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The Strategists: Reaction to the result

Globe and Mail Update

Throughout the federal election campaign, a panel of experts will weigh in with their thoughts and advice on the race as it unfolds. The Globe and Mail has selected panelists from all over the political spectrum in order to bring balanced — and lively — colour commentary to the race.

Our panel consists of:

Rod Love, the former chief of staff for Alberta premier Ralph Klein. Full biography.

Peter Donolo, a former director of communications for prime minister Jean Chrétien. Full biography.

Janice MacKinnon, the finance minister in the Saskatchewan government of Roy Romanow from 1993 to 1997. Full biography.

Guy Giorno, the chief of staff to former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Full biography.

Martin Goldfarb, the official pollster to the Liberal Party of Canada from 1973-1992. Full biography.

The Conservative problem? Their agenda
From Janice MacKinnon, June 29

Although a majority of Canadians wanted a change of government, the problem was that the Conservative agenda was far too right wing, especially for urban and younger Canadians. What the new Conservative party has inherited from the Reform-Alliance is a social conservatism that is deeply rooted, especially in western and rural Canada. As long as the new Conservatives stick with this old social conservatism they will not achieve the breakthrough that they have been looking for in urban, eastern Canada.

Their economic agenda is equally right wing. In a 21st century knowledge economy, a party's economic development strategy has to include more than a variety of tax cuts. What about investments in human capital (education), research, infrastructure? The Conservatives may say leave these to the provinces or to the private sector, which shows their willingness to decentralize the Canadian federation to an extent unpalatable to most English speaking Canadians, especially in eastern Canada.

The problem with the Conservatives is not their strategy, their tactics or their ads, it's their agenda. The big question is can a leader like Stephen Harper show the kind of flexibility required to move the Conservative agenda to the middle and into the 21st century. Or as one journalist recently commented, is Mr. Harper committed enough to his ideology that the "gentleman is not for turning."

The devil you know
From Guy Giorno, June 29

The last two-thirds of the campaign, if not all five weeks of it, were defined by the Team Martin's attempt to make the central issue what Stephen Harper and the Conservatives might do instead of what the Liberals have actually been doing for the last 11 years. I tend to agree with Martin Goldfarb and Peter Donolo to this narrow extent: If the Liberal record was so strong then it is difficult to understand why they didn't run on it.

Ultimately, the strategy succeeded. Last-minute attack brochures dropped in almost every riding warned voters that, "Only the Liberals can prevent Stephen Harper and his hidden agenda from fundamentally changing our country."

You don't have to change many minds to affect the outcome of an election. In this case, it looks like about 5 per cent of voters (about 1 person in 20) shifted support to the Liberals during the last 24 to 48 hours of the campaign. With these voters, at least, the scare tactics worked. They preferred the devil of the Liberal Party to the deep blue sea of a Conservative government, and that was all it took.

The message from voters? Canadians have told their politicians that in the final analysis the scandals didn't matter, the corruption was unimportant, the wasteful spending is okay. It's not that they approve of these misdeeds, they just don't think they justify throwing out the government.

Credit the Liberal Party for demonizing their opponents, but also blame a lack of discipline, which caused several Conservative MPs and candidates to make comments that played right into Mr. Martin's hands. It didn't matter to them personally, of course, since except for Frank Luellau in Kitchener-Conestoga they all won their ridings handily. Does it occur to these media hounds that because of their comments the Conservative caucus is at least 30 seats smaller than it could have been? Do they care?

It's ironic that the Liberals are triumphant tonight, given that the results are nowhere near the 200 seats they were predicting at the start of the campaign. They lost 20 seats in each of Ontario and Quebec and they didn't sweep "Paulberta" like they were boasting. Liberals should rightfully be demanding the flogging of the campaign team and their leader's resignation. But everything is relative, and compared to where things stood two weeks ago rank-and-file Liberals probably are happy enough to keep their leader and rally around the campaign managers. Some things just don't make sense.

Prediction: Liberals — 120; Conservatives — 108; Bloc — 56; NDP — 24
From Martin Goldfarb, June 28

The Conservatives ran a great campaign until two days after the debate when they started to make errors. As a result they likely will not win more seats than the Liberals. The Liberals never really gave Canadians a reason to vote Liberal. Health-care is a motherhood issue. The very things the Liberals have historically stood for and recently accomplished were not front and centre in the campaign. The Liberals should have focused on strong central government and a strong economy with balanced budgets. I am projecting seats based on polling data published in various papers, but it is a pretty wild guess. I am predicting 120 seats for the Liberals, 108 seats Conservative, 56 Bloc and 24 NDP. What a mess we find ourselves in. There is a strong likelihood of the worst-case scenario where no one can effectively form a government.

Prediction: Liberals - 105; Conservatives - 112;Bloc 63 - ; NDP - 27; Independent - 1 (Chuck Cadman, Surrey North)
From Guy Giorno, June 28

Team Martin will be devastated by losses in Ontario and Quebec. Even edging the Conservatives by five percentage points in Ontario means a loss of more than 40 seats. In Quebec, the Liberals will be reduced to a caucus of roughly a dozen, a nadir reached only once (1988) since Confederation. Except for the 1984 debacle, the Liberals have never lost more than 66 seats between consecutive general elections. A showing of 105 seats or fewer, equivalent to a drop of 67+ seats, would be the second-worst tumble in Liberal history. Having promised great victory and failed to deliver, Mr. Martin will have no choice but to step down as Liberal leader, as did Louis St. Laurent after losing 66 seats in 1957.

