REALLY, REALLY TOP SECRET ONTARIO LIBERAL ELECTION STRATEGY STUFF
Okay, before we get started: Graham and Murray have been trying to impress you with their union connections. Well, top this, fellas: I was not only a shit-disturbing member of the Newspaper Guild, I was also a litigation lawyer who proudly represented CUPW!
I liked it how you all hissed when Graham uttered the name of Mike Harris. Can you do that again? Thank you. I enjoy that.
Anyway, Tip O’Neill was one of my favourite politicians. And the former Democrat Speaker of the House knew a good political line when he saw one.
One of my favourites was this one: “Any jackass can kick over the barn, but it takes a carpenter to build one.”
Today, I’ll leave the carpentry stuff to Murray and Graham. They’re nicer and smarter than me. For the next ten minutes, I will play the role of the jackass. Which, Murray and Graham will tell you, is not a stretch.
It’s good to be here, with the OSSTF. I and my friends are getting ready to kick down John Tory’s barn, so I thought I would let you in on a few secrets.
One of my jobs during past federal and provincial Liberal campaigns was to do a little bit of strategy stuff. It was fun, and some people say we did okay on that front. So, unless you have any objections, I thought I’d pass along some of my thoughts.
So let’s get to it. I have a couple points to make about Mr. Tory, and then I look forward to your questions or bun-tossing.
Point Number One, which you can call Politics 101. If you don’t define your guy before or shortly after your leadership convention, you can count on your good friends in the Liberal Party doing it for you. Politics abhors a vacuum. And, right about now, the former Rogers CEO is a veritable Electrolux.
In my own case, I know and like John Tory. I helped him out on his bid to be mayor of Toronto. I thought – and I still think – that he would have been a good mayor.
But he didn’t win, and instead he got the consolation prize – he now leads the rump of the formerly powerful Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.
I say “formerly great” because John and his party have a big problem.
As I have related to you once before in this beautiful hotel and dining establishment, John Tory and I met up before he ran for Tory leader. I told him I felt like a spouse who was being cheated on – I was last to officially find out. We had a laugh about that.
Then he asked me what I thought, and I told him the truth. McGuinty is going to beat the stuffing out of you, John, not because you aren’t an urban, urbane man – you are. That’s what the Tories need. Your problem is they don’t know it. Under Harris and Eves, the Conservatives consciously and deliberately hacked the word “progressive” out of their name. They took an axe to it. Liberals didn’t do that. They did.
So here’s my point, I said to John Tory, who I still like. My point is this: you want to jump back in time to the time of Bill Davis. But everyone around you – in the caucus, in the party – wants to jump back to the meanness of the Mike Harris era. Everyone in your party still thinks beating up on homeless people and welfare moms is good public policy. They like beating up on homeless people and welfare moms.
That’s the point I am making to you folks today, in a typically circuitous fashion. John Tory is attempting to define himself as a progressive conservative. His party don’t want their leader to be a progressive. Us Liberals, meanwhile, intend to point – over and over and over – to the fact that neither John nor his party can figure out who or what they are. That allows us to say he’s got a hidden agenda, or no plan, all at the same time.
As I mentioned earlier, all of this is Politics 101: define your opponent. In John Tory’s case, we want to paint picture that shows him to be either indecisive or being sneaky about the decisions he actually plans to make. And John, to our delight, is showing up every morning to pose for this picture!
Mike Harris! Thank you.
We’ve got a national memory in this country of about seven minutes. But even if I’m wrong, and people have a few good things to say about him, John Tory needs to be re-defined in people’s minds. Lester B. Pearson said politics is the skilled use of blunt objects, and who am I to disagree?
So we plan to use some blunt objects on John Tory. The people of this province need to be told what his party really is, over and over – mean-spirited ideologues who hang out with rich people and want to privatize everything. They’re not progressive conservatives; they’re Reform-style conservatives trying to hide their Reform-ness. They’re not tax fighters; they’re people who lied about the deficit, and saddled Ontario tax payers with tons of debt. They’re not people – like Mike Harris claimed to be – who did what they said they’d do; they’re people who want to trick their way back to power, so they can reward their fat-cat cronies, and kick-start another class war.
But I mean those things in the nicest possible way. Mike Harris! Hee hee.
If people don’t like that kind of tough talk, too bad. If the John Tory gang stops telling lies about us, we’ll stop telling people the truth about them.
Now, Point Number Two. The second thing we Liberals do in elections – well, except during the dark, dismal, depressing Paul Martin months, of course, when the federal Liberal Party effectively ceased to exist – was to manage the dialogue.
What does that mean? It means controlling the agenda. Get the people you need to win thinking about the stuff you want them to think about. It means ignoring the issues that you can’t win on, and ignoring the voters who’ll never vote for you.
On law and order, for example, it doesn’t matter that gun control is a perfectly acceptable idea in most Western democracies, or that statistics show that overall crime rates have plummeted in the past twenty years. What matters is this: when you properly manage the political dialogue, you don’t talk about things – like law and order – that are potentially harmful to your cause. You change the channel. Click.
Management of the economy, health care and the experience of the Liberal team are generally always good things for Team McGuinty and Team Chrétien to talk about, so we did, and we will. We do our best not to talk about things that are bad for us. Mr. Tory, however, persists in going on and on and on about things that are unhelpful to his cause – such as why health care needs to be reformed, or why education needs a bit of private sector discipline, or why Dalton is a liar, and why he – John Tory – isn’t.
When a conservative starts talking about health care “reform,” reach for your wallet. And when they start going on about “putting kids first” in education – well, you teachers know what that means. It means open season on teachers, kids and public education. And when conservatives say that the other guy is a liar, and that they have never lied to anyone – well, everyone knows who is telling a great big fib, in that scenario.
John Tory, like most conservative leaders, can’t resist going on and on about his own negatives. And his negatives, of course, are our positives. That, as my mother would say, is how you get your ass kicked on Election Day.
With Mike Harris, his number one positive was “did what he said he was going to do.” Even people who disagreed with what he had done seemed to agree that he did what he said he would do. That drove me crazy.
So we took that away from them, and from the organ grinder’s favoured monkey, Ernie Eves. We hammered the Hell out of it. We kept giving people examples of broken Tory promises, until they remembered. We told them the Tories are no tax fighters – by showing them where taxes had actually gone up in the form of user fees, or other stealth taxes. We reminded them how the Tories promised to be careful with their tax dollars – and then showed them how they handed out fat contracts for their political buddies.
Remember: in politics, you sometimes have to get into fights with skunks like Mike Harris or Ernie Eves or Stockwell Day. Don’t make the mistake of letting the skunk choose the weapons. You choose the weapons. You manage the dialogue.
On Dalton, that means changing the channel. The “not up to the job” line worked because people did not really know who Dalton is. Since elections are just great big job interviews, not knowing much about the person applying for the job is always a big problem. We needed to make sure voters knew him the second time around, and we did. Chip away at the incumbent advantage. Find a parade, and get out in front of it.
I now see another parade coming, which means that my time is at an end. I will now give up the podium, so that you can ask questions, or take a few good shots at me, whichever comes first.