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OCT 2008

The winner? The public, maybe, for a change

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

There are a couple of dubious polls out this morning, one declaring Stephane Dion the winner of last night’s French-language leaders debate and the other saying that he trailed slightly behind Gilles Duceppe. The methodology in both cases is very questionable, and we know from experience anyway that the real impact of debates on campaigns, when they have an impact, is felt only after they have been digested by the media and the public for a few days.

That having been said, let’s have a little hurrah for the format of the debate, which had the leaders seated around a table instead of standing at lecterns, and answering a mix of questions from the journalist-host and members of the public.

It created a more decorous atmosphere and a more dignified debate than we have seen in the past.

It allowed for genuine interaction among the leaders and — most of the time — they didn’t talk over one another.

It allowed the leaders enough time to explain their positions. Dion even got his new economic platform out in point form.

It allowed us to assess them as human beings under pressure. The viewer’s question, which would have seemed forced coming from a journalist, asking them each to say something nice about the leader to their left (at the table, not on the political spectrum) added a little humanity and humour to the debate. Elizabeth May seemed to have the hardest time coming up with something nice to say about Harper (he’s a good family man.) I expected Dion’s task to be toughest — saying something nice about Duceppe; what was fun was watching Duceppe cringe as he was praised by his arch-federalist foe.

And it allowed the leaders to draw the contrasts among themselves, which is not necessarily negative campaigning — it is what we need to make a choice as voters.

Call me an old softy. But at the end, I couldn’t help but think that we are lucky to have a choice among five such estimable people. (Ouch!— that hurt.)

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

OCT 2008

A walk in the park

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Andrew Cohen

As dusk fell, a man, a woman and their dog made their way through the Rockeries, the crimson gardens high above the Ottawa River. The couple was followed by a bodyguard, less relaxed, wearing an earpiece.

The air was still. The afternoon sun was fading into the folds of the sky.

 In the middle distance, you could see the re-erected Corinthian columns salvaged from the portico of the old Carnegie Library in Ottawa. To these strollers facing calamity, these faux ruins might have seemed a metaphor too far.

On this trail, though, there were no signs or handbills. There were no handlers or hangers-on. When a pair of cyclists wheeled by the couple, no hands were extended and no votes were solicited.

If Stéphane Dion, his wife and his dog found some peace the other night, he surely deserved it. After all, it was his birthday. He was 53. There was little to celebrate.

Did he need any more reminders of his misery? There he was, on Saturday, staring out quizzically from the front page of The Citizen. The headline was devastating: “Fortress to flophouse? Has the once impregnable Liberal Party of Canada mortgaged its hold on power?”

Elsewhere in the newspaper, Mr. Dion could read headlines declaring “Liberals ‘are falling apart’” and “Rough day for Liberals.”

Oh, the agony of being Stéphane Dion. Oh, the agony of being a Liberal.

If he had the stomach to read on, Mr. Dion could learn about the collapse of the party which has held power for most of Canada’s 141 years. He could learn how things are “so bad that some analysts believe the Liberals are about to enter an extended – eight year? – wander through the political wilderness.”

No “analysts” actually said that in the article. No matter. There was more than enough bad news for Mr. Dion to digest on his twilight constitutional.

He could read how his party has no money, how its “Green Shift” is a political loser and how his successors are cheering his demise. He could also read about the rise of the Conservatives, and Stephen Harper’s grand plan of building an enduring Conservative majority in Canada as strategist Karl Rove dreamed of building an enduring Republican majority in the United States.

The besieged Mr. Dion could also learn, if he hadn’t heard enough, of the country’s new political realignment, growing out of an unprecedented polarization between the fragmented parties of the left against the Conservatives on the right.

And you know, the journalistic hyperbole notwithstanding, all this may be true. Perhaps the Liberals are through. Perhaps the party’s over.

It may also be true that Stéphane Dion is the catalyst, though surely not the cause. The trouble began with the vainglorious Paul Martin, Jr., who slayed his patron, Jean Chrétien, touching off an internecine struggle worthy of an Italian opera.

But that’s another story Mr. Dion will have much time to contemplate in political exile. To believe the death notices, that is what awaits him on the morning of October 15.

So assuming that the Liberals are going to disintegrate in two weeks – which, let us hasten to caution, won’t necessarily be so if Canadians deny the Conservatives a majority — what is left for the obituary writers to say about Stéphane Dion? What to say as the vultures circle and the hyenas cackle?

Well, quite a lot.

Mr. Dion is a Canadian who fought for Canada in Quebec in the referendum campaign of 1995. Few others of his ilk did. Mr. Dion exposed the sophistry of the secessionists. It took guts.

 This is a loyalist who spearheaded the Clarity Act of 2000. The sovereigntists again threatened chaos. But it passed, and it makes an ambiguous referendum question and a unilateral declaration of independence harder. It took guile.

This is a street fighter who refused to let Mr. Martin take away his seat. This is a reformer who thinks that global warming needs a creative response.

This is a decent man caught in a rough game. Pooping puffins. Demonization. Humiliation. Mr. Dion as reckless, dangerous, unsteady, awkward, hopeless.

In truth, he was never cut out for it; his style is pedantic, his English ragged. He is stubborn and proud, which take you only so  far in this game.

In politics, flaws are magnified mercilessly, especially in the age of the Internet. Robert Stanfield, Joe Clark, Walter Mondale and Adlai Stevenson all offered their splendid corpses to the cause of political science. They were glorious failures, which doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t honour their service.