Prediction: Liberals — 117; Conservatives — 108; Bloc — 63; NDP — 20
From Janice MacKinnon, June 28

While the majority of Canadians wanted a change of government, the Conservatives failed to allay fears about their right-wing agenda. The Liberals, burdened with the baggage of ten years in government and the sponsorship scandal, ran an unfocused campaign, long on health-care rhetoric and short on Paul Martin's record and future vision. However, comments by Conservative MP Randy White rekindled fears about his party's willingness to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A Conservative agenda of tax cuts and more powerful provinces failed to resonate, especially with Ontario voters, who know from experience that tax cuts can lead to program cuts and deficits. The result — Liberals 117, Conservatives 108, Bloc 63, NDP 20 — will give the Conservatives time to develop a moderate, modern conservative agenda. The Liberals are only getting a reprieve, one last chance for Mr. Martin to show that he has a strategic vision for Canada's future.

Prediction: Liberals - 113; Conservatives - 110; Bloc - 60; NDP - 25
From Peter Donolo

I'm tempted to steal my description of Campaign 2004 from Hobbes: "short, nasty and bruttish." The thing is, it didn't have to be this way. Paul Martin could have run on one of the strongest 10-year records in Canadian history, especially the most spectacular economic turnaround our country has ever known - and his important role in it. Stephen Harper could have abandoned the sleazy Reform/Alliance tactics of the past for the moderate conservative personality his new merged party promised. All the federalist leaders could have stood up to Gilles Duceppe's extortion racket and Canada-bashing and performed what, after all, is the first priority of a prime minister, putative or otherwise: promoting the unity of our country. Much has been made of the surliness of voters in this campaign. I would submit that is because our candiates, by turns scowling and frenetic, gave Canadians little to smile about. When all is said and done, my hope is that enough potential NDP voters will have grown tired enough of Jack Layton's vapid used car salesman shtick to enable the Liberals to eke out a minority. Unless that last minute shift takes place, it will be a Conservative minority.

The Quebec referendum question
From Martin Goldfarb, June 25

There continues to be a large number of undecided voters and I suspect a large number of quasi-decided voters who are still prepared to change their mind. A large percentage of these voters will make their minds up in the last 48 hours of this campaign.

The Liberals established healthcare as their dominant campaign theme but I do not believe the public has accepted healthcare as a core issue in which to accept or reject any party. In fact, even though healthcare dominated the campaign and was the lead issue during the debate for the Liberals, polling numbers indicate support for the Liberals has declined from day one of the campaign until recently — when there has been a slight rebound.

In my mind, one of the unexploited opportunities for the Liberals is the issue of a referendum in Quebec.

A vote for Harper or Duceppe will inevitably lead to a referendum in four to five years. It has been promised by Duceppe and Bernard Landry, the leader of the PQ. The period leading up to a referendum will be extremely disruptive not only in Quebec but in the rest of the country. A referendum is like a civil war: it pits relative against relative and, as in the previous referendum, it takes many years for the bruises and the bitterness to dissipate. The likely result in the next four to five years of referendum strategizing and planning will be higher unemployment, a lower dollar, lower investment in Canada as investors lose confidence, a depreciation of pension funds and I could go on and list other economic difficulties. The referendum will produce a climate of anxiety and trepidation.

Just when we thought we were on a roll with a strong economy (seven straight years of surplus, the strongest economy of the G8, increased standard of living with increased income and spending power because of a stronger dollar) we would create our own economic difficulties by going down the uncertain, self-flagellating referendum road with a Harper/ Duceppe government.

Elections are about fears and dreams. Trudeau won his first campaign in 1968 on the dream of a just society. In the 1988 campaign, Mulroney promised the dream of free trade and Turner campaigned on the fear of free trade. Ultimately, the victor was Mulroney with the dream promise.

This election is about fear. Who do you fear most - Martin or Harper? Who could bring the country together and who is likely to create the conditions for another referendum? In essence, who speaks for Canada? Certainly not Duceppe or Harper. Their plan for the country is to dissipate powers to the provinces. Outside of Alberta and Quebec, most people are not interested in a weaker federal government.

The electorate is angry at Martin but they do not fear him. People are still angry about the scandal but they want to put the scandal into perspective.

There are many reasons to be afraid of Harper such as the value issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, the role of the supreme court, his stance on pornography, bilingualism, and Kyoto and the likelihood of returning to deficits. (Harper's platform leads to deficits and recent conservative governments from Mulroney to Harris to Bush in the US have all run massive deficits.)

For me, the key reason to fear Harper is the insecurity that a likely referendum will create over the next 5 years. Martin's strategy in the last days of the campaign should focus on the likelihood of a referendum if people vote for Harper or Duceppe. Martin must make people understand that a referendum would create enormous economic problems for Canadians. The Liberal party has been the enemy of the Separatists all along. The Liberals have been committed to a strong central government from Trudeau to Chrétien and Martin. It's time for the Liberal party to speak for Canada again.

Thanks for all your help
From Peter Donolo, June 25

One notable feature of this campaign has been the extent to which provincial party leaders have trudged in at exactly the wrong moment and made matters worse for their respective federal party chief.

