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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, Jordan Berger and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.


Richard Mahoney:

(Said in a rough commercial voice over): "Justin Trudeau. He's bad for Conservatives. So we designed these goofy ads that make fun of him raising money for charity. That dishonestly portray his 14-year-old parody of his Dad's views on Quebec as his own. Justin Trudeau has taken over a million dollars from 14,000 Canadians since becoming leader. 6000 of them first time donors. Justin Trudeau. He's bad for Stephen Harper. And so we will waste more taxpayer-subsidized political donations with juvenile TV spots to tell you how dumb we think you are. Justin Trudeau. He's bad for Conservatives."

 

Rick Anderson:

I don't think these ads are doing Stephen Harper much good; they fuel a bullying narrative he probably needs to shed. But you are kidding yourself if you think they are not damaging to Justin Trudeau. They put the question of his experience and readiness for the highest political office in the land squarely on the table; this will be a topic right through to voting day on October 19 2015. Is there no public policy experience required in order to be PM? (And if my informal surveys are any indication, the morsel about Justin having one of Parliament's worst attendance records is catching people's attention: something everyone can relate to.)

 

Jordan Berger:

Most Conservatives I know are thrilled Justin Trudeau is the leader of the Liberal Party; they think that Justin isn’t “up to the job” and will fade before the next election campaign. Most New Democrats I know share that view, as do I. If I were a Conservative I would be embarrassed to be associated with ads that cherry-pick old quotes and reassemble them in a manner that is completely dishonest. That doesn’t mean they don’t work however. Few people admit to being swayed by political attacks ads but parties continue to issue them. I wouldn’t concentrate on the immediate impact on polling numbers but rather on the question of whether or not the Conservatives will be able to create a frame of reference for Justin Trudeau (dilettante, tourist, etc.) that will become relevant in a few years when voters really focus on the choices before them. The Liberal response ad highlights for me the aspect of Justin Trudeau’s personality – or public image at least – that I find the most irritating: he looks and sounds smug. With respect to fundraising, he's done a great job exciting a segment of the Canadian electorate -- probably disaffected Liberals. However, to suggest a short-term bump in donations, based on a media frenzy, is comparable to the work done over years by the Conservatives (and to a growing extent, New Democrats) to identify, track, and collect regularly from dedicated individual supporters is a stretch.

 

Richard Mahoney:

On donations, this is the first million dollars raised by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. We have a long way to go, but it is obvious Justin Trudeau is connecting with Canadians. He is open, optimistic, relaxed, and talking openly about issues that are important to Canadians. All this at a time when the government has run out of steam, had its share of spending scandals, and generally projects a closed, somewhat nasty face to Canadians. That is the context in which Canadians view these ads - "what is it that Stephen Harper is talking about - spending millions advertising on playoff hockey games to tell me his economic plan?" No.... It is a huge disconnect from what they want to see from their Prime Minister. Attack ads can and do work. But they don't work just because they someone spends a bunch of money on them. They work when they are credible enough to convince people that a certain idea or concept is true. And they work if the side you are attacking leaves a vacuum. I think they fail on both counts here.

 

Rick Anderson:

Look, ads are just one form of political communication, and the problem of incivility in politics is both broader and deeper than these ads. It inludes, by the way, remarks such as Justin's statement that a separate Quebec might be more appealing than a Canada run by "Harperites," whatever he meant by that. He too has a penchant for over-the-top partisan rhetoric. I think Canadian voters have become quite good at tuning most of that out, regardless of which source is spouting it.

 

Jordan Berger:

Rick, there's a big difference between saying something inappropriate, offensive or stupid, in real time, in an interview, and taking something you know is a complete lie -- like his supposed comments about Quebecois superiority -- putting these in an expensive ad and then buying millions of dollars of ad time to show them. By the way, I predict we'll see a rerun before too long here in Ontario. Hudak's Conservatives are very close to Harper's Conservatives -- and both are in close contact with Republican operatives stateside. I don't think they are comfortable going "positive."

 

Richard Mahoney:

On another front we have had another week of seriously flawed management of a key economic file for the country - oil and gas development - and shocking comments by the Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver. He has joined Prime Minister Harper in the exclusive club of leading Canadian politicians who have questioned the science of climate change. This is ludicrous from the perspective of anyone who cares about sustainable development and protecting the environment. It is also a huge mistake for the country's economic development. The oil sands have become a huge problem for Canada, internationally. Instead of a balanced approach to their development, which embraces environmental sustainability, we get this nonsense. Canadians don't think the Conservatives have the balance right, and neither does the rest of the world. We need a government that understands and manages this responsibility, or more damage will be done to the environment and to the economy.

