Stab, stab, stab: time to bring out the classics

As a once-prominent federal Liberal, my DMs this week have been a less-than-fun place.

The overall message to Team Trudeau? Welcome to your first real election!

Yes, the team ran a solid campaign in 2015 and came from 3rd to win a majority. Props.

But they were running against a wildly unpopular PM (outside his own base), a ten-year record acting like a millstone around that PM’s neck and two failed Liberal leaders before him as contrasts.

But in 2019 – running against the wet hair shirt that was Andrew Scheer – they barely escaped with their lives in the form of a minority government.

Scheer ran to the right of Attila the Hun. And he didn’t even do it well. And Team Trudeau was barely able to eke out the ‘W’ – the Libs actually got fewer votes nationally, not that that matters.

So, here we are two weeks into #elxn44 and Erin O’Toole has, if nothing else, shown clearly he is no Andrew Scheer: he’s running from the centre, his team is clearly professional and he’s certainly not (yet) had any of the types of gaffes that dogged previous CPC campaigns.

And the polls are clearly showing the results. While the numbers are moving daily, there are no pills suggesting the Liberals are doing well – best case seems to be hanging on.

So, whether folks are acolytes of the current leader or not is – or at least should be – secondary for real Liberals once an election is on. Possibly more than any other group of partisans, Liberals are here to win first and foremost.

I’ve written and spoken repeatedly over the years against the Liberal Party’s messianic obsession – the fervent belief that if we just have the right leader, we’ll be saved! Which of course means, in our proper place as the Natural Governing Party.

Instead, it’s actually the Liberals’ status as a brokerage party of the centre that draws moderates from both right and left without any serious ideological preconditions that limit the pool of potential voters.

That is fundamentally at odds with the personality cult/messianic complex approach where the leader’s brand is all that matters.

But what happens when the leader’s popularity just ain’t what it used to be (as will always inevitably be the case eventually)?

Earlier this week (tho I can’t seem to find the link any more) former Paul Martin DComm offered his advice on Twitter: “Stab, stab, stab.” — Scott Reid

I am happy to 100 per cent endorse this approach.

The Liberal campaign, so far, looks like it has brought limp spaghetti to a knife fight.

While the PM has not had trouble dropping his once-famous brand of “Sunny Ways” by attacking both O’Toole and Singh directly, it feels half-hearted at best.

And, probably more importantly, two weeks into the campaign the PM has still completely and utterly failed to tell us why he called this election – certainly not in any cogent let alone compelling way.

So what should the Grits be doing instead? Put another way, what are the sharpened objects with which they could do said stab stab stabbing?

Well, nothing pisses off a campaign team more than being told what they’re doing wrong by washed up has-beens like me, but here goes.

First, pick three issues and stop talking about anything else. Reporters will bitch. Staffers will be bored. But voters catch like one per cent of what happens on a campaign so if you’re not focused, you’re not getting through.

What three issues? Glad you asked!

1. Healthcare: Not only should this have been obvious coming into a COVID election, with O’Toole opening the door to the uber bogeyman of privatization, this should be utterly obvious – and effective! On top of that, again, COVID: that shit isn’t done with us yet. Moreover, the rollout of CERB and other supports to Canadians were huge success stories and incredibly popular.

So use these as swords and shields while tying all of these issues back to the two best known conservative governments in the country: those of Premiers Ford and Kenney. Keep reminding Canadians that those two are the archetypes for what’s to come. And you get the bonus of guaranteed nonsense like this.

Dropping hints like “Finance Minister Skippy Polievre” and “Health Minister Michelle Rempel” (when she’s not in Oklahoma) won’t hurt either.

2. Climate change: The PM should not give a rat’s ass that Erin O’Toole personally believes in climate change because his Party literally just voted against it. They literally rejected a proposition that simply acknowledged climate change is real and man made.

Given the forest fires that have ravaged western Canada – and even touched the sacrosanct centre of Canadian civilization that is Ontario – that should be front and center. Not specific policy solutions, just beat the living crap out of O’Toole with his party’s rejection of science.

This comes with two added benefits: first, Liberals should be reminding Canadians that Max Bernier is not an outlier in the CPC – he lost their leadership race by <2% on the 12th ballot. Tar O’Toole with that brush. Daily.

Secondly, climate leads back to Ford and Kenney again. Ford has sued the Government of Canada over the carbon tax and Jason Kenney believes oil was given to Albertans as a gift from god. Have at ‘em both – the 905, Quebec and Lower Mainland do not share these views.

3. Guns: Finally, go hard on guns. Yes, the Libs have already gone at abortion and vote splitting – greatest hits from previous campaigns. But this is the one that actually moves the soccer moms. Urban and suburban women see guns as universally bad – very different from how folks in rural Canada see them.

Erin O’Toole got the best possible rating during the leadership from the Canadian NRA. He has promised to restore a number of weapons to the public that the Libs had banned. And he cannot possibly change that position without infuriating his base. Finally, there is another great hook into Ford and Kenney on this front – see a theme here?

Am I saying Libs should do a new “guns in our streets ad”? Yes. Yes I am. While it was savaged by media and opponents at the time, it moved vote.

Again, stab stab stab.

Anyway, that’s what I would do: ride out this week, use Labour Day to as the point of complete reset and stop pissing about.

Trudeau has been a good Prime Minister – better than I expected in some ways, frankly. And particularly during the pandemic.

But now is not the time to stick to the Trudeau brand and script. Now is the time to call plays from the classic Libéral Election Play Book™.

Why? Because they work.

Here endth the (unwanted) lesson.

Photo: iStock