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THE SALON

The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Rick Anderson, Anne McGrath and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


Anne McGrath:

Christy Clark's problem isn't that her party has an ethnic outreach strategy. It's that it was crass and opportunistic and not based on respect and consultation - and it explicitly used public funds for partisan work. Political parties must work with and engage, meaningfully and respectfully, ethnic and cultural communities.

 

Rick Anderson:

Yes, of course they should engage, and they should do it tactfully and not exploitatively, if that's a word. But those of us who are/have been on the inside owe it to ourselves and the world not to exaggerate the unusualness of targeted outreach plans. They exist, are commonplace, and for the most part are actually better than the alternative.


Richard Mahoney:

There are two problems with the memo. First, the very existence of the memo itself suggests crass political objectives are the motivating forces for government action. So it makes people, including ethnic community leaders, question the government's motive. Secondly, it is an unfortunate reminder of how politics in this country is driven by marketing and consumer "goodies," as aptly described by a recent Susan Delacourt piece:

The Shopping Aisles of Democracy by Susan Delacourt

http://reviewcanada.ca/reviews/2012/07/01/the-shopping-aisles-of-democracy

Crass political motivations are not new to governments and political parties. T'was always thus. But no one wants to see crassness up close, and that is what happened here.  

 

Anne McGrath:

There is also an almost inexcusable ineptitude in the Premier's office. The existence of the memo and its self-serving and manipulative approach is one thing, but this isn't the first staffer close to her to leave under a cloud. And let's not forget that this was a leaked document. They have big problems when the brown envelopes start being fed to the opposition.  

 

Rick Anderson:

The leaks from within have plagued Clark since she became leader. The party is Factionalized externally, with a spinoff opposition party, and factionalized internally, with Ms. Clark's rivals leaking documents and criticizing. Sad to see. But really, the media should know better than to fall for a leaked document like this. Most governments of every stripe will have something more or less like this, and not just for ethnic voters but for women, younger voters, urban/rural, soccer moms, you name it. And the fact that any political journalist can be surprised these would reflect an interface between policy and politics leaves me dazed. Reminds me of this great scene:


 


Richard Mahoney:

It does remind one of that great saying about the making of a sausage - it's not always pleasant to watch. Rick is right - there are crassly political memoranda all over the place that would mirror this. I'd wager we could find one behind Jason Kenney's immigration policies, for example. And Rick and Anne both point to a terrible challenge that Premier Clark faces: these leaks. Governments that have been in office for a long time often face these challenges, and Premier Clark seems to have had more than her fair share since becoming Premier. It's pretty hard to succeed under circumstances like those, that's for sure.


Anne McGrath:

On another topic, the Liberal leadership certainly looks like it's headed for another coronation. The combination of fundraising numbers, the gazillion supporter sign ups and the fawning media coverage make Trudeau pretty unstoppable. But we've seen at least some of this movie before. It's hard to remember now but Paul Martin was certainly viewed as a bit of a rock star too - and so was Michael Ignatieff. The smart people around him will be wondering about how to sustain this momentum and worrying about a potential fizzle over the next 2 years.

 

Rick Anderson:

Not to mention Kim Campbell. But what intrigues me about this is the experimental process the Liberals are trying out. I like the spirit behind it - opening up the process to wider participation - for the same treason I like the primary system. We all know that often the most important election is the one that nominates a candidate, or selects a leader. Yet these have been treated - still are - as private party preserves. Very antiquated and undemocratic. Congrats to the Liberals for trying something new... might have been a good idea to give it a bit more form than just "supporter" but I hope it works and leads to more opening up of these vital processes.

 

Richard Mahoney:

Justin Trudeau's success in recruiting new members and volunteers is quite staggering. Over 150,000 new supporters recruited. Over 10,000 volunteers signed up. To put the achievement in some context, neither Tom Mulcair nor Stephen Harper managed anything close to that when they ran for the leadership of their respective parties. While I think Anne's advice on maintaining momentum is well-taken, you have to admit that Justin Trudeau's campaign has helped revitalize the Liberal Party at a time when it badly needed it. 

 

Anne McGrath:

The most glaringly obvious observation is that our political landscape is very changeable. There certainly is not a lot of stagnation. The exciting aspect is that voters are open to change and not wed to old ideas. I don't buy the arguments some are making that Canada is becoming more conservative. I hope that Canadians will embrace the social democratic ideas of the NDP but whether they do or not they are certainly open to being persuaded.  

 

Rick Anderson:

Changeable - no kidding. The federal Parliament has hosted eight different parties over the last 20 years. The federal Liberals are about to elect their SIXTH leader in a DECADE. You, Richard, are old enough to remember a fellow named Preston Manning, who not only brought similar numbers of people into politics, but who kept them engaged and enthusiastic. I do hope that Justin's campaign is more than the ephemeral social media non-commitments of likes and follows; it will spell real trouble for the federal Liberals if it is not more substantive than that.  


Richard Mahoney:

Yes, our political situation is fluid and dynamic. In 2011, Stephen Harper won a majority - it wasn't long ago when everyone discounted the possibility of that. Jack Layton's historic breakthrough in Quebec? Unthinkable a few years back. A few months ago, many pundits, New Democrats and Conservatives, began to write the Liberal Party of Canada's obituary. Now the Liberal Party's new supporters outstrip those of both the Conservatives and New Democrats.

Justin Trudeau's challenge will be, as Rick and Anne point out, to build on that momentum, to engage those new supporters, and to continue to build a modern political movement for change in Canada. And he will have to do that while likely facing blistering attack ads from his opponents. That won't be easy. But what Trudeau has done so far is to make it possible. Nice work.


You can follow The Salon's strategists on Twitter:

Rick Anderson: @RickAnderson

Anne McGrath: @OttawaAnne

Richard Mahoney: @RicMahoney

About The Salon (Anderson, Mcgrath, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Anne McGrath was Chief of Staff to the late NDP leader Jack Layton; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : March 06, 2013

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