They're not buying
Over the past few days, away from the Ottawa bubble, I've received a couple of glimpses into the disconnect between Canadian voters and the political-message machine. They're worth sharing, I think:
1. The first was in the parking lot after an all-candidates' debate in Kitchener-Waterloo. This was a highly well-attended event at the huge Research in Motion park -- standing room only, and many, many questions from the crowd. The Conservative candidate, Peter Braid, got a bit of a rough ride when he tried to sell the message of "unnecessary election" and other talking points from the centre. But then again, he also had supporters in the crowd, who applauded him heartily when he said how hard the Harper government was working. All to say, everyone had supporters and detractors in the room.
One of the audience members had posed an intriguing question during the debate -- he said MPs are valued for their independent-mindedness, so in that spirit, could all the candidates say what part of their party's platform they don't endorse? Former Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi said he had some problems with his party's support of some law-and-order measures by the Conservatives. The Green Party candidate, Cathy MacLellan, said she was still "working through" some of the finer points in her party's platform on genetically modified organisms. Then, when it came time for the NDP candidate to speak up, Bill Brown said sorry, he supported the NDP's platform in its entirety and wouldn't be standing for office if he couldn't. Peter Braid said more or less the same thing.
So -- back to the parking lot. Two older, white-haired gentlemen were walking to their car. They were saying that Braid had generally done well, but were perplexed and grumpy about his reply to this question. "He should have said he didn't support that prorogation," one said to the other. "He could have said that he didn't go along with everything Harper did." Interesting.
2. The second glimpse comes from a conversation with a young man in his early 20s, finished his undergraduate education and still deciding what to do about graduate studies. He's inclined to support the Liberals, but he's actually a bit annoyed with them for releasing their "learning passport" -- which includes $1,000 annual tuition relief -- in the midst of the election campaign. This young man liked the learning passport, however: "If they really believed in supporting students, they would have announced it long before they were trying to get my vote," he said.
What we have here is an important insight into the attitudes of voters who are also consumers. It's become standard for all political parties to save their best pieces of the party platform for an election campaign, to make sure they get a major splash, and also to make sure that other parties don't steal the good ideas. We in the political-reporting game know this -- we wait for elections to see platforms in their entirety.
But Canadians are sophisticated buyers -- and they see campaigns now as raw salesmanship, even hucksterism. If this young man is typical of his peers, they're bringing a healthy skepticism to the all the advertising razzmatazz of the politicians in the midst of an election. So what looks to us like a big-deal piece of a party platform looks to voters like those "today only, deep-discount" signs that merchants put on end-of-season merchandise. Again, interesting.