Conservative misalignment of message

It seems to me the Federal Conservatives have got their messaging all wrong in this election. It seems to me that the heady backroom boys/gals in Toryland believe that they lost the last election because they did not offer enough goodies to the electorate. So the strategy this time seems to be to match the Liberals dollar for dollar in their spending largess.

Childcare, health care, GST tax cuts, small business tax cuts – sounds almost Liberal.

And the Tories are shrinking in the polls.

I would proffer a slightly different reason why the Tories can’t make up ground – particularly in southern Ontario.

You see, the Tories have always believed that definitionally they are better managers of the public purse. Remember the ‘tax and spend’ Liberals? They don’t even spend much time talking about it because they believe it to be axiomatic. The problem, so they say, is that people are worried that the Conservatives will cut too deeply into the social safety net. So, the strategy is to get Stephen Harper out there announcing new spending programs on a daily basis.

To the contrary, I think Canadians and particularly southern Ontarioians believe that the Conservatives are bad fiscal managers. They look at Mulroney and his ballooning deficits and particularly in Ontario they look at Mike Harris. Now, I am not going to get into a long argument about Harris’ policies. Suffice it to say that he miraculously ran up huge deficits and underfunded social programs simultaneously. Not even the NDP could do that.

It’s an acute thing in Ontario as many think tanks haved tied Harris’ underfunding of post-secondary education to a longer term competitiveness issue for that province. And for some, at least, that is unforgiveable.

So, if I were advising the Tories, I would suggest they immediately cut the advertisments with Stephen Harper doling out goodies and talking about corruption and simply tell Canadians that a Conservative government would make prudent fiscal management the top priority. After four years of Tories, we promise no deficits. We promise no Bush-style tax cuts unless we can afford them. We promise to shed the legacy of Harris and Mulroney.

We pinky swear.

And we might even throw in a few goodies for ‘good’ measure.

Some voters might forgive deficit spending on social programs. Some voters might forgive cutting social spending to rein in deficits. But no voters will support cutting social programs and running up big deficits.

Am I wrong on this?

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0 Responses to Conservative misalignment of message

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, you’re wrong. Stick to economic development dude!:)

    For one thing, Harris is not so derided as one would expect-he was NEVER popular with a certain percentage of the electorate.

    However, perhaps you can supply your sources for information on Ontario but Harris brought in a surplus from 1999 on, this is available at
    /admin/books/files/ON-deficit3.pdf under the ‘consolidated budget balance’ graph on page 6.

    He actually brought in the legislation which FORCED the government to always run a surplus, but that’s been ignored, just as he brought in legislation to force a referendum on tax increases, which is why McGuinty calls his new one a “health premium” rather than a tax. New legislation is also being brought in to change the municipalities act which forces a referenda on new taxes in towns. (that will be removed).

    What kills Harper is the perception that he IS a fiscal conservative who will gut everything. Ontario is the biggest social pig in Canada, even surpassing Quebec, so the ‘promises’ are meant to allay those fears.

    I think the theory is, the more they ‘seem’ like liberals, the more likely voters will say ‘well, they have the same policies, but they haven’t proven themselves to be crooks’.

    I think you may be overestimating people’s recollections of history and politics. In the eighties virtually nobody was even talking about deficits. Mulroney is universally despised because of his personality, Free trade, and constant constitutional talks during a worsening economic crisis. For a certain demographic his acts during the Oka crisis were also a HUGE factor. However, we should note that even under Kim Campbell the conservatives didn’t drop that much in the popular vote, it was only Canada’s bizarre electoral system that left them with two seats.

    Back on topic, seldom discussed is the very blatant fact that the US economy doesn’t seem to be suffering due to their ballooning deficit, and more and more people here are coming to the conclusion that there doesn’t seem to be any REAL bonuses gained by having a surplus. If right wing anti government conservatives can balloon their deficit, why not here?

    So people are feeling the effects of years of anemia and now want payback. Harper knows that the days of conservatism in Ontario have drawn to a close. He NEEDS to change his tone, however, you can’t simply show up one day and expect everybody to forget who you are, where you came from, and who you are beholden to.

  2. David Campbell says:

    I don’t want to get into a great debate on this but here is a quote from the Wikipedia entry on Mike Harris:

    Harris’s government temporarily balanced the provincial budget, although its critics contend that cuts in taxes caused a drop in revenues, which in turn led to renewed budget deficits after Harris resigned.

    I still think that the Conservatives have not proven in recent times that they are good fiscal managers and that has allowed the Liberals to be positioned as having their cake and eating it too. As being both good fiscal managers and ‘liberal’ spenders on social programs. The reality may be different but the positioning, I think, for the Liberals is good.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I quite agree and don’t get me wrong, I”m no fan of Harris, but the reality about the deficit is there, what comes after is a little harder to gauge.

    I’d suggest that what REALLY got Ontario out of the deficit was exactly what the Fraser institute said (and I don’t often agree with them either), which is that economic growth happened to procede at a pace which pushed up government resources-though that would have to be checked into. This of course means that the vast majority of government policy is simply irrelevant and has more to do with the economy than anything else (stupid:)

    What REALLY crippled and cripples ontario is power, and even privatization only made it worse. Power in most provinces has to be accounted for separately on the books otherwise most provinces would be in deficit-except, of course, Alberta.

    But I believe Klein is a conservative and you certainly can’t doubt those stats, although we know where it came from. People didn’t seem to be real impressed with the conservatives in Nova Scotia.

    Federally I quite agree, the liberals have always been keen to ‘swipe’ popular agendas from opponents, which has had more than one commentator suggesting that canada is really a ONE party system. They swiped the CCP’s agenda when it realized how popular it was, and now the same with fiscal conservativism from the Reform. Although it seems that much of that was just fiscal conservatisms popularity with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (notice how it never extends to them).

    As it comes down, both parties say very similar things fiscally, just like last time. Harper is hoping the santa treatment will make people not care so much about social conservitism.