Mark Gollom (CBC News):
Since the election campaign was launched just over a week ago, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has unveiled four campaign policies (five, if you include his iffy no-tax Netflix announcement), while the other leaders have been largely platform silent.
The contrast is an illustration of how the parties have each embraced a different strategy in launching their respective campaigns — the Conservatives with an early, aggressive press to try to set the agenda, and the Liberals and NDP, so far, focussed more on their respective leaders.
Harper is certainly setting the pace, both in terms of campaigning and spending so far. Exactly one week into the election, the Conservatives took to the skies on a campaign plane, showing off their financial advantage over the NDP and Liberals who are still travelling by bus or commercial air.
The Conservatives have also been following a regular daily formula and strategy that has stood them well in past elections. A typical Harper campaign day starts with an early morning announcement and questions from the media, a photo op in the afternoon and then a rally with candidates and party faithful in the evening.
Although the Conservatives’ announcements so far may not be grand in scope — home renovation and apprentice tax credits, banned travel to extremist-controlled zones (still to be defined), money for persecuted religious minorities — the message they are trying to convey is quite clear.
“They’re going hard, playing to their base,” Wieder says. “They want to reinforce the two strategic messages of managing the economy and Canadian safety. And so they’re trying to define what this election is about.”
“Now the question is: Is anyone paying attention to it?”
However, political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former Conservative campaign manager, said he believed Harper’s policy announcements were actually directed to swing voters who have to be added to the base — homeowners and certain immigrant groups.
“That’s how you build the minimum winning coalition,” Flanagan said.
That the other leaders react and generally condemn these Harper announcements is likely seen as a bonus by the Tories, who are hoping that these criticisms don’t play well with the voters they are courting.
But John Crean, national managing partner at National Public Relations, also notes that this strategy may be in part due to the Conservatives feeling vulnerable on the pure politics of personality and image.
They want to “get away from the comparisons of Harper vs Trudeau vs Mulcair, and focus the narrative more on specific policy issues,” he says.
It’s certainly a different approach from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair who have yet to announce much in the way of platform content from the campaign trail.
“They want to roll out on more of a marathon approach, slow steady pace, introducing the leader [first] and the policies at the appropriate time,” Wieder says.
“In fact, the Liberal campaign seems determined not to let Harper exhaust its resources early on, and hasn’t rolled out a campaign plane or even a bus for media to accompany Trudeau on his tour.”
“As for Mulcair, his campaign began with a bit of a shaky start. He seemed nervous at the launch and was criticized for not taking any media questions. NDP strategist Shay Purdy agreed that last may have been a misstep. (…) Still, Purdy argues that Mulcair has been able to get out and deliver his message. And now the campaign seems focussed on getting Canadians to know Mulcair.”
The vast majority of Canadians also don’t really know who Trudeau is either, except by way of his father, Wieder says.
“So for both of those leaders, they need to be out there, meeting with Canadians and showing who they are. The policy side of things will come.”