have grown up without decent values. Conservative Christian groups presumably recognize this as something hard to square with the “Golden Rule” … It’s insulting, it’s beneath this government, and I’m sure it is an embarrassment to many good people in the Conservative Party.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 23, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Bruce Anderson listens to the rhetoric.
In answer to almost any question about the economy, the Prime Minister and his ministers are at pains to tell Canadians how the perilous state of the global economy keeps them up at night. There’s not a lot of hope in their message: They talk about how employment is up since the onset of the recession, but in reality it’s a “let’s ensure we don’t get hurt too badly” theme. This is an unusual thing for incumbents to do – but for the moment anyway, it’s sensible strategy.
The opposition parties are also focused on fear, not surprisingly. There’s a difference of course: They are focused on how much worse things will get if Ottawa doesn’t do something. This would be a stronger political footing if news from the rest of the world didn’t get it its way. Canadian economic troubles are routinely drowned out by far more shocking situations, in so many other places.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, August 8, 2011 at 10:31 AM - 14 Comments
Bruce Anderson considers the political possibilities of economic turmoil.
The NDP faces a quandary that goes well beyond the distressing absence of its most popular figure, Jack Layton. Or his temporary replacement by Nycole Turmel, whose ambivalence towards federalism or separatism (whichever it is, or both) has more or less ended her future in Canadian politics before it really began. Mr. Rae has essentially laid out the position that would logically appeal to moderate NDP voters. And the more radical left? Ideas that might appeal to them, at this moment, would be repellant to most other voters, and create great brand risk for the NDP…
For the NDP, the speedy return to health of Jack Layton, a hope shared by a great many people, will not change the fact that the dilemma of how best to position that party, (in a world where China excoriates the U.S. for engorged entitlement programs and a lack of money-sense), may be the toughest assignment of all.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 2:07 PM - 65 Comments
Bruce Anderson considers what this election has already changed.
Stephen Harper has called this an “unnecessary election” probably thousands of times in the last two months. He is making a legitimate point to those who felt nothing needed to change about our political system. But it turns out there seem to be fewer of those people than he bargained for, especially in Quebec and among Canada’s younger voters. He may get the number of seats he was hoping for Monday, or he may not. But it seems to me that even if he is returned with the same number or more seats, his feeling about the value of this election is debatable.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 5:23 PM - 10 Comments
Bruce Anderson tries to explain why the NDP might be surging and why that surge might be hard for some people to understand.
They’d hear him say politics has too much mud-slinging and not enough progress on things that count for average folks. They’d listen to him go on about wanting to work with other people and parties, about hiring more doctors and nurses, “rewarding job creators,” “strengthening your pension” and “making your life a little more affordable.” The language is not that of class warfare, and the goals don’t sound weirdly utopian. These voters might compare Mr. Layton’s pitch with the urgings of Stephen Harper to avoid a coalition, to cut taxes, to strengthen law and order. Or the entreaties of Michael Ignatieff to rise up in defense of our democracy. The NDP themes might well compare favourably, as far as themes go.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, March 10, 2011 at 11:26 AM - 25 Comments
Glen Pearson considers what it is to be honourable.
All of us as MPs, ministers, or even prime ministers, are called upon to be honourable. It’s a more important trait than being smart, gifted or even eloquent because it is the “honourable” aspect of our representative task that makes the flourishing of ideas and compromise possible – it keeps us accountable. It is behaving, not as though the cameras are filming, but as though your children were in the gallery, wanting to be as proud of you as they possibly could. It would mean acting as though your parents, your God, your family and your friends, and your peers opposite, were all watching you, desiring that you show the kind of grace they believe you to possess. But even more importantly, it would mean you were honouring the good folks that put you in such a lofty place.
Bruce Anderson considers recent events from a political perspective.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 10, 2011 at 5:28 PM - 17 Comments
Stephen Gordon considers two options and advises neither. At least for now.
So that leaves neither renewed stimulus nor a program of austerity – at least, not for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Next year, if current trends continue, we’ll face a different set of circumstances: the recession will likely be behind us, and the deficit will likely still be with us. It would be nice to see some indication in this year’s budget of how the government intends to deal with next year’s problems.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 3, 2011 at 3:02 PM - 124 Comments
Bruce Anderson sees little political advantage to be found for Michael Ignatieff in the economy.
To move the polls, the Liberal leader needs to be more viscerally connected to both the deepest frustrations and the most stirring aspirations of a broad middle class. As simple as it seems to make a “we should be doing better” case, it is increasingly falling on “we could be doing worse” ears.
