Sunday, May 20, 2007

Were the Tories too timid

The language used is interesting. Programmes are not accepted by people because they are convinced by arguments supporting them; they are sold and bought because they are well packaged. The Tories had bad packaging.
The ideas Coyne supports are those associated with the Right and of course that includes the National Post: privatization, tax cuts, competition in health care etc. Of course the tax issue is also one the NDP runs with as well. Coyne forgot the security key one stressed by Conservatives but also mirrored by the NDP.
Coyne however is right that the Hydro promise is bizarre coming from the Tories. The NDP would not be that radical!
I think that the Tories were not timid rather they missed out on some key issues such as the Crocus Investment Fund. They could have attacked the NDP in several areas that they did not. As Coyne notes the Hydro promise and the Jets promise were just not a good idea and were wasted efforts. The Tories just had some very ineffective campaign strategies. Of course if they win I will come back and delete this!

Manitoba's timid Tories

Andrew Coyne
National Post

Saturday, May 19, 2007

After a campaign that has been widely panned for its tediousness, Tuesday's Manitoba election may yet turn out to be a nailbiter. The NDP holds a comfortable lead in the latest poll, but turnout and Conservative strength in rural Manitoba should combine to make it a close race in the end.

Which is to say, this election was far from a sure thing, notwithstanding Premier Gary Doer's vaunted personal popularity. It was to be expected that the NDP would run a safe, frontrunner campaign -- promising little, ducking debates, and emphasizing the Premier's golfing-buddy appeal at every turn. What was less predictable was the timidity of the Conservative campaign.

For there was an audience among Manitobans for a more ambitious, risk-taking message, a mood for change of a kind I cannot recall. Growing up in Winnipeg, I don't remember anyone getting too vexed about the annual exodus of young people. There was always someone to take their place, it seemed. Middle-of-the-road by temperament, a middle-class province for people in the middle of their careers, Manitoba neither boomed nor busted, its population neither rose nor fell much. It was a good enough place to live and work, and that suited most people just fine.

But lately one sensed a certain anxiety, an unsettled feeling that good enough was no longer good enough. Whether it was the allure of Alberta or the growing mobility that is the calling card of educated youth everywhere, the outmigration became too pronounced to ignore. The dolittlism of the Doer government over its eight years in office, changing nothing and antagonizing no one, might ordinarily encourage a similar sense of self-satisfaction in the public. But its complacency was also a potential vulnerability -- provided the Tories could light a fire under voters, making them feel that change was not only necessary but possible.

But that presupposed a robust, intellectually self-confident Conservative party, unafraid to expose its ideas to public scrutiny, without apology or undue hedging. Such a beast does not exist in this country. While its Manitoba variant, under its bright young leader, Hugh McFadyen, showed some signs of intelligence, even vision, the overall feeling was one of rather too clever micro-targeting, of a kind that has overtaken the federal party. All too often, the party found itself fighting on its opponents' grounds, rather than defining the terms of debate.

The tone was set in the first week, with a Tory vow on the issue of privatization of Manitoba Hydro, the province's electrical utility, that set new standards for craven excess. Perhaps it was too much to expect the party to commit to privatization, given the touchiness surrounding the issue. Perhaps it could have been excused for avoiding the topic, or even ruling it out in the near term. But so spooked were the Tories that they promised, not merely never to privatize Hydro, but to pass legislation making it impossible to do so without the support of every single member of the legislature.

A pledge to cut the provincial sales tax by 1% was less egregious, yet still in the too-clever-by-half category. As with the GST cut that was its inspiration, it had no discernible impact on the electorate, while claiming a large chunk of revenues that might have been used to fund a broader and deeper tax-cutting campaign. To their credit, the Tories did also promise modest cuts in income taxes, property taxes, and business taxes. But the message was one of incrementalism, rather than boldness. It suggested that what Manitoba needs is a little twiddling of the tax dials, rather than the sort of transformative, growth-oriented tax cuts that would truly change the way the province is perceived, not least by its own citizens.

The saddest part of this cautious trimming is how out of synch it was with the Tories' own campaign rhetoric, which sounded many of the enterprising, let'sget- this-province-moving-again themes I have suggested. I think the McFadyen Tories "get it" themselves, and to some extent they have succeeded in establishing themselves as the party of opportunity: the same poll that shows them trailing overall shows them leading among younger voters. But they lack the self-assurance to follow through on the logic of their own position, to back their rhetoric with substance.

And so for every useful nod in the direction of more competition in health care or choice in education, there were gimmicky, focus-group favourites like tax exemptions for bicycles. And, disastrously, there was the promise to "bring back the Jets," the late lamented NHL franchise. Had the Conservatives been more ambitious themselves, they might have better packaged the idea as part of a more ambitious vision of the province. As it was, it looked desperate, a swing for the fences by a party that was otherwise content to hit singles.

To convince the public that such things are attainable, the Tories had first to convince themselves. Their speeches said "we can do it," but their platform said "I doubt it."

© National Post 2007

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