Dear Messrs. Ignatieff and Layton:
You want an issue with which to win the next election? I’ve got one.
As you are both aware, recent polls show Conservative Leader Stephen Harper widening his lead over the opposition parties. As you are also aware, Mr. Harper again seems to be getting ready to embrace the issues that propelled him to victory in 2006 — that is, law and order (he’s for it, you’re against it) and leadership (he has got it, you don’t).
Having tangled with him more than once, you both are also painfully aware that only a fool underestimates Stephen Harper.
He may not be the most cuddly guy, but he is an efficient campaigner, and he rarely makes mistakes when it’s showtime.
So, what to do?
Here’s a refresher. As my friend John Duffy wrote in his extraordinary book Fights of Our Lives, a turning point in the 1988 federal election came when the Liberal Party produced an ad showing an American free trade negotiator erasing the border between Canada and the United States, and the Canadian negotiator acquiescing. Remember that?
John Turner very nearly won the election with that single ad. He would’ve, if the campaign had been shorter.
Well, gentlemen, history is possibly repeating itself, and you two can be the main benefactors.
Picture, if you will, a similar TV spot, with a narrator soberly intoning: “To get a better trading relationship with the Americans, Stephen Harper has secretly traded away our sovereignty. He has agreed to give the U.S. government access to private information about you — and he has agreed to let the Americans control our immigration policy, and our national security.
“Is that what you want?”
That’s oversimplifying things, somewhat — but that’s what the best political advertising does: It makes complex issues simpler, and forces people to take a stand.
But it’ll work. It could blow Harper’s campaign to smithereens.
That’s because it’s the truth.
This past week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa alighted in quaint Wakefield, Que., to meet with our perfectly useless Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.
The three ministers were getting together to jaw about something bearing the benign-sounding title, “Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Competitiveness.”
Listening to Cannon’s verbiage and bafflegab, we learned the treaty will give Canadian businesses an easier time crossing the border, and give the Americans a teensy bit more involvement in some boring bureaucratic stuff.
But, Messrs. Ignatieff and Layton, that’s not true. A leak of the entire agreement, a few days ago, suggests strongly that Harper is giddily hitching our wagon to a declining U.S. economy, and — in exchange for a few paltry trade changes — we are going to see our policies related to immigration, refugees and national security decided by the aforementioned Clinton. In Washington.
To whisk a few trucks across the border in two hours instead of three, we are going to lose control over some of the very things that distinguish us from our neighbours to the south.
And it’s all being done in secret, without even a 10-minute chit-chat in Parliament. And it’s going to be announced next month by the prime minister and U.S. President Barack Obama when, coincidentally, the House of Commons is not sitting.
In effect, Mr. Harper is erasing the border between Canada and the United States.
And, to get little, he is trading away too much.
Now, I don’t know a whole lot about politics. But it seems to me that Canadians — left or right, young or old, West or East — are rather attached to their country. I mean, why else put up with Canadian winters?
So, go to it, gents. Consider it a Christmas gift, from me to you.
— Kinsella is a lawyer, consultant and Liberal Party spin-doctor. He blogs at warrenkinsella.com