Monday, December 18, 2006

Setting the agenda and framing the question

I'd say winter is in the air, but here in the Centre of the Universe the weather has been decidedly warmish lately. Election fever is definitely in the air though, and how successful we are in the coming vote will depend largely on our ability to influence the issues the election is fought on. We need to set the question.

On timing, it seems increasingly a given that we will be going to the polls at some point in the spring. The only question would seem to be if it's on the budget, or before on an issue of the opposition's choosing. All things being equal I'd prefer to wait; the LPC needs to organize, fundraise and develop a platform. This work is happening, but it takes time.

Things being unequal, however, I'd rather not have to fight an election on a Conservative budget sprinkled with big spending promises around transfers to the provinces and tax cuts for selected demographic interest groups. Enabled by a decade of sound Liberal fiscal management, but that's moving off topic.

It's better to go on an issue more of our choosing. Will it be the environment? Afghanistan? Time will tell, but better an issue like one of these. While neither are perfect issues for the LPC, both are issues we can make strong arguments on and that will play well in much of the country for us, and particularly in some key regions.

Which brings me to the point of this post: issues. We need to frame the debate around our issues, and try as hard as possible to keep the focus on the issues we want to run on, rather than the issues Harper wants to run on. Harper's going to try to move the debate to the issues he wants to run on, where he sees plusses for him and minuses for us; we need to keep on offence and off defence.

For example, Senate reform. Harper made a splash last week with some empty proposals that garnered a lot of media and blogshpere attention. It's an issue that sounds great on the surface, let's reform the Senate. Who could say no? But, like most Harper proposals, the details don't match the rhetoric. His reform proposals are hollow, more show than substance. He obviously feels though this will play well with Canadians.

Outside of his Alberta base I have my doubts, but either way if we get bogged down in a debate on Senate reform that's time we're not spending talking about the environment and the sustainable economy, about Afghanistan, about health care, about infrastructure development.

As much as possible we need to keep the debate on our issues. Our ability in setting the agenda on that front in the next election will be crucial to our success. Last campaign we let the Conservatives set the agenda early and we never got back in the game. We were stuck reacting, rather than making news.

We can't afford to make that mistake again.

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Miles Lunn said...

I would say that we need to bring down the government on some time other than the budget. The budget will likely be loaded with tax cuts as well as several cheques written out to various provinces so that will be tough to fight against. On the other hand Harper is normally a right wing ideologue in his behavior except when he expects an election so we are better to pull the plug when he does something unpopular and run our platform as well as if there is a major issue defining the campaign, it is one that hurts the Tories and also a truly national issue not a highly regionalistic one. Things like the Canadian Wheat Board, senate reform, fiscal imbalance are too regional and likely won't be the issues that win it for us, whereas Afghanistan, the environment, social programs, health care, and the economy are the types of issues that are national and will reasonate across the country

CuriosityCat said...

We can only bring down the government at a time and on an issue of the Bloc's choosing. The Liberal and NDP parties are passengers in this Parliament, not players with power.

So we have to weigh each action by the Bloc in deciding on a no confidence motion, very carefully, and decide if we agree with the timing. The Bloc calls the shots; we do not. Nor does Harper, within limits.

So Harper struggles to retain control of the agenda, and to stuff his budget with as many gifts for Quebec as he can, so as to discourage the Bloc from pulling the plug. And those gifts will work against LPC, NDP and Bloc, and for the Tories.

That is politics. The real world.

There are no timouts in the real world, to allow you to "renew" and "rebuild".

Kyle said...

The environment is probably the best issue to bring the government down over.

The NDP are apparently looking to table a bill on the environment prior to the budget being released. If they are as serious about the environment as they say, the program will have some real teeth to it, so much so that the Conservatives probably won't support it. It gives the Liberals a way to hold true to their own commitment while bringing the Conservatives down at the same time. They need to get behind this initiative.

A BCer in Toronto said...

They need our help to bring down the government too, we're far from powerless.

Miles Lunn said...

We need at the very least the support of the Bloc Quebecois to bring down the government and even that alone isn't quite enough. The balance actually rests with the two independents so if the NDP and Tories are on one side and the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals on the other side we could have a repeat of last year where Chuck Cadman saved the government from falling. This means Andre Arthur and Garth Turner could be the ultimate deciders.