AN OPEN LETTER TO ANDREW SCHEER, CONTAINING SUPER-USEFUL FREE ADVICE ABOUT HOW TO WIN THE NEXT ELECTION
First off, well done.
You handled the Tony Clement scandal way better than Justin Trudeau handled the Kent Hehr scandal: (a) you moved quickly, (b) you were umambiguous, and (c) you kicked the wrongdoer right out of your caucus. In Hehr’s case, Trudeau didn’t do any of those things. So, kudos.
Opposition can be Hell, but you are mostly doing well. Mad Max Bernier sounds madder by the day, and gives every indication that he is running for office in Austro-Hungary in the 1920s, not multicultural Canada in the 2010s. You continue to out-fundraise the Liberal Party – a sitting majority government, for those who haven’t noticed – and have been doing so for many months. You are running ads during hockey games to get better-known, and (as such ads go) you are getting a bit better-known.
But you still aren’t popular. You still aren’t winning.
Nanos’ latest weekly poll indicates that you are a whopping 11 points behind the Trudeau Party – and that the New Democrats, who you desperately need to do better, continue to languish under the byzantine leadership of Jagmeet Singh. If an election were held today, the Grits would win a bigger majority than they did in 2015.
Equally, Nanos found that more than twice as many Canadians (42 per cent) prefer Justin Trudeau to you (20 per cent) on this question: “Of the current federal political party leaders, could you please rank your top two current local preferences for Prime Minister?”
It’s not just Nanos. Mainstreet’s Quito Maggi said this week that “a massive Liberal Party majority is in the making.” His firm found that Trudeau dominates in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada – with a double-digit lead in the last three places. Which means lots and lots of seats.
So what do you do?
Well, for starters, consider Kinsella’s Rule of Political Opposites. Your salvation lies therein.
Politics, like physics, is all about action and reaction. It’s the third Newtonian law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
You shouldn’t ever replicate what your opponent does; you should be reacting to it. Near the end of his tenure, then, Stephen Harper came to be seen as a sullen, angry guy who didn’t like people much. So the NDP picked a sullen, angry guy who didn’t like people so much. The Liberals picked a happy, upbeat guy who hugged everyone. Guess who picked right?
Exactly. React, don’t replicate.
Cast an eye over recent political history, if you don’t believe me. Ronald Reagan’s sunny Morning In America stuff was the precise-right reaction to the dour, defeatist Jimmy Carter administration, mired as it was in energy and hostage crises. Bill Clinton’s campaign trifecta – keep it simple, it’s all about the economy and a town called Hope – were the polar opposite of George H. W. Bush’s impenetrable blathering about distant points of light. Brian Mulroney’s Irish blarney and small-town charm was the right response to the effete intellectualism and elitism of Pierre Trudeau. Jean Chretien (with his experience, his plan, and his team) was the perfect response to Kim Campbell (who lacked experience, a plan, and a team).
Thus, cast an eye over your opponents, Mr. Scheer. All three of them – Messrs. Trudeau, Bernier and Singh – share certain characteristics.
They are all stylish and debonair. You, to put a fine point on it, are not.
They are all charismatic and magnetic. You aren’t.
They are all Starbucks and Holt Renfrew. You are Tim Horton’s and Giant Tiger.
What does that all mean? It means, Mr. Scheer, that you need to do what I have long suspected you are going to do anyway –embrace your inner nerd. Celebrate your lack of charisma. Wear jackets from Moore’s, and jeans from Old Navy. Do what Stephen Harper did so successfully before you: become the Tim’s-loving, hockey Dad Everyman. It worked.
There’s another Canada, as you well know, one that is South of the Queensway and North of Steeles. This is the Canada – a significantly larger and more powerful Canada – in which Stephen Harper (like Jean Chretien before him) was for a decade the favourite.
Chretien and Harper understood the other Canada, because they came from it, and because they never forgot it, and because they embraced it. In 2005, accordingly, I wrote that the ballot question would be Starbucks versus Tim Horton’s. Amazingly, a decade-and-a-half later, it still is. Chretien and Harper represent the latter constituency – and Messrs. Trudeau, Singh and Bernier all represent the first one.
You will never be them, sir. I don’t believe you even want to be them.
So, do the one thing that always works in politics: be you.
If voters go looking for Justin Trudeau’s opposite, they won’t be putting an X beside the parties led by Jagmeet Singh or Maxime Bernier.
They’ll be looking to for the Everyman. Which, in 2019, is only you.
There you go. That’s how you win. You’re welcome. Invoice is in the mail.