Movin’ on… Or not?

My husband is about the most intuitive advertising guy going and he’s right when he says John Doyle – the Globe’s TV columnist – may be the best political columnist in the country. Here’s what Doyle had to say about by-elections a year and a half ago, when he had no idea that there would be four campaigns in Tory and Liberal leaning ridings yesterday:

‘“Layton’s election campaign, seen day after day on TV, connected intuitively to the stories of others that warm our hearts and remind us of our best aspects. The iconography of Layton’s campaign on TV – the cane, the limp, the smiling determination to overcome, was the entry point for Canadians to connect to the NDP leader and through him, to his party.

‘All political parties and their leaders have a strategy to create a narrative that suits their purposes… something freely acknowledged in Jane Taber’s interviews with senior Tories in her recent piece, “Harper spins a new brand of patriotism.” National symbols matter. National ideals of “pride” and “bravery” are vital in all of this.

‘In Layton’s election campaign the narrative was clearly not faked, or mere strategy: The person was the message and the message was the person. It’s how television works, to isolate and highlight authenticity.’

I want to point out another message type thing.  My daughter found and developed Jack’s tour dates in 2011.  (Spot the pride?) – She understood that Jack’s fight was the message and when he stood up in that Montreal bar waving his cane just as the underdog Canadien’s scored, it was because she understood the message that picture carried to millions of Canadians who desperately wanted a leader who would stand with them.

It was highly unlikely that the NDP was going to win one of the 4 seats at play in last weeks by-elections.  Regardless.  The Liberals did what they needed to do and the NDP and the Conservatives didn’t.

For the NDP, it’s a good thing these by-elections are two years out.  If we read the tea leaves correctly and take the action necessary to re-tool there’s a good fight to be had.  At the very least Harper and his Tories should be gone the morning after in 2015.

And 90% of Canadians should be able to celebrate that.

Lessons to be learned

So, what’s the take away from last night? It’s pretty simple: we need a message and we need issues and examples of that message that show Canadians that we are on their side.

We need to demonstrate through words, events, messengers and strategy that we get what Canadians are going through as the Harper Tories remake our country in their image and we will repair that – not take us backward, but take Canada forward on a path that puts greater equality first  – that means a real chance at meaningful education, pensions when they are needed, decent wages and benefit etc…

The good news is that that message is there for the taking.

The bad news is that the Liberals – the true magpie party – is already taking it. We’re spending our time sounding so know it all, calling Justin Trudeau out as an airhead thief from the right side of the tracks, when all he is doing is following the well-worn Liberal playbook:  steal the NDP message and the Tory platform or rather throw a spaghetti platform at the wall and see what sticks.

I’m not so sure we’re going to see bud two years from now, but who knows?  More importantly, over at Liberal headquarters I’m sure they are saying “who cares”.  They’ll pitch whatever works and doesn’t get in the way of what I think they consider is their personal 40%.

And the message is?

I’m sure if I asked, the Federal NDP would say we have an issue and a message and it’s inequality.  And I’d reply, ‘if that’s the case, why was the most memorable campaign moment when our leader and our candidate in Toronto Centre disagreed about tax increases for corporations and the wealthy?’

Someone very important to the campaign didn’t get the inequality memo. More importantly, inequality isn’t a message – yet.  It’s a general state of being that’s at issue in this country and is very hard to turn into a tight, easy to use issue, let alone a message that resonates with the millions we need to reach. And we aren’t doing that yet.  The evidence is very clear.

For example we have spent three weeks in the House killing the PMO on the Senate scandal.  It was excellent work and painted the PMO and the Tory senate as two of the most crooked institutions in the country. But what does that have to do with our message going into the by-elections?  It sure helped the Liberals, who needed someone to take Harper down a peg or two.  But didn’t do a thing to define us or raise the issue of inequality.

Worse, it left the field open to the magpies. So job one is to do the same job on inequality: adopt it and refine it and turn it into our message because inequality of opportunity and result is changing this country for the worse and along with the environment we take for granted is the issue of our time. Liberals aren’t stupid.  And if we resort to our standard blame them, not us… ‘Justin’s the too handsome airhead son we can’t take seriously line, we are so hooped.’ What is to be done this time?

First of all shouldn’t we be aiming for the 40%?   And doesn’t that mean good research to tell us where they are and how to reach them? Then, a platform that’s real and speaks to their needs:  Remember, it’s all about audience, not us. This all sounds so boring but 2011 comes along so rarely.  We won’t get the guy with the cane again.  As someone who when he turns to his right is carrying a rather colorful cane for exactly the same reason, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  And there are a lot of my worst enemies on the right.

Beat them for me.

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4 Responses to Movin’ on… Or not?

  1. Grant G says:

    Mr. Reid….Thank you for this article.

    May I add a little something for you to ponder..

    In my opinion, the by-elections showed us a couple of things…First off..

    Canada no longer likes Stephen Harper and his Conservative party, Harper and the Cons are toxic and very distasteful..

    Second…Canadians want a different Government, Trudeau, well he is popular and Mulcair is very smart..

    Canadians want different, not sure what different they want, Trudeau is not deep, different yes, but not deep..

    Big Orange Star party needs to figure out what our different offering is…

    Maybe something real simple like…

    “Why not the NDP”

    Thanks Mr. Reid and..

    Good Day

  2. e.a.f. says:

    great article. now if the N.D.P. both federally and provincially place this on all their desks, perhaps the N.D.P. can start winning elections.

    Happy to see you are still up and at’em. enjoy the day.

  3. Ron Johnson says:

    Excellent insight as always. Why is it so difficult for our friends in the NDP to understand that a ‘message’ is the nothing more than the language we use to help us communicate with maximum impact about the issues that we think matter to our target voters? A message is nothing if it is not about the things that matter to ordinary people.

    Senate reform is not a message that will stir passion at the breakfast table.

    Making a difference in peoples’ lives by increasing the CPP, treating working people better, and helping people get good jobs through more affordable education and training could be a great message for Tom Mulcair. It would have great contrast with Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau.

    Specifics that would improve health care, could be a great message for the federal NDP. Home care. Long term care. The possibilities are endless. And they would have great contrasts too.

    Message has to have substance behind it or it won’t do the job.

    You are so right to point out the these weaknesses Ian. I only hope our friends in Ottawa are reading your blog.

  4. brent humphrey says:

    Thanks for this post, Ian.
    Uber-cogent and motivating as usual; this is the intuitive and intelligent counsel you’ve always brought to any file I’ve ever worked on with you.
    There’s nothing medium about your message—it’s well done.
    Let the research begin: I’m certain there are at least 40% of us ready to hear about the Canada we’d rather see.

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