09.21.2013 09:04 PM

In Sunday’s Sun: timing isn’t something. It’s everything.

We kid you not: The unveiling of a policy is more challenging than actually coming up with one.

Writing up a political party’s policy manual is uncomplicated. Simply lock up a few of the party’s brightest folks in a room, and don’t let them out until they come up with something good.

The leader will look it over, and so will his or her advisers. A few members of caucus will peek at it. Occasionally, the political party will get the policy costed, and then it’s off to the printers. Easy-peasy.

Deciding when to release it, and how to release it? Not so easy. Hard, even.

The most successful policy document in the history of the world was the Liberal Party’s Red Book.

During the 1993 federal election campaign, the entirety of the governing Conservative party’s strategy was this: Call Jean Chretien a big dummy. Oh, and looks funny. That too.

Those of us who worked for Chretien knew he was smarter than all of us put together. But putting him out on the hustings to claim he spoke fluent Russian, or insist that he was a world-famous academic? Well, that was what the Conservatives were already saying about their leader, Kim Campbell. (Both untrue.)

So we put out the Red Book. It was 112 pages long, it was bursting at the seams with ideas, and it provided an effective rebuttal to the Conservatives’ nasty insinuations.

“I’ve got the team, I’ve got the plan,” Chretien would say, over and over, at every whistle-stop along the way to a massive parliamentary majority.

The debate about when to release the thing went on almost as long as the writing of it. All at once? In pieces? Before the election? In week one? In Ottawa, or elsewhere?

Chretien made the final decision, appropriately. It was released 20 years ago this week, and 11 days after the campaign began.

We printed up thousands of copies, and they were all gone by lunchtime. Bureaucrats figured we were going to win, and they wanted to get a head start on their homework.

Back when he was a Reform Party guy, meanwhile, Stephen Harper was persuaded to write the party’s now-infamous Blue Book. (Blue Book? Red Book? Not very imaginative, eh?)

Harper’s slender manual had a problem, right from the get-go: It provided concrete proof that the fledgling party was — if not bigoted — pretty darn close.

It opposed gay rights. It opposed bilingualism. It opposed multiculturalism. It opposed everything!

Most famously, Harper’s little book declared that the Reformers opposed anything that would “alter the ethnic makeup of Canada.”

Hmm. That gem was widely, and accurately, interpreted to mean that the Reformers wanted to keep Canada as white as possible. Not good.

The content of the Blue Book was problematic enough, of course. But the timing of its release was just as bad: It came out in mid-1991, and we Grits had a field day with it for two full years before the election.

It gave us plenty of time to spook moderate conservatives into voting for us — which they did, faithfully, for a decade.

Justin Trudeau, the guy who hopes to one day replicate Chretien’s success — you know, a majority Liberal government (or two, or three) — has the same sort of dilemma.

Release a bunch of ideas before the election, and become a human pinata, like Harper did? Or wait until the election, like Chretien did?

The Conservatives, who have been warily eyeing the new Liberal leader’s popularity, want everyone to believe that Trudeau is an idiot. Aided and abetted the Parliamentary Press Gallery, they are pushing for Trudeau to release every single one of his policies right now.

The Cons won’t, however. Nor will NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. So Trudeau shouldn’t either.

Our advice: Wait until voters are paying attention. Right now, they ain’t.

We kid you not.


  1. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Your boss was a ministerial warhorse and born street fighter. He instinctively had quite naturally what it takes to win. What he lacked he made up for in sheer guts. No wonder you waited for the campaign.

    Justin needs a signature issue that is viewed as both substantive and reflexively Liberal. Pot ain’t it. He needs something classically Liberal and he needs it now.

    • Terry Maloney says:

      Justin did release a couple of “policy Q&A’s” this week, one on foreign policy with Marc Garneau and Lieutenant-General (ret.) Andrew Leslie, and one on the economy with Scott Brison and Chrystia Freeland.

      Whatever else, they certainly dispel the notion that he’s an idiot. Both can be found here …


    • Elizabeth says:

      I think we’ll find that Justin is more of a fighter than anyone realized. Cuteness aside, he actually has a face like a hockey player.