Much has already been made of the impact of the McGuinty budget on Team Martin's campaign. Over the last few days, we've seen the damage caused by Ralph Klein's friendly fire on the Good Ship Harper. And Bernard Landry has started blubbering about another referendum in the event of a Bloc Quebecois wave in Quebec - something that has not been in Gilles Duceppe's talking points.

In each case, we're tempted to see the Laurel and Hardy parallels (as in: "this is another fine mess you've got us into, Stanley"). But I wonder, at least in one or two cases, whether these are less blunders than design. This is particularly the case for Ralph Klein, who has made a career out of being at war with Ottawa. Moreover, he's known to look down on the smarmy sanctimony of the Manning-Harper school of Reformers. Ralph's Rant and Rave Show might play less well in the coming - provincial election - year, if he has an Alberta-PM and western-based government as his foil. How prominent was that in his considerations.

Mr. Landry, on the other hand, is the very definition of a loose cannon - no wonder Gilles Duceppe is such a strong advocate of firearms control. While what he said is in no way an assist to the Bloc, which is trying to minimize the risks of sending a massive protest vote to Ottawa, the damage he caused is likely quite limited. This is primarily because much of what Mr. Landry says is automatically discounted by Quebecers for its predictable over-the-top nature and pomposity. In fact, there's a strong argument that could be made that a strong Bloc contingent in Ottawa might ultimately weaken the separatist cause by giving the PQ a shot of confidence that would obviate any desire on their part to dump the wheezing windbag Mr. Landry in favour of a more electable leader.

A close race
From Guy Giorno, June 25

The results are getting harder, not easier to predict. When the outcome is majority government, the actual seat totals are not as significant. In minority territory, however, it matters not just who's first, second and third, but also the gaps between caucuses and what combinations of MPs will add to at least 155.

My earlier vote projection was conditional on trends continuing. That hasn't happened.

It's hard to identify precisely why the Liberals reversed their slide, even gained a bit of ground. We're probably talking about a small segment of the electorate here: It only takes movement by one decided voter in 20 to effect a 10-point change in the gap between two parties.

I doubt that the tiny Liberal bounce (at this stage insufficient for them to hang onto power) is attributable to any one factor, be it child pornography or Ralph Klein's plans for health care. More likely it is a combination of causes, all related to the increased attention placed on Stephen Harper since he became the clear frontrunner. There certainly can be an impact when for a week the news is all about Mr. Harper and the heat is off Mr. Martin.

Perhaps the Liberal commercial has had some impact, but its confusing overload of multiple messages suggests that it would be a pretty ineffective spot.

The ad is the work of Bensimon Byrne D'Arcy, the creators of Molson's Joe Canadian. Perhaps that explains the "Paul Canadian" shtick adopted by the Prime Minister early in the campaign. That vacuous (and unsuccessful) rhetoric was ultimately abandoned in favour of the Liberals' current strategy, which is simply to attack the Conservatives.

At least three factors complicate predictions:

First, the high turnout at the advance polls, 60 per cent greater than in 2000. Often such voter intensity is a bad sign for the government. In the case of a summer election, however, probably many people just have other plans for June 28.

Second, the significant number of undecideds. In the United States the undecided vote usually breaks against the incumbents, since individuals unmotivated to re-elect after four years aren't likely to become convinced at the last moment. On the other hand, many Canadians tend to see the Liberals as a safe, default choice. Expect the undecideds to break proportionately to the decided vote, or simply not to vote at all.

Third, the breakdown of votes in individual provinces. Most national polls have very small provincial samples (for example, 57 decided voters across all of Atlantic Canada), making them useful only as rough guides to specific results. My prediction for 65 Bloc Québecois seats is gutsy, but the only question is how big the BQ sweep will be, not whether it occurs. Meanwhile, Mr. Martin's plans for a big breakthrough in the West have been dashed (it's laughable that Liberals once anticipated major gains in what they dubbed "Paulberta"), but Liberal support in British Columbia still seems undeservedly high. In Ontario, provincial electoral experience shows that a party can win a majority of seats (106 are up for grabs) with as small as a 5-point edge over its closest rival in popular vote.

All in all, it promises to be an interesting evening.

Harper and the tipping point
From Martin Goldfarb, June 22

Conservative leader Stephen Harper's campaign is beginning to make mistakes. These mistakes illustrate his true thinking and as a result they may be the tipping point. Canadians are beginning to have doubts about Mr. Harper and the kind of government he might lead.

His campaign errors seem to have started once the debates were over. Mr. Harper appeared smug about his performance and started talking about a transition team and majority government. Last week his campaign personally attacked Liberal leader Paul Martin and accused him of supporting child pornography. To Canadians this accusation was not truthful, was mean spirited and lacked judgment. Shortly after this nutty episode, Mr. Harper's campaign encountered another gaffe. This time Canadians found out that his government would be willing to weaken Air Canada's bilingual requirements. The concern here is more than the policy; it is that the policy seemed hidden as it was not in the Conservative Party's election policy booklet. Then came his bizarre remarks about the Supreme Court of Canada. No one really believes that the judges of the highest court in the land act unconstitutionally.

These missteps remind Canadians of the new party's Alliance roots, which many Canadians are uncomfortable with. It makes us focus on Mr. Harper and think about his attitudes with respect to healthcare, same-sex marriage, the notwithstanding clause and other issues that define our values as Canadians. In recent days, we have also begun to think about the implications of a Harper-Duceppe pact for the future stability of our country.

