But you do a lot of waiting when a loved one gets sick – in hallways,and at home, and at hospital bedsides. During those times, I wondered what the Liberal Party’s leadership could have done differently in the 2004 campaign – given that, in the view of most everyone, the campaign has been managed very poorly.
So I put together a quick list of ten things that could have been done, or could have been done differently. The Post agreed to print it, but I withdrew it when my father’s condition started getting worse. So here it is. You can file it in the free advice category.
1. First Rate: On December 12, 2000, Stephen Harper authored a statement to the effect that Canada was a “second tier socialistic country” [with] second-rate status. You could build a whole campaign around those words; personally, I would have made that the most infamous statement ever made. On every Grit TV spot, on every billboard, the tag line would be “First Rate,” or “Number One” or something like that. Every photo of Paul Martin, flashing the Number One. Every speech: “Canada’s number one, Stephen. We’re not second rate. Shame on you, etc.” Remind people of what they already know: that Canada is the greatest country in the world.
2. Smaller is Better: Don’t do a single, large-scale platform announcement; these days, when it comes to big-ticket promises, voters are crankier than a cobra at a sock hop. Ensure that each announceable is exceedingly modest – and announce only one plank every day for every day of the campaign (that’s been Mr. Harper’s approach, by the way). That would have guaranteed some daily positive coverage; it would have also forced the other guys to respond to Liberal ideas, not vice-versa; and, lastly, it would have turned modesty into a virtue, something voters want these days. Promise less, not more.
3. Bring back the Left: By now, it would have been a good investment of time to get down on ones? knees, and literally beg Jean Chrétien, the Trudeau people, Sheila Copps, Lloyd Axworthy to campaign for at least one day of the writ period, and loudly endorse the Liberal plan. All of that would have necessitated being nicer to those same folks, of course, but this is just a list of ideas. It isn’t reality, sadly.
4. Be the Health Care Champion: Slay health care premiums, from coast to coast. Tell Dalton McGuinty – and BC’s Gord Campbell, and Alberta’s Ralph Klein, who have had premiums for a long time – that you will offset the cost of health care premiums, and provide matching funds to the other provinces. If Ontario, Alberta and BC say no, you?ve at least earned the right to say that you tried your level best to improve health care in a way that people can see in their pocketbook. If the Premiers say yes (and they might), you are a hero. Find the money.
5. The Bucks Stopped Here: Pay back every cent donated by the so-called “Liberal friendly” ad firms. Promote the fact that you’re doing it. And get the Prime Minister to say at the start of the controversy (not during the writ) the following statement: “I didn’t know this was happening, but as Finance Minister, I should have. I take full responsibility for this. The buck stops here. I am sorry and here are ten things I plan to pass into law, to make sure it doesn’t happen again…”
6. Timing is Everything: Don’t call the election until you have to – that is, when you know you can win it.
7. Stop the Dippers: The NDP has been a growing threat to Liberal re-election fortunes for a year, at least. So don’t just stand there: steal the Left. Occupy the NDP’s breathing space. Don’t give the New Democrats an opening on anything – and, yes, that means ruthlessly dumping the right-wing Grit candidates (eg. Tom Wappel and Roger Gallaway, et al. whose position on social issues is indistinguishable from that of the social conservatives in the Conservative Party). And fight to allow the Greens in the Leaders’ Debates, because the Greens hurt the NDP the most.
8. Change, Not Chaos: Anyone with a pair of eyes and a poll knew, months ago, that this election was going to be about change and little else. Accordingly, with three consecutive majorities under your belt, there was no way on God’s green Earth that you have ever, ever credibly portrayed yourself as an “agent of change.” The objective, therefore, was to simply say: “Yeah, sure, Stephen and Jack represent change, alright. They represent change that is too radical, too irresponsible, too inexperienced for a first-rate country like Canada. That’s chaos, that’s not change.”
9. Campaigns Matter 101: Never, ever make your pollster your campaign manager. In a campaign, it is vital that Parliamentarians, party officials, and senior staff feel that they will be given a fair hearing by the campaign manager – to suggest an idea, to critique a strategy, to have their say. When the campaign manager is the pollster, even when that pollster is clever, everyone is a bit intimidated to dissent – because they suspect that the guy holding the focus group and polling results will always win the argument. So they say nothing, until it’s too late. Not good.
10. Remember How You Won: Don’t run from your record, particularly if it helped to get you re-elected with the three consecutive majority governments. Embrace it. It was a winning record, after all.