      I saw him once briefly tangle with Shelly Glover, was in the process of ripping a strip off her when he backed down quickly and apologized. He’s been underplaying himself for ages.

      In my opinion, he won that boxing match because Brazeau dissed his dad unnecessarily, in front of cameras, and right before they went in. Off topic – but still ..

  2. shavluk says:


    POT… IS IT


  3. Greg Vezina says:

    It is not always a bad thing to release your policies long before the election. In 1994, a year before he won his first huge majority, Mike Harris release the complete ‘Common Sense Revolution’ which was fully costed. The media and pundits jumped all over him for doing it, saying it gave the opposition a year to tear it and Harris apart. At the time, Harris was leader of the third party in the Legislature at Queens park and 20 points behind. On election day he ended up way ahead with 80 seats compared to the 30 the Liberals had and the 17 the NDP won along with one independent MPP who won a seat.

    Just because the ‘Red Book’ worked in the political climate of 1993 does not mean that it will work in 2015. Indeed, there is a good chance that by waiting too long Trudeau could miss the window of opportunity. It is a long way from 30+ seats the Liberals now have to the 169 Mr. Trudeau will need to win a majority and to do it he will have to increase the number of seats almost five fold. It is more likely that we will end up with a minority government and for Mr. Trudeau to head that government he will have to at least triple the Liberal seat count, an increase in seats of three to five times that never been done before in any election.

    Even in 1993 when the PC Party went from 211 to 2 seats, the Liberals only managed to increase their seat count slightly more than double to 177 seats on the way to Chretien’s first majority, up from 81, an net increase of 96 seats, while the Reform Party and Bloc picked up 106 seats and the NDP lost 35. For the Liberals to move from third party status to a majority or even a minority, it will take a collapse bigger than 1993 where two right wing parties split the vote and Trudeau will have to deal with the reality that we now have only one Conservative party and three centre or left wing parties splitting the vote.

  4. Luke says:


    Do I detect a change of heart here? Weren’t you suggesting that Trudeau not wait to reveal his policy positions as recently as a couple of weeks ago? Not that I have any issues with a person changing their mid. Just curious as to the reason for the change in position, if I’m correct you’ve changed your mind.

    • Warren says:

      I’m talking about the timing of the release of ideas. Not about the absence of ideas.

      • robin says:

        Warren, on August 26th, 2013, 6:58 pm you wrote:
        Trudeau’s media manipulation skills, as noted, are not in dispute. Many Liberals are filled with admiration for his ability to seize, and control, the agenda.
        This one wasn’t. Personally, I don’t give a tinker’s damn about the Liberal leader’s soft drug use. It doesn’t matter.
        What matters, or should, is that in the past week children were gassed to death in Syria. Christians and Muslims were terrorized and murdered in Egypt. Two teenagers, just 15 and 16 — two boys! — were shot to death, in broad daylight, in Toronto.
        Oh, and interest rates are going up, Lac-Megantic is forgotten and Parliament is prorogued for no apparent reason.
        Those are the things that matter. Those are the things that should be dominating the public agenda. Those are the things that, to put a fine point on it, we have yet to hear about from Justin Trudeau, who aspires to be prime minister of Canada, for Pete’s sake.
        Liberals, then, shouldn’t be concerned that everyone knows everything there is to know about Justin Trudeau’s views on dope-smoking.
        They should be concerned, however, that nobody really knows his views about anything else.

        This seems to imply that Trudeau should start sharing his views now; so, Luke seems to have a point.

        • Warren says:

          Having a position on an immediate crisis like Syria, now, is qualitatively different than developing planks for an election platform two years from now. Obviously.