Mr. Harper is not helped by the fact that the press now focuses on him and the potential that he might win. He has not been able to withstand this scrutiny. It was hard for Mr. Martin to withstand it when he was the focus, now it is Mr. Harper's turn.

It looks as though many of the undecided may make a decision to support Mr. Martin. Also those who are quasi-decided with respect to their support for Mr. Harper may change their minds in favour of Mr. Martin. They may do this because voters have been anxious about Mr. Harper, and their anxieties are now becoming fears. The beginning of the final week of the election could signify the tipping point. Many will likely make up their mind in the last 48 hours.

Janice MacKinnon on child pornography
from Janice MacKinnon, June 22

The child pornography controversy damaged Stephen Harper because it involved a central issue in this campaign - character. It represented the worst kind of political opportunism - trying to take political advantage of the tragic death of a child.

In presenting the issue, Mr. Harper took a very simplistic view of parliamentary procedure, hardly a slip for someone with his experience and intelligence. Governments hardly ever adopt private members bills - such bills have not been reviewed by professional civil servants and are often technically flawed. Instead, governments bring in legislation of their own on the subject, as was true in this case.

There is a world of difference between comparing the agendas of Stephen Harper and Grant Devine - dramatic tax cuts that will lead to deficits and program cuts - and implying that two of Canada's political parties are somehow "soft" on child pornography just because they disagree with the Conservatives' view of the issue.

After carefully cultivating the image of a moderate, reasonable leader Mr. Harper has lost the high ground.

His refusal to apologize even after newspapers like the National Post called on him to do so, showed intransigence and rigidity.

In his handling of this issue Mr. Harper has shown more than just bad judgement. He has shown himself to be a moral absolutist who believes that his view of the world is what is good and right, while his opponents don't just disagree with him but are wrong and uncaring. Those who suspect that Harper is a right wing ideologue will find confirmation of their suspicions in this controversy.

Donolo on child pornography
From Peter Donolo, June 22

This is not about "spin" or "clutching at straws". For the record, I haven't spoken to anyone in the Liberal campaign about what I wrote - or what I think - on this issue.

This child pornography gambit makes me sick. Period. To cash in on a tragedy - when nerves are already so raw, when innocent people have already suffered so unspeakably - says something to me about the nature and quality of Stephen Harper and his team. They should be ashamed of themselves.

And to imply that one's opponent somehow either supports or - at the very least - does not strongly enough oppose the most heinous, disgusting crimes imaginable... well, I think that tactic speaks for itself.

I agree with Guy on one thing. This is not a gaffe. If only it were. At least I would be able then to understand and excuse it.

Nor is this in the same league as pandering to anti-bilingualism rednecks, or anti-abortion zealots. Those tactics, distasteful as they may be, have a long track record in Canadian politics. There's nothing surprising about them.

This, however, does surprise, sadden and anger me. It is one of the ugliest, most ruthless and pointlessly destructive acts I have ever seen in politics. And no amount of rationalizations or excuses or whitewashes will make it look any prettier.

Guy Giorno replies to Peter Donolo on child pronography
From Guy Giorno, June 22

I know the Liberal spin is to play this up as a horrendous personal attack, and if I were in the same desperate position then maybe I'd be tempted to clutch at the same straws. Nonetheless, let's try to put the child pornography debate into perspective.

I understand that the Liberals are upset about being taken to task for their position, but surely that does not warrant epithets like "despicable," "reckless" and "new low."

The Conservative communications were terse and strictly factual. The 94-word release abou the Liberal leader's position referred to four facts (events that actually took place). Among them was Paul Martin's 2002 vote against a motion prohibiting creation or use of child pornography.

If these assertions are wrong then the Liberals should say so. But since this is indeed Mr. Martin's voting record, how is it wrong to point that out?

The only explanation that the Liberals offered up was that they often vote against motions tabled by the opposition. So what? Does that justify them taking positions that are bad public policy?

The Liberals actually introduced Bill C-12, which creates a defence to the charge of child pornography if the acts or material "serve the public good and do not extend beyond what serves the public good."

The Conservatives tried to remove the "public good" defence. The Liberals voted to keep it in.

So it seems legitimate to ask the Liberals: Under what circumstances do you believe that child pornography constitutes a "public good"?

It's also legitimate to point out that supporting the "public good" defence actually means allowing child pornography under some circumstances.

The cry that this fact-based criticism constitutes a personal attack just underscores how bereft were the Liberals of any substantive response.

Coming from the Liberal masters of innuendo and ad hominem arguments, it's downright hypocritical.

Let me get this straight. It's OK for the Liberals to damn the Conservatives for an abortion policy that the Conservatives do not even have.

It's OK to call them U.S.-style aircraft carriers, when really they're just boats where helicopters can land instead of dropping into the sea.

It's OK to air commercials linking the Conservatives to former Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine, even though Mr. Devine has actually been expelled from the Conservative Party.

It's OK to disavow any connection to Dalton McGuinty, even while running negative TV ads created by Mr. McGuinty's own election ad agency (Bensimon Byrne D'Arcy).

But to mention the Liberals' actual voting record, to cite their official, on-the-record positions, is a cheap shot and a smear.

This is not, as some tried to spin, a Conservative gaffe. Instead, it speaks to desperate situation in which the Liberals find themselves.

They can't attack the Conservatives on policy, so instead they get personal.

