Thursday, October 22, 2015

New column day

Here (via PressReader), on how the prisoner's dilemma I wrote about back here wound up playing out in Canada's federal election.

For further reading, particularly on the difference in how the NDP and the Libs treated each other...

- Tonda MacCharles' look behind the scenes of the Cons' strategy includes this tidbit:
Senior Conservative organizer Ken Boessenkool even called New Democrats, advising them to turn their guns on the Liberals or both the Conservatives and the NDP would lose.
- But Anne McGrath noted that the NDP had a specific reason to go easy on Trudeau:

- Which makes for a rather direct contrast against the Libs' explicit strategy:
All of which might help to put a few of the parties' other decisions in context - and particularly the Cons' earlier focus on attacking Trudeau more than Mulcair even when the latter was ahead. 


  1. Are you going to cling to the fable that Mulcair attacked Harper, not Trudeau? Why don't you consult Gerald Caplan, writing in the Globe and Mail, and Michael Laxer, at Canadian Dimension? They're both New Dem stalwarts, real old school guys, and they know full well that Trudeau battled Harper while Mulcair attacked Trudeau - straight out of the Layton playbook. Unless, of course, you think that your alternate reality trumps Caplan and Laxer, in which case your party may be headed for more trouble than you imagine.

    1. There were certainly some more direct challenges to Trudeau at the end. And it's inevitable that the debates included some back-and-forth.

      But compare the messages which each opposition party broadcast to the widest possible audience: the NDP was the party releasing multiple ads aimed squarely at the Conservatives on the economy and ethics, while the Libs took another trip down the "two sides of the same coin" avenue.

  2. Hey Greg. A few points…
    1. Liberal supporters would have similarly rejected attacks on Mulcair if Mulcair had been at all likeable. Instead, he presented himself as "Prime Ministerial." And nobody minds when you beat up on a PM because career politicians are supposed to be able to take some knocks.

    2. For the voters who were motivated more by their distaste for Harper than by any strong feeling for a particular opposition party, they were searching for an avatar in the election who would stand in for them and do battle against Harper on their behalf. They wanted someone to embody their anger and disfavour. They wanted a neutral mask they could wear. Trudeau became that avatar for the angry ABC voter. Any attack on Trudeau, then, was an attack on voters themselves.

    Mulcair could have become that avatar himself. And you'll note that he was polling best before the election and early on while most voters knew very little about him beyond that he stood up to Harper on Bill C-51. In other words, as long as Mulcair was an unknown entity, people could see themselves in the NDP, let Angry Tom be their video game character fighting boss monster Harper. But the more voters saw of Mulcair and his weird way of speaking and the more they heard of his condescending, paternalistic tone, the more they said, "Yuck. I don't want to be that guy."

    3. Like Mound of Sound said, Mulcair and the NDP /were/ on the attack against Trudeau throughout the campaign. And Mulcair's personal attempts to go after Trudeau failed not because of people sympathies for the Liberal leader, but because the way Mulcair took his shots highlighted all the character flaws that people were already rejecting. Two examples from the debate stick out: Mulcair adopting Harper's use of the diminutive "Justin" when speaking to Trudeau, and the time Mulcair made a crack about Justin smoking pot. They were both such cheap, slimy tactics. The pot crack especially was egregious. It made Mulcair look stuffy and sanctimonious. He made himself the town vicar or one of the affronted parents in a teen drama where the hero has brought dancing to a small community.

    Holy shit! Tom Mulcair is John Lithgow in Footloose! NOBODY liked John Lithgow in Footloose.

    Anyway, I don't think the damage is permanent. Mulcair can come back from this (though I think it'll be difficult). People seem to have forgotten but in Layton was pretty much a laughing stock in his first election.

    1. A fair point in particular on how Mulcair personally spoke about Trudeau at times - which I see as a problem dating back before the campaign, and certainly something which will have to change now.

      That said, I don't see the problem having been one of how people responded to Mulcair personally, but how they responded to his portrayal by the other parties during the campaign. And there's always a cost in trying to choose one perceived image over another one - if Mulcair had been on the attack constantly, he'd have been facing two months of "Angry Tom" messaging from both parties as well as the media, while the grandfatherly image was probably the best possible way to rise above the fray.

    2. Trudeau was dismissed as not ready and reckless by the other parties. He turned both to his advantage.

      I'm saying, faced with an electorate that wanted change and wanted Harper out, Mulcair would have had less trouble overcoming the Angry Tom image than the Limp Ol'Mulcair one he went with. People wanted Angry Tom. So many commentators, going into the election, listed his fiery debate powers as Mulcair's key campaign strength. So instead of playing to those strengths, they hid all of that and crafted this inoffensive Prime Ministerial image for him that was unnatural and uninteresting. It was a huge miscalculation.