 

Rick Anderson:

Hmm. Perhaps you could take a moment to tell us exactly what you are referring to? Surely you are not defending the latest in a long stream of inflammatory nonsense coming from Al Gore, is it? Gore's record of having to "clarify" his various alarmist claims is well known as you can see here:

Fact Checker - An Inconvenient Truth for Al Gore

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2007/10/an_inconvenient_truth_for_al_g_1.html

Notwithstanding Gore's kneecapping of Canada, the facts are that we have tons of resource and environmental regulations in Canada, both federal and provincial, which embrace the balanced approach you are talking about, up to and including full-blown reclamation requirements like those in other resource sectors. It's the job of our federal and provincial governments to defend Canada's strong record in balanced resource development, which is a model for many other countries. And, P.S.: has it now become the Liberal Party's view that oil sands development should stop? Because Al Gore says so?

 

Jordan Berger:  

The production technologies used to extract and process oil from the oil sands create more greenhouse gases than conventional production. That’s a fact, not anti-Canadian discrimination.

I was very pleased when the Harper government said they would encourage research on carbon sequestration and other mitigation technologies. I wish this was more of a focus today – an area where we could develop technology in Canada that could be exported to other countries seeking to mitigate climate change. However, being a climate change denier may play well for certain small, domestic audiences but it is so embarrassing for us globally and has been an important contributor to the decline in Canadian influence overseas. I also think it’s increasingly out of step with a business community that is increasingly international and for whom profitability, over the medium to long term, depends on regulatory certainty, here and abroad. While the impact of a high dollar on Ontario’s manufacturing sector has been devastating, other elements of the province’s economy have benefited from the rise in commodity production and prices. As the financial capital of the country, Toronto does benefit (or at least, many Torontonians benefit) from the success of other regions however the gains tend to be concentrated in the more lucrative corners of the service sector. A better model for Ontario, and the rest of the country, would be to focus on supporting industries and employment that take advantage of the upstream use of petrochemicals. I find it frustrating that refineries on both coasts are struggling to get enough raw materials while the federal government concentrates on shipping ever-larger quantities of unprocessed bitumen to American refineries. There is a huge and widening gap between the wealth of Toronto (and it’s surrounding communities) and the rest of the province – this will be a major challenge for the next Premier of Ontario. Rick, Canada's record in resource development is a model for many other countries. Mainly other resource-dominated economies. But if you were to aggregate the impact of our so-called "model" on a global basis - I'd like to see you find a single scientist who would argue that this is sustainable. We have to pray that countries like China do not follow the same path we have followed (not to suggest that there aren't many Canadians working on solutions today.)

 

Richard Mahoney:

It is silly to suggest that the Liberal Party is somehow against the oil sands. Justin Trudeau has spoken at length about a smarter, more balanced approach. The development of Canada’s oil sands is under attack because of the dismal record of the Harper Conservatives in playing a leadership role for Canada’s energy sector. The Conservatives have polarized the issue of resource development, demonized opponents, and gutted environmental regulations in last year’s omnibus budget bills. The result of all this is that the Conservative government has lost social license for pipeline development in Canada. That is bad for the Canadian economy. That is why we have seen a steady stream of Conservative cabinet ministers travelling to Washington on damage control and green-washing Canada’s environmental record. It does not have to be this way. Premier Redford is talking about putting a price on carbon, and she is the Premier of Alberta, the largest producer. Why can't the federal government get this right? It has huge implications for the national economy, and for Ontario's.

 

Rick Anderson:

Sounds like you are channeling Al Gore. Take a deep breath, and for a good fact-check, you should re-read the facts in the more balanced analysis that the U.S. State Department has published:

Review & Outlook: No More Keystone Pipeline Excuses - WSJ.com

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324678604578338293087046594.html

"The State Department study, the fourth such U.S. review in four years, found once again that the pipeline wouldn't make much difference to climate change. The Alberta tar sands are the world's third largest reservoir of oil, and Canada is going to develop them one way or another. All told the oil sands contribute a mere 0.01% of global carbon emissions, and if that sort of thing bothers you, Canada is offsetting that with carbon-reduction policies elsewhere. State's report concludes that the pipeline would result in "no substantial change in global greenhouse gas emissions." So, Al Gore and ENGOs don't agree with this - what else is new? And why are Liberals endorsing those views despite evidence they are wrong?


Jordan Berger:

I do think that opponents of pipelines need to explain how it is environmentally preferable to ship oil by train or truck. Pipelines are much safer than other transportation options. That’s my concern from an environmental perspective. Where the oil goes in those pipelines and who processes them on the other end is a key economic issue that I’d like to see all parties address. 


You can follow The Salon's strategists on Twitter:

Rick Anderson: @RickAnderson

Richard Mahoney: @RicMahoney

About The Salon (Anderson, Berger, Mahoney)

Rick Anderson is former senior advisor to Reform Party Opposition leader Preston Manning; Jordan Berger is a former Ontario and federal NDP candidate and Queen's Park staffer, now working in private equity and infrastructure for the OPSEU Pension Trust in Toronto; and Richard Mahoney, former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin.
Posted date : May 08, 2013

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