Conversely, they can't defend their own policies, so instead they claim that anyone who disagrees is getting personal.

Are the Liberals sure that they want to spend the next week talking about this?

The lingering sponsorship scandal
From Martin Goldfarb, June 21

The sponsorship program continues to be a source of mistrust and spark a desire for a change of government in Ottawa. The Liberals have yet to dissipate the anger over the sponsorship program in the whole country, especially Quebec.

We must remember that Quebec did not ask for the sponsorship program. It was the invention of the Federal government. Quebecers are extremely embarrassed by the scandal that resulted from the sponsorship program. Most Quebecers did not even know the program existed nor did they want it. Furthermore, it is doubtful these programs had any significant impact on public attitudes about an independent Quebec. The problem is that only Quebecers are being accused of wrongdoing. They all feel embarrassed and abused by a Federal program that they did not ask for. It is an embarrassment to Quebecers because they feel that the rest of the country thinks of Quebec as a place where nepotism and government corruption are daily fare.

In the rest of the country, it continues to symbolize waste and mismanagement. Canadians outside of Quebec do not harbour the same degree of anger because they are not particularly embarrassed by the scandal, yet they are bothered enough that they may be prepared to demonstrate their frustration on election day.

Mistrust and anger are central to this election. The sponsorship program has become the rallying cry. It is the rallying cry because the Federal Liberals have never resolved the issues of waste and nepotism that Canadians see as so important. These issues are important because they are issues of ethics. The ethical behaviour that Canadians see is not what we want for our country.

From Peter Donolo, June 21

The phrase "a new low" can't begin to capture the Conservatives' smear tactics on the issue of child pornography against the Liberals and the NDP.

I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like this. Stephen Harper has spent all campagn - pretty successfully - dodging the label "extremist". With his jaw-dropping, reckless exploitation of the Holly Jones tragedy, he's proven that he's something else altogether: a Joe McCarthy-style smear artist, who, it appears, would say just about anything to attain office. This is one thing I never expected from Mr. Harper. Up to this moment, I have admired his poise, his restraint, the effective and good natured way he conducted himself in the campaign, confounding his opponents and the pundits. I am now deeply shaken. I believe that in his behaviour over the past few days he has proven himself unfit to hold high political office.

During the 1997 election, a set of talking points went out from the Liberal campaign implying that PC leader Jean Charest was adopting a Quebec separatist position. As communications director for the campaign, I should have caught the line but didn't. The Conservatives were rightly outraged. We took immediate action. The document was withdrawn. Our leader, Jean Chretien, publicly disowned and apologized for the statement. And I personally called the Conservative campaign and apologized. As a result, the mishap barely caused a blip in the campaign. I'm probably one of the only people in Canada who even remembers it.

Stephen Harper could have made the same play. The fact that he didn't, and chose, in fact, to further exploit the issue, says a great deal about the kind of politician - and, I fear, person - he is. And none of it is very pretty.

Dealing with the Bloc
From Guy Giorno, June 19

The Conservatives should cut no special deals with any party, nor is it likely that they will need to.

If voters continue to move away from the Liberals, then they will elect a House of Commons in which the Conservatives hold close to a majority of seats (if not an absolute majority), with the Liberals' diminished numbers close to those of a revitalized Bloc Québecois. A 150-69-65 split is not unforeseeable.

When this happens, a Liberal minority government will be simply untenable, and the Conservatives will be able to form a government without deal-making or horse-trading. In such an environment, the BQ should be treated no differently than any opposition party.

Party-to-party negotiations will be less important because a Harper victory will usher in parliamentary reforms that erode the archaic system of whipped, party-line votes. MPs will be much more independent and able to vote freely. Very rarely will the issue be a matter of "confidence," that is, a vote on which the government may be defeated.

As a result, understandings and deals among party leaders or whips will be largely a thing of the past. In order to implement its agenda the government will need to persuade a sufficient number of MPs of various political stripes.

Many Conservative commitments will attract support from a majority of MPs. Examples include a balanced budget law and debt repayment schedule, reform of the criminal justice system to focus on victims' rights, measures to expand trade with the United States and other countries, and increased investment in health care. The government should treat each initiative on a case-by-case basis, always focusing on individual MPs rather than trying to broker deals with party leaders.

Also receiving widespread support in the House of Commons will be action to investigate and make public the financial dealings of the previous Liberal government, from sponsorship to the gun registry to a host of other scandals and boondoggles. Indeed, even some remnants of the Liberal caucus might support these measures, as the first step toward rehabilitating themselves.

I won't say that a minority Conservative government should govern as if it has a majority, but it certainly should govern as if it is the government. Any government is well advised to respect the role of individual Members of Parliament (of all affiliations), always seeking to persaude and never taking support for granted.

Liberals and the Bloc
From Peter Donolo, June 20

If the Liberals wind up as a minority government, what should they do about the Bloc? In a word: nothing. No coalition. No formal or informal "entente."

If the scenario we see in the polls bears out, the Bloc would wind up with 55 to 60 seats. It would be their high water mark. They'd have no interest in forcing an election, because it would be impossible for them to repeat their score. And one thing these guys have proven since 1993 is that they like the perks and privileges of an MP's life - including the pensions.

Hence, they'd do everything they can to keep the government in office for at least three years. In many areas, that would be painless, supporting progressive legislation - on the environment, foreign policy, gay rights and marijuana decriminalization, for example. In fact, they voted that way in the last parliament. On other occasions, when they couldn't bring themselves to support government initiatives, they'd ensure that enough of their MPs are absent to prevent a confidence defeat.

