Sunday, November 16, 2008

Lessons for Canada’s Conservatives – Building a Lasting Base

My message to Canada's Conservatives, after their successful convention (Printed in Canada Free Press):

As Conservatives in Canada have just completed a three day policy convention, certain strategic points must be raised. In short, today’s Conservatives must learn from past mistakes. Today’s Conservatives must take a look both at their own past as well as at similar movements in other countries to avoid the pitfalls of their past and of their foreign brethren.

Consider the Mulroney years. Even the Liberals eventually realized that from a policy standpoint, the platform he initiated (and that they so fervently opposed at the time) needs to serve as a bedrock of Canadian economic policy. Few doubt that had Free Trade not been implemented between the United States and Canada, the current Canadian economy would be a fraction of its strength. In retrospect, the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords are seen as noble attempts to bring Quebec into the Canadian constitutional fold, and thereby fully unite two peoples as one nation. Even environmental activists can find much to favor about the Mulroney years. Just ask Elizabeth May, who sat on a panel that named him “Greenest Prime Minister Ever” a mere three years ago.

But none of the above stopped the venomous hatred of the left from being spewed at him. His government, much as is the case with any administration not deemed worthy of endorsement by the left, was set aside for tar and feather treatment; smeared, administered and glued on by the media of the time. The resulting effect on public opinion needs to be considered by today’s Conservatives. Today’s party must learn from yesterday’s mistakes.

The same phenomenon of all out media attack turning into baseless public loathing was seen more recently in the recent American elections. While Canadian Conservatives, overall, have more differences than similarities with American conservatism, both are the same in one regard (one that they share with British Tories and indeed with the conservative movements of all Western countries): Intense and constant opposition on the part of the left with complete complicity on the part of the media.

Liberals do not temper criticism of American conservatives with acknowledgement that conservative policy has kept the country safe for seven years, nor do they point to the economic incentives (i.e. “tax cuts”), that staved off the recession of 2000-2001 and that created millions of jobs for the middle class in the aftermath of the tech bust and after 2 million jobs were wiped out in one day (9/11). Indeed, liberals do not point out that the economic collapse happened after Democrats took charge of fiscal spending and energy policy and mere months before the capital gains tax rate is set to increase. Everything is the fault of the conservative, as was the case with gas prices, which were reported every hour on the hour in the run up to the 2006 midterms but were never mentioned again as they increased almost exponentially during the first 18 months of Democratic Party fiscal rule.

The media onslaught of the Mulroney years and the over the top criticism of American conservatives (to the point of ridiculous insinuations that offend logic if said of anyone short of Pol Pot) took its toll on public perception. And what is painfully evident is that it doesn’t matter how right or left leaning the conservatives in question are. Your platform can be made up mostly of policies that Liberals favor (or otherwise would if their raison d’être while not in power wasn’t to oppose for opposition sake – a practice that does nothing more than a great disservice to the public). Your platform can include points that the media would enthusiastically rally around so long as they weren’t introduced by your party. If you’re a Canadian conservative, a British Tory or part of the Alliance for Sweden, you are set aside for destruction at the hands of the left and their sycophants in the media.

If coverage of the Conservative convention is any hint, the media masses are at it again. Every party holds strategic meetings and unless their members are insane, those meetings are held behind closed doors. It’s what prevents minute by minute internal debate possibly peppered with insults from being reported on the Obama, Clinton, McCain, You Name It campaigns. It’s what prevents any strategy session from being twisted to sound like a gathering of fools when only the salient parts are reported. Yet only the National Post ridiculed the typical media coverage given to this convention, with commentator Kelly McParland asking the Ignatieff and Rae camps to sit in on their private sessions too.

It doesn’t matter that at the same time as the media is trying to portray the entire event as a closed door session, they somehow manage to report on every aspect of the floor debate, where key policy is formed. The irony of reporting on every nuance of the critical part of a gathering while decrying its lack of access is lost on them.

But Conservatives need to point this out. They need to call a spade a spade, a Liberal lacking, and a reporter a hypocrite.

Countering a media onslaught requires more than this. Even if the party constantly calls out every case of media idiocy, they who control the message are more powerful. Direct addresses to the nation works somewhat, but must be extremely limited, especially in a country where such messages are not the norm.

Conservatives need to do much more if they are not to suffer the same fate that they have met before. Specifically:

· Whenever a pressing issue arises, do find a way to address the public directly. While few will take kindly to their primetime programming or sports game being interrupted, many would be willing to watch at a time when relatively little else is on. Do this in tandem with a radio address. You won’t get most people, but you will get many. Far more will be aware (and will share your points with their friends) than are now. As well, the media will be harder pressed not to ignore your side of the issue. After all, there’s only so much distortion that can be done repeatedly to publicly aired press conferences. If mass distortion does take place, appeal to the public to watch one for themselves and decide.

· Shock the nation – Look for bold alternatives that the public can rally around. Want to get tough on crime? Great. Decry harsh sentencing as counterproductive and a method that has only led to the breeding of violent criminals, sometimes out of first time offenders. Instead, introduce hard work programs in which convicts are sentenced to perform harsh tasks. Study after study has shown such a system to be exponentially more productive at reducing crime and at bringing about rehabilitation. Similarly, announce funding for research in natural medicine and dietary health. Both of those measures will surprise people and show the Conservative Party to be bold, innovative and made up of true leaders that truly benefit the nation.

· *This one is key – Mobilize a grassroots movement of supporters to refute the insanity of the other side. Get them to spread key counterpoints to their friends and to local media. This is done more easily today than ever before.

The last point needs to be comprised of several activities:

  • Organize lists of supporters by riding. Call them (direct contact is needed, and this task can be accomplished by riding boards, with national direction) and ask each of them to learn the reasons for conservative policy from the points outlined in emails to supporters. Ask them to share those points with friends.

  • Provide each person recruited by their riding board with a list of emails (or submission websites) to their local print, radio and TV media. Include contact info for national media as well. Appeal to them strongly to take action and to write letters. Even most supporters won’t do so unless urged repeatedly.

  • Concentrate this effort on large metropolitan ridings where national media can be reached, but don’t forget or leave out the smaller ridings in any way, even those ridings where Conservatives haven’t traditionally done well.

  • Reach out to college students and form active college groups. Share your talking points with them and encourage the officers of each group to spread the message to all who are interested. Fund this effort with gatherings/parties that will attract new members or questioning undecideds. It will pay off in the short as well as long term.

  • Reach out to all ethnic groups individually. Start a dialogue with their leaders and explain how Conservative solutions are best for society and for their communities. Solicit the support of those who are receptive and guide them with talking points and events planning (such as a meet and greet with their local candidate and with national leaders) for their community.

Conservatives have to cultivate a broad base of supporters who understand the reason for their positions and who know better than to be influenced by games played by the media. The above steps are crucial in this effort. Simply put, they are necessary for the long term well being of the party.

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