If there’s been one challenge for the Liberal Party during these years in opposition … ok, scratch that. One of the many challenges for the Liberal Party during these years in opposition has been our inability to move past the tactical attack and build a strategic narrative.
By that, I mean we focus in narrowly and mightily on an ever-changing parade of stories of the day and scandals du jour, letting them dominate our time, our messaging and our media. We get ourselves psyched-up each time that this will be game-changer: isotopes, cancer is sexy, stimulus funding, giant cheques, H1N1, to name but a few. Inevitably, after an initial flurry of coverage, the story dies away and we’re back to square one, looking for the next home-run opportunity.
Governments, however, are rarely (if ever) defeated by home-runs, and a focus on tactical attacks isn’t going to score runs in the long-run. A death by a thousand cuts alone could take a thousand years. Tactical attacks are important, but without trying it into a larger strategy you’re not going to get anywhere. And we haven’t. We're just flailing about.
But take a look at many of the tactical issues where we’ve tried to gain traction over the last year: listeria and food safety, medical isotopes, preparing for the Chalk River shut-down, H1N1 and flu pandemic preparation. There’s a common thread emerging here: health care. It's traditionally a strong Liberal issue, and one that is still at the top of public concern.
Certainty, as the headlines show this morning the H1N1 issue is rife for tactical attack against the Harper government:
Flu 'fiasco' fault of feds
Minister unhappy over vaccine
H1N1 vaccine supplies slow
Long lineups, vaccine shortage beset Week 2 of swine flu campaign
Pandemic straining Canada's public-health services
Signs of frustration as Canadians seek H1N1 vaccine
And Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and the Harper government’s handling of the crisis is getting poor media reviews. From CTV’s Question Period yesterday:
JANE TABER: What did you take from the interview that Craig did with the Health Minister? What have we learned, anything?So as I said, certainly an issue ripe for tactical attack. But without context, without placing this issue in a larger strategic picture, then H1N1 will join the long list of issues the Liberals huffed and puffed about for a few weeks that will simply fade away over time, leaving the Conservatives little to no the worse for the wear.
GREG WESTON (Sun Media): I think the first thing that I was struck with, Jane, pardon the expression, is, I thought it was about as compassionate as a needle in the arm. You know here we have people who are standing in line for six, seven hours, being turned away, after months of being told that they had to get out and get the swine flu shot. Now we've had a couple of unfortunate deaths, parents who are understandably desperately worried about their kids, and they're being told that it's a jurisdictional issue, or they're being told, well, that's the provinces' responsibility, it's not the federal responsibility. I mean this is exactly what will make people throw things at their television, I think. You know, this is the worst side of government is a lack of compassion, when they get too locked up in process and they forget how do we help these people out there, and no government is answering that, and, frankly, the communications on this, as Craig pointed out on a few times, have just resulted in mass confusion and now panic.
And there is a larger picture to be painted here, because there is a common thread to be identified here: health care. When it comes to issues of public health and safety the Conservatives just aren’t getting the job done. They bungled food safety. They knew Chalk River was on its last legs, but they did little to nothing to explore and secure alternative medical isotope sources. When it was unexpectedly (but inevitably) shut down, they had no viable alternative plan to ensure cancer screening continued. And with everyone knowing H1N1 was going to be a major challenge this fall, the government bungled the preparation despite months of prep-time, leaving us looking like boobs compared to our global peers.
It’s not enough to just focus on H1N1 and the government’s incompetence preparing for the crisis. Tie it into a larger historical pattern of incompetence and use it as a springboard to talk about wider Conservative inaction on health care and why and how a Liberal government will make it a priority. Talk about wait times and Conservative inaction on their infamous fifth priority, talk about defending our public system when Harper is unwilling to do so, and offer some health-care related policy tidbits as examples of what the Liberals would do differently.
For a change, let’s get strategic. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers