Friday, January 05, 2007

Behind the headline lies only bluster

Having breakfast this morning at 24 Sussex Steve Harper clearly saw the headline in the Globe that he hoped his cabinet shuffle would generate. "PM charts a greener course" the above the fold headline blares. Eddie, if only wishing made it so.

I wondered last night why Steve would time today's Kaaahhhhnnn! floor-crossing for today, thereby moving the news cycle away from his cabinet shuffle and to what is sure to be a bevy of Kaaahhhhnnn! stories instead. Indeed, the shuffle is already being pushed off the Web news pages, and I'm sure the TV news too.


The answer though is really a simple matter of political communications strategy. He wanted the day one story: PM makes environment a priority. He didn't want the more introspective day two stories though, when an inquisitive media begins to question the PMO's talking points and do some analysis pieces, and see if this is really greener course or just more hot air.


Because that's what the greener course spin really is, it's just hot air. There is no greener course. There is no policy shift. This is just putting lipstick on a pig and changing the salesman, nothing more. The course has always been charted in the PMO.


You can make the argument that Harper moved-out the underperforming Ambrose and put in one of his most trusted ministers, and his wife's first consort, Baird. That's true. But you can't argue that means he's charting a greener course. Because that's not what Baird was sent there to do. Baird doesn't bring strong environmental creds, or really any environmental creds at all. He hasn't articulated any new policy directions or shifts that would justify talk of "a greener course." Harper sent in Baird because he recognizes Canadians are concerned about the environmental issue, that's true. But Harper doesn't want a greener course. He wants to neutralize the environment as an election issue.


That's why he sent in his attack dog: to kill the issue, and attack the Liberals. It's not a green
er course; it's an attack the Liberal record course. That has been clear from Baird's media comments since the shuffle. And not only is that not a greener course, it's not even a new course. Attack the Liberals was Ambrose's game plan too; perhaps Baird will execute better.

Greener course?


If Harper really want to plot a greener course, as Devin commented he would have tapped Bob Mills for the portfolio. I mean, just look at his Web site. A respected veteran Conservative MP, Mills was their environment critic for four years, chairs the HoC environment committee, and has been recognized by the Sierra Club.

A few years back Mills came to my riding in B.C. to discuss environmental policy at the invite of our then local Conservative MP. I went to check it out, expecting to hear some wacky, nutty stuff I could file away for future oppo. Dammit though if the guy didn't make sense, demonstrate real passion and understanding on the issue, and have some great ideas. I walked away rather impressed with Bob Mills.


That's who Harper would have picked if he was serious about going green, and wasn't just serious about election politics and positioning. Look past the window dressing and it's obvious.


Next story


Which brings us back to Kaaahhhhnnn! The media will never do that kind of second look introspection now. Their attention spans are too short. We're going to go straight from PM charts greener course to PM attracts Liberal defector. Once again, Harper demonstrates his acumen as a political strategist; it's great media management and communications strategy. I've always given Steve credit for that.


It's just too bad that, like most Harper strategies, it's also really bad policy.

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7 comments:

hiti said...

I though his cabinet shuffle yesterday was timed so the news could be overshadowed by the Dems taking control in the USA.

I also noticed the disdain Steve has for reporters which he barely controlled as the media was questioning him.

Were I a journalist, I would bid my time and during an election nail Steve just as the media did to Lyin' Brian Mulroney.

Olaf said...

Jeff,

This is just putting lipstick on a pig and changing the salesman, nothing more. The course has always been charted in the PMO.

I don't know. If this is just dressing up a pig (the pig being the Conservatives environmental policy), I think Canadians will see through it. I mean, there was a lot of hype and hoopla and grand rhetoric around the Clean Air Act, but Canadians didn't buy into it.

I'm sure that Baird was chosen in part because he can defend a policy with theatrical rigor in Question Period. However, the first Clean Air Act was all rhetoric and no substance, and the Conservatives got trashed for its lack of substance. No matter how much you dress something up, if there's no substance, there's no substance.

Which begs the question: will putting slightly more effort into dressing up the pig make Canadians more blind to the fact that it is still a pig?

Further, are the Conservatives foolish enough to try the same "rhetoric without substance" tact, with simply a better salesman? Time will tell, I guess.

