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                  Duffy Bribery Trial's Post-Labour Day Election Impact:

               The "Sleeping Electorate" Theory May Well Be Outdated

 


By Susanna Kelley

Much has been made of the idea that the bombshell revelations that came out of the Duffy trial these past weeks will have little impact on the October 19th election because they burst into the public eye during summer vacation time.

People are not listening in July and August, they're off at the cottage and other vacation spots, goes the long-held political "truism," so anything that happens during these months won't be remembered once the electorate really wakes up after Labour Day.

Or so the theory goes.

It has become such a common belief that the Stephen Harper's Conservatives appears to have banked heavily on it. That is presumably one of the reasons Mr. Harper was willing to wait until the summer to call the election in the first place. The Tories are justifiably relieved the bribery trial is now on hiatus until November — safely after Election Day.

But let's think that through a bit with an eye to how everyday life has changed for a modern electorate in Canada.

For one thing, other than teachers, there are few people who are on vacation for the entire summer.

Most people take two, perhaps three weeks vacation a year.

That means that for all the other summer weeks, they're back at work, starting the day as usual by listening to newscasts in their car during commutes, spending lots of time on their computers and Internet-rigged up (CHANGE) devices and chatting around the water cooler - just like they do the rest of the year.

On top of that, even if they are at the cottage, many of those same cottages have now been equipped with the Internet.

And there are fewer and fewer people who live in rural Canada, making their living by working the soil in relative isolation.

So the idea that many people haven't heard of, or heard much of, the Duffy trial is pretty unlikely.

It was the lead story on Internet, television and radio newscasts as well as on newspapers' front pages for many days.

And even if, as is the case with many in the electorate, they only remember the headlines, those very headlines have been very damaging.

They've been all about one central point: whether Stephen Harper knew about a $90,000 cheque written in secret by his Chief of Staff and kept from Canadians so they wouldn't know about Mike Duffy's improper expense charges.

"Cover-up of secret $90,000 cheque in the Prime Minister's Office" is a pretty good approximation of what people heard, loud and clear, for weeks.

Improper expense account charges are things that are pretty easy to understand — and they often defeat politicians.

The examples are legion, but just think of the damage that former Harper cabinet minister Bev Oda's $16 glass of orange juice did to her reputation.  Note she did not run in the last election.

And a new poll by Nanos research indicates that more than 55 per cent of those asked have a worsened view of the Conservatives due to what they have heard of the trial.

That's a pretty big number.

The Conservatives may hope people will forget by October 19th, but it is unlikely.

That's because a hugely important and influential part of the campaign tactics are advertisements, which are sure to be played over and over again, and they will undoubtedly feature the headlines and revelations from the bribery trial of one of Stephen Harper's handpicked star Senators — someone many already knew from Mike Duffy's many years as a television reporter. That just ads to the recognition/memory factor.

And you can be sure that the NDP and the Liberals will be hammering the fact that while Mr. Harper's highest aide, Nigel Wright, wrote the secret cheque (the alleged bribe), two other top aides — his current Chief of Staff Ray Novak and his Issues Management point man Chris Woodcock — are claiming they "didn't read" the emails from their own boss telling them about it, even though an eyewitness says they were present at a meeting where it was discussed, so they were actually told in person as well.

Meanwhile, Mr. Harper still sticks to the dubious "media line" or "narrative" (the latest public relations lingo for "spin") that Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy are solely at fault.

The NDP and the Liberals have only to run ads reminding voters of what they read in August to be able to easily jog their memories.

Mr. Harper likes to warn voters not to trust the "risky" Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau, because they have no experience governing.

It may turn out that the biggest risk-taker of all is Stephen Harper, gambling as he has that an electorate who has been, for most of the summer, fully plugged in to the bribery trial, and who are in store for a deluge of blistering ads featuring that same sorry spectacle front and centre, will suddenly develop severe amnesia.

It's been said that the most difficult decision a political leader will ever make is that of when to call an election.

For a supposedly brilliant political strategist, it's hard to understand why Mr. Harper pull the plug last spring instead, before this latest segment of the Duffy trial played out.

He may well be kicking himself for many years to come that he didn't.

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : August 27, 2015

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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