Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A Most Unusual Address

Will wait to hear from Paul Martin himself before speculating broadly on the implications of his unusual address to the country. But some quick talking points on what the sides should be thinking:

(1) For the Libs: Cherniak's right, it is the speech of Martin's political life. However, if he simply sticks to the tired message we've heard ad nauseum up to now (it was I who ordered the inquiry, I am actually the angriest guy around, etc...) it is going to be difficult to overcome the sense that he is really just acting out of desperation to stay on as Prime Minister. He'll come across sounding like a kid bragging about cleaning up the mess he made in the first place.

So what's the ace? The old "Bait-and-Switch" - ye oldest trick in the playbook. Martin makes the straight-out plea to Canadians to wait for Gomery, but specifically not because he fears electoral reprecussions over sponsorship now or later (bait). I am NOT addressing you tonight to make excuses for any of the allegations being reported at the Inquiry. Far from it. In fact, I am more than ready to accept responsibility. This party is prepared, eager, willing to accept our share of responsibility. We are not going anywhere. You, the voters, will get your chance to render your verdict soon. BUT (switch) lots of Parliamentary business currently hangs in the balance. Wouldn't it be terrible to lose the whole year's progress? The negotiated Atlantic Accord. Health Deal. Cities Deal. Budget tax cuts. Same-sex marriage legislation. The Kyoto plan. The Foreign Policy Review. And so on. Less than a year ago, you elected members from all major political parties to work together to get things done. And we have been working, with a keen eye to the reforms necessary to make Canadians trust in government again, to ensure such abuses can never occur again. Why throw away the legislative progress made thus far for the sake of a few months?

Never mind the fact that there is no real danger of losing this legislation in the long run. Martin's last best hope is to actually overemphasize the tragedy of losing the legislation on the books, without sounding too self-congratulatory about specifically Liberal accomplishments. That is what buys the time without looking desperate. People worried that I meant to announce tonight that I mean to prorogue Parliament, he might say, when in actual fact I want the opposite. I want it to work. Frame the narrative so that the opposition's forcing an early election looks irrational, greedy, opportunistic, and counterproductive.

And, of course, leave the subtle point unsaid throughout - what would going to the polls this summer really accomplish? Wouldn't an early election is likely to leave us right back into this mess anyway, no further along? The only people who would benefit fully would be the Bloc. Actually, waiting until the fall would be both fair and productive. Wouldn't it?

(2) For the opposition: Hammer home the point of this Toronto Star article: this is a highly unusual address. Where's the emergency? Martin is just desperate to hang onto a job he seems incompetent to perform. Listen to Catherine Murray, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University:
"If it's meant as an attempt to save the Martin government from defeat and then from defeat at the polls, then it's inappropriate," she said. "If it's a partisan political announcement, then the party should be paying."

Use this line to tee up your home-run, something like "...here they go again, using the pulpit of the Canadian government and PMO to further the ambitions of the Liberal Party of Canada and its political cronies." Regardless of Martin's rhetoric and delivery, how can he avoid the attacks that he is just trying to buy time in hope that the sense of outrage fades away? Because make no mistake, that is all this is. He wants to get on with House business, but he never shows up in the House. He wants the government to function, but he won't accept that he doesn't have the majority of his rival predecessor. After 12 years, haven't they had long enough to figure it out. You don't become a bold and visionary leader overnight. Martin's 15 minutes are, finally, up. It is time, as the campaign saying goes, for the long awaited change.


Blogger Jason Cherniak said...

You know, I think you're right. My comments began with the legislation then moved to sponsorship. If you bait people they won't change the channel, then you switch them to the new issue.

I disagree for Harper, though. I think that if Martin sounds Prime Minsterial then Harper has to also. He can only attack Martin as desperate if Martin seems too partisan.

11:00 AM  
Blogger The Tiger said...

It's a careful balance for Harper. Last campaign, he made a mistake when he didn't counterattack on healthcare and military spending (I really wanted a speech in which he admitted to being a militarist, raising spending proportionately to such global behemoths as Belgium and the Netherlands), and then attacked on an issue (child porn) that just made him look weird.

So... the high road is better. But you can take the high road while still slipping the knife into your opponent. (On the other hand, if Martin does something in his speech that is a particularly strong example of chutzpah, call him on it. Example of how: today's Globe and Mail.)

11:24 AM  
Blogger James MacDuff said...

For Harper, my comments were premised on the basis that Martin is going to have an almost impossible time looking very Prime Ministerial here. So just call it what everyone can see that it is, desperation. Not attacking might provide an unwitting air of legitimacy, so if the Conservatives are smart, they'll try their utmost to keep the story on WHY is he doing this (because the Liberals are going down in flames) as opposed to WHAT did he say (legitimacy in waiting, we have the better policies, opposition's just being opportunistic, etc...)

I don't see why it needs to be a careful balance. You've got Martin on the run. Keep him there.

2:29 PM  
Blogger The Tiger said...

It's a careful balance for the same reason that my response in my comments section rankled you (justifiably), and that the Democrats had a tough time last year. That is, you can see the defeat of the government right in front of you -- you can taste victory, blood is in the air, mix all the metaphors available. :-)

Push too hard, and he looks like a real jerk, and turns off those who are wavering in his favour. Some of the Conservative partisans commenting on other CPC-supporting weblogs already have me rather uneasy. Call it the wingnut/moonbat factor.

Or -- as you say -- maybe pushing very hard could land a knockout punch. (This is why I shall remain a student and not become a political strategist.)

3:04 PM  

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