All this would require a skillful, diplomatic Government House Leader - someone like Ralph Goodale, for example - because the Liberals would have to seek working majority votes from changing combinations of party support including, depending on the issues, the NDP and even the Conservatives.

Simultaneously with all this though, the Liberals would also need to take off the kid gloves in dealing with the Bloc's separatist agenda, and stop letting them get away with their tactic of dumping on Canada while they squeeze out whatever they can for their region. A return to that Pearson-Trudeau-Chretien tradition would make cohabitation easier for Liberals - and other Canadians - to take.

Regarding the Bloc
From Martin Goldfarb, June 19

A minority situation, whether the Conservatives or the Liberals have the most number of seats, will result in a Harper Conservative government becaues it is in the interest of the Bloc to support Harpers' Conservatives as they are more likely to deliver what the Bloc really wants: a weak Federal government and more provincial powers especially taxing powers.

The Bloc has one fundamental objective - to weaken the Federal government, to reduce its taxing power, which would be given to the provinces and in doing so pave the way for a future separatist government to have a referendum.

The Liberals have been the enemy of the separatists all along. In reality, it is not relevant who has the most number of seats. The Bloc will support the Conservatives so Harper can form a government. Remember what happened in Ontario when Miller had the most number of seats for the Conservatives but Bob Rae signed an accord with David Peterson of the Liberals to form a government. The Liberals formed the government with the backing of the NDP even though the Conservatives had the most number of seats.

What the Liberals need to do in the circumstance is to work at convincing the progressive Conservatives in the Harper Conservative government not to give the country away in any deal that Harper makes with Duceppe. The Liberals must identify every progressive Conservative that gets elected and point out to them any concessions that could hurt the future of Canada as a Federalist nation or that might contribute to the circumstances that would enable the Bloc in a future separatist Quebec government to win a referendum.

He's ba-a-a-a-ck!
From Peter Donolo, June 18

Good to see Brian Mulroney has been dragged back onto the political scene in the latest Liberal television commercial. It says something about his lasting toxicity that all you have to do is show his face on television, and you're accused of a "scare tactic" (today's Globe and Mail). Freddy Krueger never had it so good!

Canadians' almost physiological reaction to Mr. Mulroney aside, it is certainly legitimate - and, I would say, high time - that Liberals remind Canadians of the huge $42-billion mess he left behind. And, more important, of the Liberal success in cleaning it up.

Moreover, given Mr. Mulroney's new, but somewhat opaque status as a telephone confidant of Stephen Harper, it is certainly legitimate to hoist his baggage upon the Harper bandwagon.

All in all, it's good to see Mr. Mulroney back. Maybe now he'll really do the Liberals a favour and actually hit the hustings for Stephen Harper.

The Bloc and Mr. Duceppe
From Martin Goldfarb, June 18

Gilles Duceppe is campaigning today for the separation of Quebec from Canada. The weakness of the Liberals and the strength of the Stephen Harper Conservatives have emboldened the Bloc to openly campaign for an independent Quebec nation.

The Liberals have given up hope in Quebec today. On Wednesday in Quebec, Gilles Duceppe was like a pied piper attracting young people to an independent Separatist message at a rally. Mr. Duceppe gleefully was campaigning for an independent Quebec. This is the beginning of an unholy alliance between the Harper Conservatives and the separatists in Quebec.

Mr. Harper's strategy of strengthening the provinces at the expense of the federal government plays right into the hands of the separatists. A weak central government where the provinces have more and more power will emboldened the separatists.

Giving the provinces more power and weakening the federal government enables the separatists to pursue their agenda. It is clear that the Bloc has one objective and that is an independent Quebec nation. Quebec could then argue that it's only a small step for total independence from where they would be under a Harper Conservative government. The collaboration between the Bloc and the Harper Conservatives can only lead to significant problems for the Canada we love.

The cost of the Tory platform
From Janice MacKinnon, June 18

An advantage of only giving the Conservatives a minority government is that Stephen Harper would have a legitimate rationale for sliding away from his platform and the drastic measures that would be required to implement it. The problem with the Conservative platform is its cost and what would be required to pay for it.

The Conservative platform will cost $57-billion, $37-billion of which is for tax cuts - and Mr. Harper says that he will pay for it by using future surpluses and by holding government spending increases to only 3 per cent a year. However, many programs — such as Aboriginal benefits, equalization and seniors benefits -will automatically increase by more than 3 per cent a year. In the case of health care, federal spending is already projected to grow by more than 7 per cent a year and the Conservatives have promised further increases. Thus, keeping overall government spending at 3 per cent will require significant spending cuts in other areas.

The magnitude of such spending cuts can be gauged by comparing what the Conservatives plan to spend over the next five years ($761.9-billion) with what a recent Conference Board of Canada study concluded was required just to maintain current federal programs ($792-billion). To this $30-billion dollar gap one has to add the $10-billion in cuts to business subsidies included in the platform. Thus, to pay for his platform, Mr. Harper will have to reduce spending on current federal programs by $40-billion over five years, or on average of $8-billion a year.