To create desperately needed forward momentum, Mr. Ignatieff needs to hammer away at other, weaker flanks of the Harper Conservatives. And, because that alone may not be enough, he needs to convince Canadians to help him achieve something bigger and more inspiring than the agenda they have been seeing from the Conservatives.
In case you didn’t notice and thus neglected to buy him a present, Mr. Ignatieff officially surpassed Stephane Dion in tenure as leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition last month. He has now served 755 days (just more than two years) in the thankless job.
For the sake of comparison, Stephen Harper spent 1,286 days (three and a half years) as opposition leader before becoming prime minister, while Jean Chretien served 1,039 days (a little more than two years and ten months). Wilfrid Laurier and Robert Borden went more than nine and ten years respectively before becoming prime minister. Robert Stanfield spent nine years on the other side of the House without ever winning the top spot.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 11:52 AM - 56 Comments
Bruce Anderson contemplates Michael Ignatieff’s predicament.
More fundamentally, he hasn’t yet developed clusters of voters who see him as “their guy.” I’m talking about groups of voters with common interests: aligned by income or region or gender based concerns, or who hold a particular place on the political spectrum, or who care deeply about a single issue, and who know they can trust him to champion their causes … in the end, for the voter who worries about taxes, or health, or retirement, or fiscal management, or jobs, or the environment, or trade, or foreign policy, or who lives in Atlantic Canada, or economically stressed Ontario, or the lower mainland of British Columbia, there is a sense that he is sufficiently smart but insufficiently passionate about what keeps you awake at night.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 12, 2010 at 2:33 PM - 5 Comments
Bruce Anderson considers how the deficit debate in the United States will impact the discussion here.
Against this backdrop, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s job in the run-up to the next budget will be infinitely easier than a $50-billion deficit would suggest. If he makes radical cuts, they will look less radical than those implemented elsewhere. If he doesn’t, and takes a few more years to get our fiscal balance back, voters might conclude that the downside is mild compared to that faced by our global competitors.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 3:22 PM - 0 Comments
As Chantal Hebert advises the Liberal leader to find a new economic voice, Bruce Anderson advised some weeks ago a greater emphasis on the shadow cabinet this fall, repeating his belief that the Liberals are in need of a new finance critic.
The last shuffle on the Liberal side occurred a little less than a year ago—a few weeks after the House had returned from its summer break—and Mr. Ignatieff will have to fiddle with his shadow cabinet this fall at the very least to fill the spot of Maurizio Bevilacqua.
By Paul Wells - Monday, February 8, 2010 at 8:24 PM - 53 Comments
The last time I was in Edmonton covering a provincial budget, Treasurer Stockwell Day was implementing a single-rate personal income tax. Goodness, that was 11 years ago. Anyway, the eyes of the nation, or at least of parts of Ottawa, will turn again to Edmonton tomorrow when rookie provincial budget minister Ted Morton delivers the save-Stelmach-if-he-can-be-saved budget. What follows will be instructive for the rest of us.
The partisan context is way different in Alberta than federally, of course: the Stelmach Progressive Conservatives are outflanked on the right by Wildrose Alliance and face no credible opposition to their left. That’s why Morton is treasurer, after all; after running up the fastest spending increases of any province in Confederation for a decade, the Klein-Stelmach Conservatives must now paint themselves as late but firm converts to fiscal discipline. But the Harper Conservatives, who face no opposition to their right, will nonetheless be watching what Morton does, and how it’s received, with interest. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 1:10 PM - 3 Comments
Bruce Anderson considers the politics of grinning.
When characterizing what we like or don’t like, we often rely on concepts such as strong or weak, hard-nosed or vacillating, warm or cold, introspective or popularity addicted, determined or lacking fire in the belly. All good, all relevant, based on my work. But one thing that’s frequently underestimated is the enormous power of optimism, an infectious enthusiasm for the future. It’s human nature: offered a menu of hope or fear, we dine on hope.
… there is actually quite a bit of science about the social effects of smiling, and even a name (Duchenne smile) for the type of facial expression that seems the most sincere and spontaneous. Leaders who smile, who signal that we are going to succeed, are leaders we are drawn to. Leaders who signal just how bad things are or could be, who appear to be bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, find us slipping their embrace.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 21, 2009 at 11:28 AM - 17 Comments
Bruce Anderson makes a case for Brian Mulroney.
Mr. Mulroney built friendships like Tiger Woods plays golf: with incredible discipline, study and practice – but also with evident joy and occasionally crushing pain.
