Thursday, October 08, 2009

With no plan, it's better the devil you know

We’ll be reading much about polls, and how they’re not good for the Liberals. And they’re not.

And we’ll be reading much about how opposition leaders always have tough starts (they do), how things can quickly turn around (they can) and how campaigns matter (they do).

While obviously I pay attention to polls, I tell myself not to worry when they’re bad and not to get too confident when they’re good. Polls can concern me, and they do, and I believe they can be overcome, so I don’t worry in that sense.

But I would be a lot more confident if I sensed we had a plan, a strategy, a way to get us to where we need to go. Yes, polls are a snapshot. Yes, opposition leaders have rough starts. Yes, campaigns do matter. Yes, these things can, are and will be turned around. But not without a plan.

What concerns me is not so much the polling numbers as the fact I can’t discern at the moment what our winning strategy is to achieve that turnaround I believe to absolutely be possible.

And we do need a plan, because what we’re doing right now clearly isn’t working.

I don’t need polls to tell me that either. If I, as a Liberal, am unclear on just what the party currently stands for, if I’m unclear on just what our plan is, on what we want to do in government, on what our vision for the country is, then how can we expect Canadians to support us?

When I talk to members of the non-political Canadian majority, they don't follow the scandals that we politicos get all excited about. They don't care about who props-up who, or confidence motions, or the like. They're not Harper fans but they think he's done an adequate job. And they don't know Ignatieff, what he's for, or what the Liberals are all about. Harper's the devil they know.

Our strategy seems to be say nothing, commit to nothing, just attack Harper and wait for him to fall on his face. That pre-supposes, of course, that he will. Even if he does, if you don’t give Canadians a compelling alternative, if you don’t give them a distinct choice, nine times out of 10 they’ll stick with the devil they know.

I don’t know what we stand for. Apparently we’re against having “adult conversations” with Canadians, walking back the mere suggestion pretty dammed quickly. It would be a risky strategy, perhaps, but timidity isn’t going to get us anywhere. No risk, no reward.

No, instead we present a muddled negative vision that you don’t need to be an adult to see through. I used to mock the Conservatives for Harper’s declaration he’ll balance the budget without program spending cuts, tax increases or, now, transfer payments. It’s a non-sensical position that defies the laws of economics. You can’t grow your way out of a structural deficit of this size.

So imagine my annoyance when the Liberals echoed that same promise. We’d better have a good plan to back that up, I thought. I’m led to believe we do, but it’s a secret. Wait for the campaign. So, instead, we’re still bizarrely going around attacking the Conservative position while echoing its gravity-defying promise AND offering no alternative plan.

Never mind adults, junior high kids can see through that. If we’re not going to offer something different, mindless attacks are just that: mindless. It only draws attention to the absence of our own plan.

I’ve written before of my advice for Michael Ignatieff, as did Dan Arnold. George Young adds more good thoughts today.

Bottom line for me though:

* The Liberal Party needs to stand for something, besides wanting to be back in government.
* Fortune favours the daring, and punishes the timid. So find the balls to take some calculated risks.
* Treat Canadians like adults, maybe they’ll return the favour.
* Liberals need to see there’s a plan, that we’re all on this ship rowing somewhere together, and not just in circles.

Right now, I get the sense that we’re just drifting aimlessly, turning our sail to the scandal du jour, waiting for the Harper implosion that may never come.

That’s a course that is as likely to crash our ship on the rocks as anything else.

Will we recognize this and change course, or not?

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


CanadianSense said...

Will they stop chasing silly stories and creating divisions within Canada?

Bodybags, wafers, unsexy comments.

Give VOTERS a reason to VOTE for the Liberal party again.

Many of us voted for the Red Book Promises. Some voted against the BM scandals they went to NDP/ Reform out west.

Provide a list of detailed policies that are different and introduce and "sell them" in the HOC and across Canada.

Leave the strictly negative narrative, it is NOT working.

JF said...

If fortune favored the daring Stephane Dion would be PM right now, was anything any other party proposed last election as daring as the Green Shift? I say no and we still got clobbered.

It's nice to say that the adult conversation would have worked but it wouldn't have... all that would have happened would be that the CPC would cut and air scathing attack ads about how the LPC was going to tax you into poverty and Jack Layton's magical mustache would schreik that the LPC would slash beloved social programs into nothingness. The media would give the LPC about 5 seconds of positive coverage for honesty and then ape the other parties talking points.

That being said the LPC does need to better articulate what they would do differently, now that they've shaken off the role of government "prop-up" they can do that much more effectively. Sure the polls aren't good at right this moment... let's give the LPC a little time to now actually be an opposition party before doomsaying.

Jeff said...

If fortune favored the daring Stephane Dion would be PM right now

It's not that simplistic. Yes, fortune favours the daring, but in this context you also need to be able to sell it. And I love him, but Stephane couldn't. That's why it failed.

With high risk there can be high reward, but there's also high risk of failure. Adult conversations are risky. You need to make your case persuasively, counter the smears of your opponents, and win the argument.

But the fact is, if you want to win, you need to get in the game. Stay on the sidelines and your jersey won't get dirty. But you won't win the cup either.

wilson said...