Finding spending cuts totaling $8-billion per year for five years on a federal budget of $186.1-billion may seem achievable until one considers the following. In the 2004-05 federal budget, interest on the public debt is $36.2-billion, transfers to the provinces, which Mr. Harper is committed to increasing, are $31.5-billion, seniors benefits (like Old Age Security), employment insurance, aboriginal programs and the Child Benefit cost $57.5-billion, and defense spending, which Mr. Harper plans to increase, is $13.3-billion. With these exclusions, the budget available to be cut is only $47.6-billion. Taking $8-billion a year from this small part of government would mean budget cuts of more than 16 per cent a year for 5 years — a cumulative total of 80 per cent!

The areas that would be lined up for such devastating cuts include the following, agricultural support programs, Parks Canada, the CBC, major research programs, ministries like the environment, citizenship and immigration and justice, cultural programs, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the R.C.M.P, or Veterans' Affairs, to name only a few. Cuts of this size to such a small percentage of government programming would be comparable to the devastating cuts that had to be made in the 1990s. The difference is that the cuts in the 1990s were made because Canada was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, while Mr. Harper would make his cuts to pay for tax reductions!

Conservatives to pull away?
From Guy Giorno, June 18

Polls show that it is finally happening. The log-jam is broken and the Conservatives are now increasing their lead over the Liberals.

As I have mentioned before, Paul Martin is running the typical campaign of an incumbent about to lose. First, the Liberal campaign cast Mr. Martin in a prime ministerial light. Next they focused on his record. Then came the debate, when an aggressive, fight-of-his-life performance fit into the pattern.

None of this has helped. It happens. There are campaigns when you pull out all the stops, and nothing works. Again, we've seen this before (Turner, 1984; Campbell, 1993; and, in Ontario, Peterson, 1990 and Eves, 2003).

The next traditional move by a trailing incumbent is to lash out and predict calamity if the opposition wins. Mr. Martin tried Wednesday with the claim that a Conservative victory would threaten the survival of medicare. He was ignored not because of the hyperbole, but because voters are past listening to what he has to say.

Now CBC Radio is reporting that the Liberal party conducted an audit to trace whether any of the sponsorship money ended up in Liberal coffers. Mr. Martin is in a bind. It will hurt to release the report. It will hurt more to keep stonewalling.

This is the point of a doomed incumbent's campaign when candidates start to distance themselves from the leader. Remember that at the start of this race I anticipated candidates covering up the reference to Mr. Martin on their lawn signs? It will happen.

All of this makes a majority within reach. My best guess is that the Conservatives are almost there. Given current trends, my current prediction is: Conservative, 150; Liberal, 69; Bloc Québecois, 65; NDP 23 and Independent (Chuck Cadman) 1.

If the movement accelerates, the Conservatives will be in majority territory. And that would carry with it the prospect that the Liberals will finish third, behind the Bloc Québecois.

From Guy Giorno, June 15 (Debate night)

On Monday, Paul Martin couldn't find his camera. I think he was trying to look into people's living rooms but he kept missing his mark so that his gaze was always slightly off-screen to the right or left.

Tonight the Liberal leader found his camera and he found his voice. Mr. Martin is in a fight for his life. He acted like it. Aggressive. Badgering. During the one-on-one segments he hardly let Stephen Harper get in a word.

Given that Mr. Martin spoke more than anyone else, it was pretty hypocritical for him to chide Mr. Harper that "there are two of us here" and to jab that political handlers had advised Mr. Layton to talk all the time. But he got away with it.

Mr. Martin did three things that he needed to do. First, he addressed his remarks to people at home. Second, he stayed on the offensive. Third, he kept the discussion away from corruption and scandals and the Liberals' tired record.

Each time an opponent asked him about scandals and problems, Mr. Martin acted as if the questioner was speaking Russian: acted as if he didn't understand or couldn't hear, then talked about something else. Faced with a question that he didn't like (which was pretty much all of them), Mr. Martin ignored it. It's the same frustrating approach we've seen since 1993. Let's say that tonight, Paul Martin found his inner Chrétien.

The biggest canard of the night was Mr. Martin's insistence that he would never, ever, ever use the notwithstanding clause. In fact, he recently promised to invoke the notwithstanding clause to ensure that no church is forced to perform same-sex marriages. It was a flip-flop of Chrétienesque proportions, a real whopper, but nobody called him on it.

Bearing the brunt of most attacks, Stephen Harper did an admirable job of fending off queries from all his competitors. He played strong defence. He diligently untangled Mr. Martin's twisting of Conservative policy, whether on aircraft carriers or GST tax credits or the notwithstanding clause. Unfortunately, all this defence left Mr. Harper with too little time to address his own issues, or to share with viewers his beliefs and plans.

It's a mistake for leaders and advisers to prepare for tonight as if it were a debate. Instead, they should treat it as their best, perhaps their only, opportunity of the campaign to converse with Canadians in unfiltered statements that last longer than sound bites. The accessible votes aren't in the studio but in the living rooms. The successful candidate is the one who connects with the voters at home and cleanly delivers his message. It pains me to say it, but the Prime Minister did this sufficiently well that we still have a horse race.

From Martin Goldfarb, June 15 (Debate night)

The issues of the debate are no different today than they were yesterday.

Stephen Harper is on the defensive with U.S. relations, values and defence policy. Jack Layton is sanctimonious about every subject matter and compromising on Quebec through his desire to rescind the Clarity Act. Gilles Duceppe is very clear; his objective is to weaken Canada by treating Quebec as a nation as if Canada should not exist.