The city of Ottawa is full of people who feel lousy about the Karlheinz Schreiber relationship but can’t help but remember a Mulroney gesture that touched them – a call expressing friendship, a note of consolation, a thoughtful invitation, a kindness offered without condition. And lest anyone think these gestures were limited to Tories, lots of people in all corners of our political spectrum know better.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 4, 2009 at 3:07 PM - 37 Comments
Bruce Anderson considers the way forward for Mr. Harper.
… the Conservatives should try to avoid being cast as the party of moderate ambition and small ideas. Just as Mr. Ignatieff needed to walk swiftly away from looking as though he was going to force an election over EI rules, Mr. Harper probably can’t win an election because people want a tax break for a home renovation project.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 11:19 AM - 0 Comments
Bruce Anderson goes out on a limb and suggests politicians are still human.
For more than twenty years, in focus groups in every corner of the country, I’ve listened to people tell me why they don’t like most politicians. Mostly, I’ve heard a vague sense that politicians just aren’t like other people. That they are so ruthless about advancing their personal agendas that they lack the abitlity or desire to truly understand the daily struggles and disappointments that most people endure. The irony is that many who express this view, if they’ve met their local Member of Parliament, say he or she is an exception. So, this perception of politicians as ego-centric aliens comes not from the cumulative experiences of MPs and their constituents. It’s built on the view of politicians that emerges through normal media coverage of the battles and controversies of politics. The focus on strategy, tactics, winning, relentless ambition and destroying opponents. Little wonder folks are suspicious of the kind of people who might spend all their time this way…
This was a funeral, and Obama was there to eulogize a man, to describe his life, to console his family, to share a perspective on what made Kennedy unique … This is a narrative about people in politics that we need a lot more of.
'Harper produces feelings that run hot for about 30 per cent … but produce less passion with the other 70 per cent
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 24, 2009 at 4:59 PM - 16 Comments
Bruce Anderson completes his contemplation with similar advice for the Prime Minister.
If he presides over an all out attack on the personality of Mr. Ignatieff, he calcifies his reputation as a partisan first and to the bitter end. Alternatively, he could try to rebrand himself, an effort which started out well in the last campaign. But the problem with this idea is that it takes longer than 40 days, often doesn’t work, and exposes you to some unique risks. Our society’s fleeting attention mean personality campaigns are becoming more risky than ever, with the prospect of victory or loss turning on a single phrase, photograph, musing, or indulgence.
The best approach for Mr. Harper to break through his ceiling would also be to put some larger ideas on the table. He needs a new, better way to show centrist, female and urban voters that his agenda is truly theirs, that if they reward him with a larger mandate, he will not use it to pursue his partisanship, or to try to impose the kind of right of centre ideas that most of them don’t want. His opportunity is to define a next-generation centrist agenda for Canada.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 24, 2009 at 2:08 AM - 24 Comments
In the first of a two-part meditation, Bruce Anderson considers our hyper-simplified times and Michael Ignatieff’s situation.
I’m not one of those who think Mr. Ignatieff has had a terrible couple of months, but the next few could stand to be better. His personality is starting to develop some definition, not all of his doing. He’ll be seen as smart, but smart must be paired with equal measures of humility and purpose, or it can be more drawback than advantage.
In my mind, Mr. Ignatieff needs to evince passion, hope, determination, as well as brainpower. His deepest personal values need to be more on display. The best way to do that is to push a handful of big ideas onto the table. He can then demonstrate those qualities in the pursuit of something other than power itself. Looking passionate about power for its own sake is the fatal flaw of many political figures, the easiest weakness for voters to spot.
Battle of the Globe and Mail political strategists: Bruce Anderson defends dignity, civility, schoolgirls
By kadyomalley - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 1:22 PM - 40 Comments
Take that, Tom Flanagan — the high road, that is:
As a citizen who cares about politics and public life, I hope more political leaders will ignore advice to take the low road, and perhaps not even bother trying to do the political calculus. I’m well aware that proving that the high road leads to more votes is difficult. It’s far easier to show how destroying an opponent works.
Mr. Obama’s victory is an example of how dignity can be rewarded, but it also raises the question of whether turning dignity into a winning political formula requires exceptional communications talents. Stylistically, attack is less demanding.
At the risk of sounding all schoolgirlish, shouldn’t dignity and courtesy be embraced for their inherent rewards, as a better way to live a life? For those in politics, respect should be earned by doing things of real public virtue, and to me that isn’t a test of who has better knife skills.
*IMPORTANT UPDATE: Yikes! As Commenter A Reader points out, ITQ mistakenly identified Bruce Anderson as a Conservative strategist, which he isn’t — that would be Brother Rick. Apologies to all and sundry Andersons and readers alike.