Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Back to work: How to not make it a stunt

I’m cautiously optimistic reading the news that the Liberal caucus will be “reporting for work” on Parliament Hill on January 25th, the day parliament was scheduled to resume before Stephen Harper decided giving politicians a two-month vacation was more important than passing anti-crime and (pro) consumer safety legislation.

This is a good move in theory, but they’ve got to tread very carefully to avoid making this seem like a stunt. So no banging on locked doors, as the article said, and no rhetorically asking questions you would ask in question period, or sit-ins/mock parliaments in an empty chamber. That's a recipe for mockery.

I’ve argued since the start of this perogy business that, even if it was an issue that could turn the public from the Conservatives, they’re not ready to turn to the Liberals yet – not liking the other guys is not a reason to support us. So if we just bring the caucus back to Ottawa and spend the whole time complaining about Harper’s two-month winter vacation, that’s a one-day story that ultimately changes little. In fact, the Conservatives would love if it if we spend the next two months doing nothing but kvetch about the shuttering of parliament.

There is an opening here. A great deal of media attention (thanks to the vacuum created with the Harper vacation) and an increased level of public attention is now being paid to the issue. Certainly the media will be out in force for the January 25th “return to work.” The question is, what do we do with that attention? Our message needs to be about more than the prorogument.

It’s perennially hard to get attention as an opposition party. Well, here’s the chance. Seize it. Use it to say we’re here because we believe our parliamentarians should keep working for Canadians, even if Stephen Harper doesn’t, because there are many important issues Canadians want us to be working on.

And then talk about those issues. The economy and jobs. The environment. Education. Health care. Child Poverty. The deficit. And so on. Talk about what we’d like to do on those issues, not just what the Conservatives aren’t doing, or are doing wrong. Bring in experts to talk about why action in these areas are important, and suggest actions that could be taken to help if only parliament was still meeting.

Use this opportunity to show not just that the decision to prorogue was wrong, but why: these are all the issues we should be in parliament working on. This is what we would do were we calling the shots in parliament. Give people a sense not just that there is an alternative to the Harper approach, but a sense of WHAT that alternative is.“Upset with prorogument?” you ask. “Well here’s what we’d do differently. Maybe give us a try?”

Most importantly though, after a day or two get the heck out of Ottawa. Michael Ignatieff already has his university listening tour scheduled, build on that. But it needs to go further. Draft the entire caucus and get them out on the road.

I’d like to see the caucus break into groups of, say, five Liberal MPs, all touring the country. Put a headliner in each: Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall-Findlay, and so on. Give them an issue area and send them out into the country to speak with Canadians about our ideas in that area, and to listen to the ideas of Canadians about what they want to see the government do on health care, or the economy. Have them meet with every local newspaper and radio station that wants to talk with them. Hang out in coffee shops. Listen and be visible and let the contrast speak for itself: we’re listening and working, the Conservatives are on vacation.

Bottom line: these two months Harper has given us can be an opportunity, but only if we seize it. Don’t get bogged down in the prorogurment, but instead use it as a spring board to define ourselves and connect with Canadians.

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Steve V said...

Good advice.

Gayle said...

I like it.

Maybe some roundtables? Ask people who are interested to contact the local liberal party headquarters (or MP if you are lucky enough to live in a province with a liberal MP). You would have to vet participants to ensure conservatives do not take over, but a good roundtable discussion with a few TV cameras might be good exposure.

Ti-Guy said...

What's the strategy for dealing with the increasingly surreal elite punditry of people like Andrew Coyne (who apparently, has a hard time grasping why 'Canadians deserve better.')

The Liberals better have one, because complete silence isn't working.

And someone please talk to Michael Ignatieff about the contemporary attitudes towards "earnestness."

Ted Betts said...

Invite Kevin Page to discuss the many reports on our finances that he plans on publishing over the next few weeks.

Robber88 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robber88 said...

I like your idea a lot and think the Liberals will be missing a huge opportunity if they sit in Ottawa and bitch, instead of going out and connecting with Canadians.

MississaugaPeter said...

Getting out there is a great idea, but let's get some vision and policies to get out.

Nothing makes me sadder than to think that all this will be another squandered opportunity (like last summer) for our Liberal MPs and Liberal leadership to create some vision and policies.