Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ignatieff’s presser: It’s a good start, but get out of Ottawa!

I wanted to watch the unfiltered video of Michael Ignatieff’s Friday press conference before commenting on it (alas, the GG didn’t prorogue my workplace so I was on the job at the time) and I got a chance to do that Saturday. And now there are also print and radio ads launched today by the Liberal Party as well, I’ll save that for the next post.

First, to the press conference. I saw some good messaging there from Ignatieff. He led with the prorogation, tied it to Stephen Harper’s demonstrated disdain for parliament and democracy, and said that the Liberal caucus is coming back to work on January 25th, when parliament was supposed to be returning. Canadians want them to be working through to the Olympics, and that’s what they’ll be doing, he said. That’s the right message.

And emphasizing that it’s not going to be a stunt, he said they would be holding pre-budget consultations and public policy forums, focusing on issues such as jobs and the economy (particularly happy to see him mention youth unemployment), governance (tying the prorogue into a larger pattern by the Conservatives), and the environment.

I like all that, but with one major caveat: it can’t be just about attacking Harper inaction on these issues, and mouthing general platitudes about how important these issues are. These forums need to include real ideas for action, meat on the bones about what we could or would do on some of these issues. Specifics, not “the children are our future” generalizations are what’s needed. And be ready to acknowledge we haven’t done all that we could have in the past, but that we must do better in the future.

So I like all that, but I do have one significant concern: my impression based on Ignatieff’s presser is that the Liberal caucus will be spending the entire period up until the Olympics “working” in Ottawa. As I wrote earlier, that’s a mistake, and I hope they revisit that.

Spend a few days in Ottawa, maybe a week, with the agenda that you’ve outlined. But after a few days you’ll have gotten the bang for your buck. The public and the media will lose interest after a little while. If you want to seize this opportunity you have got to get out of Ottawa.

There may be more genuine discord brewing around the prorogation than I’d originally thought there would be. The anti-prorogation Facebook group now has over 138,000 members. And in an amusing cross-society illustration, last night Ron MacLean was making prorogue jokes on Hockey Night in Canada while 75 university professors released a letter condemning Harper’s prorogation.

That anger may be out there, but we will not tap into it with the entire Liberal caucus spending the next few weeks on Parliament Hill. Send out the caucus in groups, each with a headliner (Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy, Martha Hall-Findlay, Ken Dryden) to hold some of these public policy forums on the road. Get out of Ottawa and meet with Canadians, particularly in swing and unheld ridings.

The longer they spend in Ottawa, the more momentum is lost. And maintaining momentum is going to be key; Harper is banking on people losing interest by the Olympics. Plus the longer they're in Ottawa, the national media will begin to turn on them, for virtue of being the only show in town to lob questions at. (I find David Akin’s explanation of how he decides to use his very limited opportunities to question Stephen Harper an interesting parallel to this.)

We saw a taste of that with Julie Van Dusen’s ridiculous questioning/taunting of Ignatieff on Friday: “What you’re saying is that he can push you around and get away with it! There’s no threat of an election! You’re not saying like you did in September that your time is up! You’re just saying you’re going to have a big gab-fest here and come back when you feel like it!”

This was after multiple questions and answers in both languages, I’d note, on the certainly relevant question of would he force an election over this and if not, why. So the issue was covered-off thoroughly. Van Dusen seemed to have her own narrative to fill though, annoyed the story wouldn't fit it, and it was a vivid demonstration of the dangers of the parliamentary bubble: everything there is about the horse race, treat and bluster, whose is bigger. And it demonstrates just how out of touch the bubble is with the rest of the country.

Thankfully, Ignatieff handled it with more grace that I or Josh Lyman would have, but he was clearly, to use his own word, “astonished.” Canadians want us working, he said. We can’t threaten elections every time Harper acts like a dufus, even if it does make for better television.

Anyway, I say again, do a few days to a week in Ottawa and then get everyone out on the road, in groups, to tour and meet with Canadians. Stay in Ottawa and the national media will get bored and move on to other things. Going to talk with every local media outlet that will have you will keep the issue alive, tie it into the larger narrative, and connect it to real issues that matter to Canadians more than threat and bluster reporting.

Get out of Ottawa!

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CuriosityCat said...

Stage protests against prorogation in visible sites along the highways and byways of Vancouver, DURING THE OLYMPIC GAMES, and especially around the Media centre, where 10,000 journalists from all over the world will be concentrating.

Think of the exposure ...

And the impact it will have on Harper trying to sweep his prorogation act under the carpet.

Steve V said...

The media will get bored, no matter the presentation. I just don't agree that having high profile MP's tour around will get attention, at least no more than the forum you criticize. Considering this whole issue is about Ottawa, I think it spot on to make the case from the building Harper runs from.

The only guy that will get much press is Ignatieff, and he'll be around the country.

I really like the Liberal strategy on this one.

Jeff said...


I like the forums, I just think confining them to Ottawa for the entire pre-Olympic period is a mistake. Do a week in Ottawa, then take the forums on the road.

And maybe the national press will only pay attention to Ignatieff, but I'm not talking about the national press. We need to get to the local press, and they will pay attention to a regional tour. By touring in groups, we hit more local markets than Ignatieff can on his own. A b-tour is a part of every party's election campaign, I'm just proposing doing that now as well.

I just don't see us sustaining momentum for the entire period if we stay in Ottawa the whole time. It will fade from the consciousness after a few days.


Perhaps that's something these grssroots protest groups should consider, I don't know. But I think if any of the parties got involved with something like that, there'd be a pretty severe danger of a public backlash, and it would be easy for the Conservatives to flip the issue on the opposition.

Steve V said...

After the first week, we're into Feb, the Olympic window. We really only have the protest preamble, and then a few more days. After that week, hard to see much traction, no matter. I actually see the next two week vacuum Harper created as the window, us showing up for work the final exclamation point.