          • robin says:

            I respectfully disagree. For example, Opposition Leader Harper’s expressed support for Canadian participation in the invasion of Iraq and criticism of Chretien helped the Liberals convince Canadians that Harper would be a trigger happy war monger and lapdog to the US military, therefore, expressing an opinion on an immediate crisis can be perceived as policy at election time if one’s opponent’s war room is doing it’s job. One of the traps for an Official Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition as well as Leader of a Third Party, is not to react to every emerging issue; it could weave a web that hobbles you at election time. The Red Book helped paper over Chretien’s 30 year life in Parliament by showing Canadians what his stance was in 1993 regardless of his past votes and policies. In addition, when a Leader reacts to every issue of the day, he or she speaks on behalf of the party; however, when the party is in a major renewal effort including consultation on policy development, it is disingenuous for the Leader to speak to emphatically on any issue in a manner that appears to be unilaterally setting policy. Obviously.

  5. Michael Behiels says:

    Brilliant as usual!

    Let’s all hope that the Trudeau Team gets the message loud and clear.

    In the meantime let the backroom policy gang prepare the policy book and have it approved by the Party at the right moment in order to garner the largest audience.

    The War Room gang can take timely pot shots at all the strange policies Harper has enacted since 2006. No shortage to targets to aim at.

    • Patty Marvelli says:

      “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” – Shelley

      So, if I understand you: Justin “has a hot poker”, the Central Committee must release the “Trudeau Manifesto” (terrible allusion) and “he must come out” – if you believe Kinsella that “values and language ARE the winning strategy”, here in a comical nutshell, is the Liberal Party’s Achilles heel – truly clumsy copy. If every Liberal sweated over every word, their fortunes would improve dramatically. Unfortunately, they seemed mired in near illiteracy.

  6. It is an interesting conundrum is it not? Things have changed since the nineties. The Liberal Party is no longer the obvious alternative for a plurality of the electorate. A year ago, the Liberal Party was pretty well focused on the need to rebuild and attract new members donors, and activists to the Party. The need to grow the Electoral District associations is no less pressing today than a year ago. It is not good enough to simply be the Liberal Party, and expect people to join up and work their butts off just because… So If you ask me, the Liberal Party needs to be presenting ideas, and attracting people with policy that is, well, attractive. That is not the same thing as releasing a comprehensive election platform. That would be dumb, to line up a long row of targets years in advance. Focusing on the PROCESS of policy development, and highlighting policy areas one at a time ( Pot legalisation, democratic reform, employment and skills aka productivity, etc) could be a happy medium. Enough specificity that activists can get behind a policy plank, and enough studied ambiguity to keep the foe guessing the final shape of the platform.
    One thing is certain, the Liberal Party will have a sorry approximation of a ground game if there are no inspiring positions and policies forthcoming well before 2015. Another certainty is that if the Liberal Party shows all their cards early, they will be turned into mincemeat by both the NDP and the CPC. So far so good anyway. I think Trudeau is doing pretty well. Some substance, not a whole lot of detail. Getting major media coverage for fresh perspectives with enough time in hand to ease losing or dangerous policies onto the back burner. Looking good.

  7. deb s says:

    theres another manual floating out there that Harper wrote….JT and Mulcair should start issueing statements from the book (the one on how to disrupt govt.)
    they could do that until the election…then release their own policy manual.
    but great advice…JT should really hire you warren, im sure he has people reading this, they would all be better advised if he paid the daisy group, he might even win the next election.

  8. Ridiculosity says:

    How do you win a war of words? A bastardization of Sun Tzu, “Keep your friends close and your enemies guessing.”

  9. Ian Howard says:

    Boy Trudeau should wait giving himself time to mature in the voters eyes. He will be taken more seriously if he is seen to grow in the role of leader of the party.

  10. dave says:

    Sometimes the party members at the local level, and loyal supporters, would like to know what kind of policy they are working for. Kind of hard to keep up commitment when you aren’t sure what you are commited to. If you are merel against somebody else’s ideas and actions, there are other ways to address that than chipping in for a political party.

  11. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    There are a lot of extremely wise men and women in this party and some of them are older than 45. They are fine with letting the younger set get its kick at the can. All they hope is that the leader will draw on their experience if an unexpected fork in the road comes his way. Theirs is a loyalty that a good leader appreciates.

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