Thursday, December 01, 2005

Why the federal campaign started off so dumb

VICTORIA - Day one of the federal campaign, and already the love that dare not speak its name had made the headlines.
Or loves, since as well as same sex marriage the media got all tangled up in whether politicians love their country.
It was all a warning that this campaign will be consistently weird, thanks in part to the hyperactive Blackberry-wielding operatives on both sides.
Stephen Harper raised the same sex issue right out of the gate, promising a free vote in Parliament on ending gay marriage.
It was a curious start, unless Harper just wanted to get the issue over with before the serious campaigning started. Polls show that a majority of Canadians want the law recognizing same sex marriage to stand.
They recognize that the change has no practical impact, since same sex couples already had the same legal and economic rights as other couples. Churches aren't compelled to recognize same sex marriages. (As we saw in the BC Human Rights Tribunal ruling, the Knights of Columbus can even legally deny same sex couples the rental of their hall for a reception.)
The whole debate is only about whether people can get a piece of paper from the state that says they're married. But it is the kind of issue that spooks voters looking for a moderate alternative to the Liberals. Eliminating same sex marriage means using the notwithstanding clause to remove Charter of Rights protections for some Canadians. That rightly scares people.
It wasn't just the love between people that made the news on day one.
Two questions into Harper's first scrum, and a reporter noted Paul Martin had already been talking about his values and affection for Canada. "Do you love this country," the reporter asked the Conservative leader.
It strikes me as a stupid question, but I'm sure other reporters have thought the same thing about some of the things I've asked.
"I think Canada is a great country," Harper said, and then talked about his travels across the land.
But, like some nervous guy hovering at the critical point in a new relationship, he didn't use the ''L" word.
Then things got really weird, thanks to the gaggle of spinners hovering around the candidates and lurking in their campaign war rooms. (A name that should offend people who fought in real wars.) Technology has meant campaigns are increasingly about instant responses to real and imagined missteps by the other side. Printing press releases was too slow; now email messages fly through space into handlers and reporter's Blackberries.
So within an hour the Liberals were zipping off emails to reporters saying Harper doesn’t love Canada. Within two hours, some commentators were speculating that the Conservatives had planted the question to make Harper look good, while others suggested the Liberals planted it to make Harper look bad.
By mid-afternoon, Martin had incorporated the issue into his speech, mocking Harper's reticence and yelling out his love for Canada like a giddy schoolboy.
Within another hour Harper's handlers had rewritten his speech, so at the next campaign stop he complained that Martin was suggesting only Liberals could really love Canada.
It was all wildly foolish, manufactured and irrelevant, and you can expect a lot more of the same over the next seven weeks.
Desperate for some fresh angle to make the news, political operatives in all campaigns have moved into instant response mode. The bulletins and fact checks and gloating comments fly back and forth so quickly that it sometimes seems the candidates' camps are having a conversation largely with each other. The relevance to voters is certainly dubious. (A fact forgotten by reporters trapped in the strange world of the leaders' campaigns, desperately seeking something new to write about the same speeches.)
They all love Canada, or like it a lot, or have warm feelings toward it, even Gilles Duceppe probably. It was a stupid issue. And it won't be the last.
Footnote: The campaign in B.C. is off to a slow start, with the Liberals and the Conservatives rushing to get a full slate of candidates nominated. All three main parties hope to gain ground in the province, with Liberals buoyed by improved poll standings and New Democrats hoping the party's provincial resurgence is a good sign.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not getting much better. Yesterday Harper was talking shorter waiting lists to day he's talking going private if one of your family needs a service the federal system doesn't cover right away.
The liberal health minister can't see the very public, private clinic just down the road where you and I can buy in for a few thousands of dollars. Jack Layton says he can do better.

Well folks tell that to one of us on a waiting list for hip surgury who after the GP decides you need one, you wait for about a year to actually get in the office of some surgeon who then puts you on another list. The operation takes a couple of hours and the patient only occupies a bed for 2 to 3 days.

So if it's a bidding war to cut down these lists let me know which one of the parties will get me into the operating room the earliest. It looks like the old buy votes system is back in place. The provincial list shows the guy who will eventualy meet me shows a wait time of 15 weeks and the site brags that it's often less time.
My sometime down the road cutter's office says, see you in about a year. A pox on all those guys.