When Mr. Dion leaves, there will be more debts than tears — and surely no thanks. Remember, politics is a blood sport.

 But there will be more walks in the park, and happier birthdays.


This column originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

Andrew Cohen, a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University, is the author of Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson. Email: andrewzcohen@yahoo.ca\.




That majority question

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Andrew Cohen

Among the blizzard of polls appearing every day of this campaign, the most intriguing may be this one: 52 percent of Canadians worry about giving the Conservatives a majority.

They appear to be concerned about handing the government carte blanche, or four or five more years of unfettered, unchecked government.

In other words, the Conservatives unbound. Stephen Harper unplugged. Any leader’s fantasy.

If this kind of anxiety exists in Canada, it’s because that 52 per cent of Canadians think that the Conservatives would surprise or disappoint them with what they would do with a majority. That might mean cutting funding to the CBC or re-visiting abortion or capital punishment, which social conservatives oppose.

But if the second part of this poll is right, the anxiety of Canadians doesn’t mean much. Asked whether they would change their vote to stop a Conservative majority, 81 per cent said no.

The prospect of a Conservative majority apparently doesn’t unnerve Canadians as deeply as it did in 2006, when the Conservatives were held to a minority, or in 2004, when they lost. Both times the Liberals argued that the Conservatives had “a secret agenda” and couldn’t be trusted with a majority.

Now, if it it is true that half of Canadians “worry” about a majority but four-fifths will do nothing to prevent it — such as strategic voting — the dynamic of this campaign may have decisively shifted.

It may explain why the Conservatives began the campaign predicting that they would win only a minority, afraid to raise the prospect of a majority. Worried about driving frightened voters to the Liberals, they sought to lower expectations and hope that a polarized electorate would deliver their majority on October 14.

But they’re less shy now. Harper may still be wary of using the “M” word too much, but he is asking for a stronger “mandate” to free his government from the scrutiny of those left-of-centre parties in Parliament.

He has reason to be confident. While no polls shows him winning more than 40 percent of the vote, the level of support necessary for a majority in Parliament, he still remains at least 10 points ahead of the Liberals.

Deep down, Canadians may not like Stephen Harper very much and even may not trust him with a majority, which is why he can’t crack 40 per cent. But because they like other parties more than they fear his, they may give him his wish anyway.


This column originally appeared in the Metro newspapers.

Andrew Cohen, a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University, is the author of Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson.




The economy and the debates

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Christopher Waddell

Here are some questions that should be asked at this week’s debates but likely won’t be answered.


Christopher Waddell is associate director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and a former Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief, former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and election night executive producer for CBC TV News.


National parties all short of goals as debates start

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy

Paul Adams

I wrote this piece for the EKOS election website this morning. Our daily tracking poll results for today were:

Conservatives   34%

Liberals           25%

NDP                20%

Greens            11%

BQ                  10%


As the party leaders prepare for their debates, in French tonight and English tomorrow night, only Gilles Duceppe can claim to have met his objectives in the campaign so far.

The Conservatives – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives established an early lead and have held it, often at wide margins over the second-place Liberals, but while a majority seemed tantalizingly close at times, it is once again seemingly slipping away. Harper needs to revive his party’s standing in Quebec – so strong at the beginning of the campaign; the Tories are now in a dogfight with the Liberals for a weak second place in the province. Meanwhile in Ontario, the party has lost the edge it has enjoyed at times over the Liberals, and even in British Columbia, its commanding lead is looking less formidable than it did just two weeks ago.

The Liberals – Stéphane Dion’s first job was to save the furniture and at best he has saved some of it.  The Liberal vote has stabilized and crept up a bit. In Ontario, the Liberal Party is giving the Conservatives a race, but no better, in its traditional heartland. In Quebec, the Liberals are fighting it out with the Conservatives for second place (though still well behind the BQ). Even in B.C. and the West, the party is creeping back up behind the NDP. However, the party remains well short of being a real competitor with the Conservatives to win the election, and shockingly short of what would have been considered its core support just a few years (months?)  ago.

The New Democrats – Jack Layton has lifted his party up to the top of its traditional range of support. But it is not yet in Broadbent territory. The party is running very well in British Columbia, particularly in Vancouver, and continues to benefit in Ontario not only from healthy support, but also from a three-way fight in that province. But the New Democrats have yet to break through to become a contender for power – their stated aim – or even to displace the Liberals as the natural alternative to the Conservatives, which many regard as their real strategic goal.

The Greens – Elizabeth May has led the Greens on an exceptionally successful campaign by their historical standards. They are at more than twice the level of support they enjoyed in the last election, and have at times peaked near triple their support in 2006. However, that support is broad but thin, and in many parts of the country they will have trouble mounting an on-the-ground campaign that is competitive. May accomplished a major interim objective getting included in the debate. But even at the party’s peak, in the second week of the campaign, it probably would not have won a single seat. A lot rides now on May’s debate performance.

The Bloc Québécois – Gilles Duceppe started the campaign confronted with a widespread impression that the sovereigntist movement in Quebec was dead or dying, and that whatever support had not already been lost to the Tories might start bleeding to the national parties on the left. Publicly, Duceppe framed his campaign as a crusade to deny Stephen Harper a majority. So far, so good. The Bloc revival in Quebec since the campaign began, mostly at the Tories’ expense, has put the BQ back on track to win the majority of seats in Quebec, and that in itself is one very good reason why the Tories now seem to be tracking short of majority territory.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.