Sunday, August 23, 2015

On weak attempts

Following up on these earlier posts, here's a quick look at the last of the messages Bob Hepburn thinks the NDP may face from the Cons in particular as the election campaign progresses.
2) Tax-and-spend image: NDP loyalists consider this issue as “trite,” but already Harper is hammering away at it, claiming Mulcair would raise taxes and spend countless billions on programs such as a national $15-a-day child care plan. Already, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been mocking the NDP, saying it doesn’t know what the tax rates are, “it just knows everybody’s taxes have to be higher.” Expect lots more of this in the weeks ahead.
Precedent: Very strong, as it represents the Cons' consistent message about all parties at all times. But that doesn't necessarily help in dealing with a specific opponent.
Relationship to Salient Issues: Strong to the extent it fits the Cons' economic message.
Credibility: Moderate due to the Cons' own propensity for spending money on far less worthwhile ends.
Likely Responses: Moderate to strong. Any criticism that figures to be neutralized by a party's platform is always risky, and nothing about the message would go beyond what the NDP is already preparing for.
Spillover Effects: The one major problem for the Cons is that they've similarly been using this message against the Libs. So it doesn't serve to single out the NDP - and the fact that it hasn't been enough to push voters into the Cons' column already suggests that it will have limited effect no matter how many times "NDP" is cut-and-pasted into existing ads and stump speeches.
3) Pipeline and oilsands projects: Mulcair is in a tough spot here, having to convince voters he is pro-development at the same time as having to deal with NDP voters who vehemently oppose oil pipelines and want to leave oil from the Alberta oilsands in the ground. Critics have already seized on this issue, suggesting Mulcair says one thing in Quebec about the proposal to move western oil through the Energy East pipeline to eastern refineries and another thing elsewhere in the country.
Precedent: Strong due to the Cons' constant harping about oil development. And the Cons will surely have an eye to the most recent B.C. election as an example of opposition to pipelines opening a party up for criticism - though as noted below, the NDP has already distinguished that precedent.
Relationship to Salient Issues: Moderate to strong to the extent oil is seen as synonymous with the economy, though that itself is up for question.
Credibility: Weak to moderate - not because anybody doubts the Cons' desire to push oil development at every opportunity, but because they've utterly failed in the approach. If the worst one can say about the NDP is that it will match the number of pipeline projects completed under the Cons, that's hardly a compelling attack.
Likely Responses: Moderate. In addition to pointing out the Cons' record, the NDP will figure to continue with its message from the debates about approving and encouraging development where it fits with a credible environmental assessment.
Spillover Effects: Moderate. The hope for the Cons would be to force the NDP into responding at the same time to Green and Bloc demands to signal disapproval. But the danger is that as in the first leaders' debate, Mulcair and the NDP will only look reasonable and thoughtful compared to the "build everything!" and "build nothing!" positions on either side.  
4) Lack of an experienced, senior team: Mulcair wants to portray the NDP as a government-in-waiting, with a strong team of potential cabinet ministers. Mulcair has indeed recruited few high-profile candidates and Harper has already criticized the Quebec NDP caucus as ineffective and lacking any stars. In recent days, though, Mulcair has recruited Andrew Thompson, a former Saskatchewan finance minister, to run in Toronto against federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver and former MP Olivia Chow to run in Toronto against sitting Liberal MP Adam Vaughan. 
Precedent: None to minimal. There's been little groundwork on this other than a few scattered comments, and I'm not sure of any precedent for a party with a popular leader and policies suffering electorally due to criticism of potential cabinet appointments. (Consider the relative strength of the federal NDP today compared to, say, the Alberta version before this year's election where the same criticism was raised.)
Relationship to Salient Issues: None to minimal. At best the message fits with the Cons' branding of Harper as a steady hand, but it's directly contrary to their primary criticism of Mulcair's political career.
Credibility: Minimal, particularly with most of the Cons' already-thin list of stars sitting this election out.
Likely Responses: Strong. As noted by Hepburn, the NDP is regularly unveiling new star candidates (with Anne Lagace Dowson joining the list today) - meaning that a focus on this message only sets a party up to be refuted.
Spillover Effects: None.
5) Internal splits within the NDP: The NDP is divided internally between old-style lefties dismayed by the party’s move to the mushy middle and by pragmatists, including Mulcair, who see a more centrist route as the only path to victory. So far, Mulcair has been able to keep this split under wraps, but if the polls start to slip then these divisions could start to crop up in a big, public way. 
Precedent: None. In fact this is inherently an internal factor, meaning there's little reason to think the Cons or any other party will be seen as doing anything other than trolling in trying to raise it.
Relationship to Salient Issues: None to minimal. (At best it might fit with a message of not yet knowing the NDP.)
Credibility: #weareearlcowan
Likely Responses: Minimal. Obviously the NDP will be working on holding its movement together as every party does, but as long as that proceeds as expected there would be nothing much more to do in response to this particular attack.
Spillover Effects: None.

In sum, the list of "weaknesses" presented by Hepburn consists of a couple of easily-foreseen policy choices for which the NDP has already prepared strong responses, and a few which fall short of passing the laugh test. So while it's worth preparing for the ones which might matter, there's no reason to consider them as new reasons for concern.

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