In the coming campaign, all will be old hats on the hustings, save one. This election, skillfully brought on by Mr. Harper, will hinge hugely on the performance of first-time campaigner, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. If he stumbles badly, the Conservatives will win a majority. If he surprises, he may well be able, with the help of the NDP, to form a government after the campaign.It's really very true. While Iggy has been outmaneuvered by the CPC and has so far been defined by those continuous personal attack ads, a campaign is a much different beast altogether. Not only does he now have more air time, he has a more-or-less level playing field with the Conservatives, thanks to the election spending laws and the fact that he has to be given equal air time by the media. Ignatieff can truly becomes the "man at the centre of Canadian politics," given how much of him is unknown, and how he may be able to surprise Canadians.
Rookies make mistakes. Under enormous pressure, Mr. Ignatieff is bound to make them. In this sense, it’s advantage Harper. But to rookie opposition leaders come campaign opportunities as well. They finally get equal billing with the prime minister. They get a chance, to define themselves.
Going into this election, Mr. Ignatieff has low expectations. His polling numbers across a wide range of indices have been embarrassingly low. In politics, low expectations can be a considerable advantage.
But there is also an inherent danger to relying too much on Iggy-will-surprise-you factor. While perceptions may change during a campaign, how Iggy has been defined so far will remain in the minds of many voters, most of them the ones who have been bothering to pay attention the last couple of years. Even if Ignatieff can pull off a flawless election campaign, these negative ads have done their damage and its pretty much irreversible at this point. Which is why I'm glad to see the emphasis on our team, which is very strong including the faces of Scott Brison, Bob Rae, Ujjal Dosanjh - even the young Trudeau is a relatively welcome commodity in Canadian homes. But I don't see them enough.
What I want to see from the federal Liberals is not just this and this, even though those kinds of ads are really good. What I was really impressed with were these kinds of ads, run by both the federal Liberals in the run up to the 2008 election, and Jean Charest's Parti liberal ads during their 2008 election:
While I don't know if the first ad ever saw the light, it was really good because it brought in MPs and Canadians in the province to tout what they saw as our strengths, what needed be done, etc. It was this kind of showing that impressed me and made me think that the Liberals do have a good team in place in a province, and to point out, aside from Newfoundland, Quebec was the only province we actually gained votes and seats.
But the problem was no mention or inclusion of the Leader. That's where Charest's ad comes in; it showed Charest, touting about his government's accomplishments in family and social care issues, and saying how he and his team will continue on with that good job, as he walks over and the camera pans out to show a collection of candidates and cabinet ministers all smiling and happy and behind their Premier (for now). That ad really impressed me, and I think it impressed a lot of Quebeckers as well.
Just imagine, for a second: Iggy comes on screen, asking voters a serious question: what has Stephen Harper done for your families? Then, let's day Judy Sgro (our senior's critic) comes on, says something about how he's failed seniors; then another face comes on, let's say Gerard Kennedy for environment, saying something related about that; then the young Trudeau comes on, talking about how he's failed students and immigrants; then Iggy is back, putting out some points on the Liberal family care plan, and either incorporate or end it with a pan shot of Iggy and these members or the frontbench, and the very last shot - asking voters to vote Liberal - is just Iggy, smiling.
Would this not be a doable ad? Maybe not how I've exactly gone about it, because I just thought it up on the spot - but the emphasis on team, on the good ideas coming out of the team, and Ignatieff's leadership of that team, seems to me to be a winning combination. That's what will get us back into government, not just Harper's record (as bad as it is), and not the hope of Iggy surprising everyone. We already have what we need to win - we just need to utilize, incorporate, and show them off more often.