First off, you have to realize that the LPC is you, not the OLO.

Getting back into government asap was a grassroots demand.
Your gang has some serious 'adult thinking' to do about the coalition fast track into government, and what it would do to the party and Canada.

Waiting for 'them' to come up with policy,
waiting for 'them' to make decisions.

What's stopping the grassroots from demanding an actual, real, grassroots participation, policy convention?
And don't hide behind the Liberal constitution.

JF said...

If you say so Jeff.

I think the deficit is a loser issue so long as the Tories refuse to acknowledge that tax hikes and/or spending cuts will be required. So long as they do that they're offering people the easy way out and people love to take the easy way out even if deep down they know it's too good to be true. How else to explain the continued profitabiity of the lottery.

I'd rather the Liberals just define themselves by loudly jumping on tory mistakes, picking a few key easily understood issues and pushing them in the House by making them the focus of QP, offering amendments to make tory bills their own bills, private member bills, voting against the tory plans. That strikes me as emminantly more practicle then trying for some grandiose "national conversation" thing.

Oh and I want to start fighting fire with fire. If Stevey Firewalls is going to launch negative political ads at M.I. I'd like to see him face the same. Less Narnia more Napalm.

Mark Richard Francis said...

They have to name three things Harper is weak on, and hammer, hammer, hammer with themes to match.

And play the long game with it too. We know that Harper is eventually going to get killed by an internal scandal unsuccessfully buried by his penchant to restrict and control information, so his autocratic hand has to be one of themes. It is simultaneously his best sword and Achilles heel.

Not that I'm advocating waiting for a scandal as a strategy.

Not that I'm routing for this batch of Liberals to get in either.

Steve V said...

"Our strategy seems to be say nothing, commit to nothing, just attack Harper and wait for him to fall on his face."

That was actually a very credible strategy in the spring, because the daily deluge of bad economic data meant that we could be benefit from the traditional incumbent damage. It was fairly shrewd to simply stay out of the way and watch our opponent chafe. Problem is, nobody seems to realize that those days are long past, there is a new sense in the land and it means we must TAKE voters, not wait for them to look for a safe haven. All I ask is for a little AGILITY here, because it was obvious to me in June, after we took a pass, that we needed a serious rethink on strategy. We can't rely on external events to benefit us, we need to seize the agenda. The only way one does this is to capture people's imagination, and that necessitates some level of risk.

If you drill down to the central problem, it will always be this, which you articulate- Canadians can't differentiate where the Liberals stand, we have a IDENTITY crisis. If you accept this most obvious of premise, then the solution is equally obvious. You NEED to give the party form, and this is only achieved with policy that rebrands. Simply focusing on scandals and opponent missteps is only a piece of the puzzle, you need to ATTRACT, rather than putting your chips on REPEL. Harper has made it through the worst, there is no kick the bums scenario available, so let's DARE or we're done. It's that simple and anybody who doesn't realize this, is engaged in wishful thinking. Not panic, but sober assessment.

We have an internationally respected intellectual, surrounded by equally able people. Let them roam.

Barcs said...

Can I assume this is one of the polls you are talking about??

Ekos released today (+/- 1.8%)
Conservatives - 39.7%
Liberals - 25.7%
New Democrats - 15.2%
Bloc Quebecois - 9.7%
Greens - 9.7%

Metropolitan cities:

Vancouver (MoE 10.22)
Conservatives: 44.9 (+2.7)
Liberals: 25.8 (-0.7)
NDP: 18.2 (-2.5)
Green: 11.1 (-1.4)

Toronto (MoE 5.59)
Conservatives: 44.8 (+5.7)
Liberals: 35.6 (-7.7)
NDP: 10.3 (-0.9)
Green: 9.4 (+2.0)

Montreal (MoE 5.35)
Bloc Quebecois: 37.2 (+2.7)
Conservatives: 19.8 (+5.6)
Liberals: 24.4 (-7.3)
NDP: 8.5 (+1.2)
Green: 10.2 (-2.1)

With a few results like this the liberals might be begging Dion to come back.

I am glad that at least some liberals are wising up to "I'm not Harper" not being a central strategy. A plan is needed, and I hope that the liberals can come up with a good one. One that even if it doesn't put the liberals in power, it will atleast push the Tories on doing the right things for Canadians.

CanadianSense said...

Steve V.

Dude your guy has NO clothes on! He is polling horribly with EVERY demographic in EVERY region.

Correction: he leads the demographic that don't show up (under 25)

Narnia Ads?

including yourself first!

Iffy has an impressive "resume" we can parade him around and voters will fall in love again with Liberals?

Are you working for CPC party Steve V. as a double agent?

You can't make this stuff up!

McLea said...

Impressive post Jedras. Nice to see that behind the partisan hack facade, you actually have some stones. Look forward to listening to you on the radio tonight.

Mike514 said...

I second McLea's comment. Good on you for telling it like it is. Keep up the good grassroots work.

Unlike McLea, I won't be listening to you on the radio tonight (nothing personal, I swear!) but good luck on the air nonetheless.