Elections are debated by political junkies, but decided by ordinary voters. Political junkies themselves, campaign operatives sometimes forget the audience.
Consider the Liberals' Tea Party obsession. Liberal spokespeople constantly label the PC leader and candidates as Tea Party lookalikes or wannabes. Liberal missives and messages use the Tea Party epithet almost as often as they push the foreign-worker policy. Dalton McGuinty did both, comparing Tim Hudak to the Tea Party while defending affirmative action for foreign workers.
Most political junkies have views on the "Tea Party." But few junkies are undecided. Conversely, ordinary voters aren't moved by the Tea-Party-tirade.
The Liberal brain trust assumes "Tea Party" is commonly understood – not among politicos and downtown elites, but among ordinary people – to be synonymous with extreme, unpalatable views. That may be true in elite jargon, but not mainstream Ontario discourse.
Ordinary Ontarians don't watch Meet the Press. They don't hang on every development in U.S. politics. Michele Bachmann and Dennis Kucinich aren't household names in mainstream Ontario.
Ordinary Ontarians don't respond viscerally on hearing "Tea Party" because it's not relevant to them.
My son is reading a series of books written in the voice of a hamster who cringes at the thought of a cat. The narrator's terror amuses young readers, because they don't experience cats the way rodents do. For the hamster, the word "cat" is laden with emotion; not so for grade schoolers.
Similarly, "Tea Party" doesn't carry emotional weight with ordinary voters the way it affects the political junkies running the McGuinty campaign.
One Liberal mastermind keeps repeating "teabag" and "teabagger" – more insider jargon meaningless to mainstream voters.
Ontarians who barely think about the Tea Party won't respond emotionally to "teabag." Conversely, every Ontarian who associates "teabag" with "Tea Party" is already decided in this election. Guaranteed.
Will Liberal insiders stop bleating "Tea Party" and start speaking to ordinary people? Like hamsters writing about cats, they can't resist instinct.
- Guy Giorno, former chief of staff to Mike Harris and Stephen Harper
Response from Erika Mozes, former senior adviser to George Smitherman and Gerard Kennedy:
Ordinary voters do decide the outcomes of elections.
Guy's piece points to a significant change that has been occurring in election campaigns in Canada. He describes it in one manner - but allow me to argue the alternative, the dumbing down of our political discourse.
I worked on the City of Toronto mayoral campaign (a losing battle). I witnessed a shift in political communications. Repeat a populist message over and over which resonates and the "ordinary voter" will vote for you. I'd argue that both Stephen Harper successfully, and Tim Hudak currently, are using this model of populist communications.
Guy talks about ordinary voters and how they don't resonate with the "tea party" brand because they don't watch meet the press and aren't "downtown elites." These comments discredit Ontarians. It writes off a whole swath of the population because of a geographic area, and assumes that "ordinary voters" do not follow current events. Regardless, the whole premise of the "tea party" in the US are "ordinary people" who are organizing themselves on the right side of the political spectrum.
Why are the Liberals using the line? The "tea party" movement is associated with right wing politics, which is what the Liberals want voters to think about while considering their vote. Do you want a check on Stephen Harper and Rob Ford, or do you want a trifecta of blue power.
As for the "foreign-worker" policy let me clarify, the tax credit being referenced is for Canadian citizens. Tim Hudak calls new Canadians "foreign" in this regard – Liberals consider them Canadians. The ratio of foreign educated Canadians who have achieved work in their professionally trained field is one in four, mainly because of arduous certification processes necessary to practice in these fields. The tax credit being proposed by the Liberals is to help these new Canadians achieve their accreditation.
Dalton McGuinty's message is focused on the positive, how do we continue to build on Ontario's successes and move forward. The politics being argued here divide and pits "ordinary voters" vs "downtown elites." I believe all voters, regardless of their geographic location or background, should be considered with the same amount respectful communication.
Response from Jeffrey Ferrier, former communications director for the Ontario NDP
As a Dad, when I hear the words "tea party," I think about playtime with my daughter and son. You know, sharing imaginary Earl Grey, crumpets and finger sandwiches. Lots of dainty talk. Quality time with our teddy bear friends. For me, tea party doesn't inspire fright. And it sure doesn't make me want to run into the open arms of Dalton McGuinty.
It's almost inevitable for campaign teams to lose sight of their audience from time to time. This is what happens when you sequester people in dark smelly rooms for 30 straight days, pump them full of Red Bull and pizza, make them work 18-hour days, subject them to a steady diet of TV news and Twitter, and give them no-one to talk to but each other. It's pretty easy to lose perspective.
But as I mentioned in yesterday's exchange, I think there's more to the "Tea Party Tim" and "Taxman" name-calling than campaigns losing sight of their audiences. It's campaign strategy. Sliming your opponents to try and suppress their vote is a key part of the U.S.-style campaigns that both the Liberals and PC Party are running (as today's Star editorial cartoon demonstrates well).
So what is a voter to do?
Maybe they should check out what's behind the orange door.
Take today for example. Andrea Horwath is focused on one of this campaign's critical issues: Jobs.
Her message: We can get the economy going and more people working, but first we have to stop the games, and start focusing on the solutions.
Horwath's solution: A Job Creation Tax Credit. It recognizes that the best way to help new Canadians, or Canadians who have been here for generations find a job is to create more jobs.
Here's how it works. Rather than doling out no-strings-attached corporate tax giveaways, rather than setting up divisive job schemes, let's reward employers who create a job for an out-of-work Ontarian. Any out-of-work Ontarian. No matter who they are. What they do. Or where they come from. New Democrats estimate their plan will create 80,000 jobs over four years.
That's different. That's fair. That's change that puts people first.