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How will the Liberals save their sagging election campaign? Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 31 May 2004

If I were a federal Tory, I'd be pretty satisfied with the first few days of this election campaign.

Leader Steve Harper went straight into what will be his toughest markets, Quebec and the Atlantic, and did okay.

Not great, but all right. As usual.

By contrast, on day two of the Liberal campaign Paul Martin assembled 36 MPs for his party's awesome, stupendous, national campaign kick-off in its Toronto heartland. But only a thousand people turned out (Harper drew more in Edmonton last winter) and it came off flat.

MP Joe Volpe, at one point in his warm-up act, had to tell his listless audience, "You can cheer now."

Then Martin's long-awaited, grand, nation-saving strategy for Medicare (by promising to give it more money) was greeted with yawns and disbelief by pundits and provincial premiers (even Liberal ones).

His attack on Harper for vowing to cut taxes is beginning to backfire, especially in Ontario, where people are outraged over their provincial Liberal government's decision to raise taxes.

A half-hearted Liberal attack on Harper's supposedly "extremist" statements in past years has also fizzled. The media are not interested.

Instead the media are focusing on every little glitch and stumble by the Liberals.

Martin has to shout and wave his arms to distract people from the fact that his policy is to promise people money he doesn't have, to spend on things outside his constitutional jurisdiction.

It's early days, but something is already evident. The media and other political players don't respect the Martin Liberals.

And they are increasingly interested in the Harper Conservatives, who are neatly side-stepping all the usual Liberal traps without starting to sound like Liberals themselves, the way Tories always used to.

For years Martin and his people have promised dazzling results, but all they're delivering are regurgitated, decade-old Liberal Red Book promises and slogans.

Meanwhile Harper, hitherto dismissed as too dull, right-wing and irrelevant to stand a chance, keeps going from one quiet success to another.

It makes me wonder what the Liberals will do when they realize at midpoint their whole election campaign is caving in.

This happened in 2000. By midpoint, Stockwell Day's Alliance was nipping at their heels in Ontario. Chretien responded by unleashing the most vicious smear campaign anyone can remember in Canadian politics.

Day had set the campaign up as a personality contest between crooked, cranky old Jean and his own young, hip, cheerful, it's-cool-to-be-Christian self.

The Grits soon painted Day as a religious flake, and the party's under-emphasized policy as a dark, dangerous "secret agenda."

One reason it worked so well is that nobody expected it. Another reason was that Day really was play-acting, in a way. Conservatism is about being right, not about being cool. Personalities are not the issue.

But in this election, neither major leader has a strong personality. The only difference is that Harper doesn't need one and Martin does.

As for smear-campaigning, it works best as a sudden, massive assault. Martin, who does everything by formula, has already openly field-tested it in the pre-election period, so the element of surprise is gone. "Monday, save Medicare. Tuesday, call Harper a right-wing western lunatic."

This makes it too tedious for anyone, even Canadians.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
 
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.





 
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