Coyne makes a good point today: the Conservatives can't win on the Environment, but if they do nothing, they can lose on it. My guess is, they won't do nothing.

It's just too bad that, like most Harper strategies, it's also really bad policy.

Would you classify welcoming a floor crosser into caucus as a "policy"? And if so, is having Khan in the government caucus somehow a bad policy for Canadians?

But Harper doesn't want a greener course. He wants to neutralize the environment as an election issue.

How does Harper think he can neutralize the most important issue to Canadians by having some loud mouth yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs? This doesn't make sense.

The more the Conservatives try to not talk about the environment, the more questions in question period will be devoted to it, the more press conferences Layton, Dion and May will hold on it. You can't neutralize an important issue to Canadians without at least meeting the minimum expectations, which would definitely include a greener course.

Basically, I hate this entire post, and I hate you, Jeff. Wait... that's a bit to far. But I definitely didn't like the post. Actually, I enjoyed reading it. But I respectfully disagree with a few of your points. There, deal with THAT.

Mike said...

"This is just putting lipstick on a pig"

When discussing John Baird, you have no idea how funny and ironic that statement really is.

Lolly said...

Olaf, hates this post.
"Hatred is a weakness",

Jeff, you nailed it even if you weren't aware that 2007 is the Lunar year of the Pig, with the element Fire.

I loved this post.

A BCer in Toronto said...

If this is just dressing up a pig...I think Canadians will see through it.

I hope so too.

Would you classify welcoming a floor crosser into caucus as a "policy"?

No, perhaps bad sentence construction there on my part. I was making a wider point about Harper's ability to come out with things that sound really good, but on closer inspection actually fall flat.

I would put the GST thing in that category, for example. One per cent cut in the GST. Political genius, economically stupid. It's when you look beneath the surface, and learn that income taxes would have to go up to pay for it, that the wealthy would disproportionately benefit, you need to spend "to save" that you see it's bad policy. But how many people look beyond the surface?

Many of Harper's other planks fall into that category: great soundbite, iffy beneath the surface. They count on a short attention span from the public. That's what I was trying to tie into his media strategy this week, shuffle and made it seem like he's taking green action, and then move the newscycle to the next story before people think too closely about it.

Then there's does he want a greener course. Harper's desire or not for a greener course is separate from Baird: the PMO will set the policy, Baird will just sell it. Baird's move to the portfolio in and of itself is no indication of Harper's commitment to greenism, beyond wanting to make sure the Liberals can't run on it. Baird will continue to attack the Liberal record, and probably do a better job than Ambrose.

Now, does Harper actually want a Greener course? I'm not convinced. Harper wants a majority. Nothing surprising there, nothing wrong with that. But I don't think he has any real commitment to the issue beyond the electoral ramifications. I think he's going to do just enough to try to neutralize the issue.

I'll expect a splashy announcement, Clean Air 2. I suspect, much like the GST and many of his other planks, it will sound great on the surface. It will be the job of the opposition to dig deeper and see if it's more than just flash. You know what I expect the answer to that will be.

Olaf said...

Jeff,

I would put the GST thing in that category, for example. One per cent cut in the GST. Political genius, economically stupid.

Agreed. In the same political genius, and yet stupid policy category, I'd put the gun registry. All parties have their pet dumb policies which sound pretty politically.

Otherwise, I agree with the rest of your post, except your prediction:

I'll expect a splashy announcement, Clean Air 2. I suspect, much like the GST and many of his other planks, it will sound great on the surface. It will be the job of the opposition to dig deeper and see if it's more than just flash. You know what I expect the answer to that will be.

I think that his new environment plan will be quite rigorous, and will have the backing of the NDP, who have always (until, possibly, the election of Dion) had a more robust environmental policy than the Liberals.

I don't think Harpers stupid enough to try to put lipstick on a pig again, after the sound thrashing he took for his last effort. But time will tell.

s.b. said...

Except that Dion just outfoxed him and now the Cons can't hold us over a barrel on the budget and we can delay an election until at least the fall. Harper was just lost contol of the agenda and election timing to Dion who took charge of the situation.
Oh yeah we got rid of Khan too,

Brilliant!