Paul Martin appears on the defensive with respect to fixing health care since he has no acceptable response on past cuts. Mr. Duceppe has revealed himself and Mr. Harper is playing into his hands by pushing provincial rights at the expense of Federal rights and as a result the Canadian federation will be weaker.

Mr. Martin is the only leader that speaks for a strong Federal Government.

From Peter Donolo, June 15 (Debate night)

Paul Martin had a great story to tell about his record, about the role he played in the Chretien gvernment transforming Canada from a stagnating, broke, dead-end economic disaster into a shining economic success story.

And he had plenty of opportunities to tell his story - to brandish his record.

Yet he didn't do it. Incredibly, he allowed the other leaders to actually criticize him for balancing the budget and bringing in surpluses!

This has to be the first time in the history of these debates that the economy was not a hot issue. It must also be the first time a former finance minister was criticized for doing too good a job! And even then, he didn't defend himself!

His best moments came late in the debate on the issue of health care, when he very effectively stated the case for national responsibility over Medicare. He put forward an eloquent pan-Canada point of view - articulating a broad national interest.

Stephen Harper was effective going on the offensive all evening. And belying efforts to demonize him - particularly on human rights issues.

Jack Layton was feisty - if sanctimonious - throughout the debate. He worked hard to lump Martin and Harper together. He also directly engaged Harper, trying to position himself as the champion of social polices and Canadian values.

From Peter Donolo, June 15 (Debate night)

So far, Paul Martin hasn't taken the opportunity to crow about his record. The journalist David Vienneau asked the leaders why their promises should be believed. Mr. Martin should have spoken about his record of eliminating the $42 billion deficit, lowering taxes and making prudent economic forecasts and surpassing them. A similar opportunity slipped by when Keith Boag asked them about what would happen to their platforms if their forecasts were off. Mr. Martin should have reminded Canadians of his successful forecasts as Finance Minister.

Jack Layton has performed surprisingly solidly, so far. And he's been effectively chiding Mr. Martin for co-opting NDP values and positions on issues like the Iraq War. Stephen Harper has looked reasonable and calm. Mr. Martin has been a little rattled, mistakenly referring the the Gommery Judicial Inquiry as a "Royal Commission"", and talking about how he has "re-established" Canada's relationship with the US. He let them push him around way too much on the Sponsorship Issue.

Stephen Harper doesn't do humble or contrite very well. When asked about the WMD evidence being trumped up in advance of the Iraq War, he was pretty flinty, acknowledging that "a lot" of foreign governments made mistakes, blah, blah, blah. No hint that he may have been wrong beating the war drum.

Mr. Martin's attempt at humour (to Layton: "did your handlers tell you to keep interrupting") was quickly turned back on him by Layton's false outrage over jocularity on a serious issue like the peace and security.

From Janice MacKinnon, June 15 (Debate night)

As the frontrunner, Stephen Harper has decided that there is enough anger at the Liberals and enough support for a change of government that he can avoid answering critical questions about his positions.

On the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, he is hiding behind his commitment to free votes and simply refusing to tell Canadians what his position is on these matters. On the issue of the affordability of his platform, economists have said that its implementation would mean significant spending cuts.

The Conservatives' plan to cut taxes by $37 billion - an amount equal to what the federal government transfers to the provinces for health, education and social programs - as well increase spending on the military and health will mean drastic cuts in other government programs. However, it seems that Canadians will have to wait until after the election to find out about the substantial program cuts that will be needed to finance his otherwise unaffordable platform.

From Martin Goldfarb, June 15 (Debate night)

Issues of fiscal responsibility and keeping the country together are the hidden opportunities for the Liberals. They allow the Liberals to lead from strength. Health care has forced them into a defensive posture. Elections are fought and won from strength, not weakness.

The competition in this election is the NDP, but the enemies are the Bloc and the Conservatives as they both try to (and are capable of) beating the Liberals. The Bloc is trying to weaken Canada by beating the Liberals in Quebec. The Conservatives want to beat the Liberals in the rest of Canada, which will give new strength to the separatists in Quebec. This is the position the Liberals must take from here to June 28. Canadians are not unhappy with the economy or the social issue agenda that both the NDP and Conservatives wish to change. Canadians are angry, and the Liberals have not dissipated their anger because they have not fought the election on issues that could trump anger - Canadian unity and growth in the economy. These are the issues that put the Bloc and the Conservatives on the defensive.

What Harper didn't say
From Janice MacKinnon, June 16

Despite repeated attempts by his opponents to get some straight answers from Stephen Harper on critical issues, viewers of last nights' leaders' debate were left with unanswered questions. Jack Layton argued that Harper could not hide behind a free vote on abortion and asked Harper to spell out his position on the issue. Harper sidestepped the question.

Paul Martin asked Harper the conditions under which he would be prepared to use the notwithstanding clause to set aside a Supreme Court decision based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Again, the answer was evasive. And Harper failed to provide any clarification of his position on the War in Iraq. To repeated allegations that Harper's statements at the time of the war clearly showed his commitment to send Canadian troops to fight in Iraq, Harper merely repeated a vague and highly questionable response to the effect that he merely wanted to support Canadians troops already in Iraq. These are not minor issues and Canadians deserve more forthright answers to them.

Healthcare is the issue….. or is it?
From Martin Goldfarb, June 15

The Liberals have been succeeding in making healthcare the issue of the campaign. It was the issue that dominated the debate. The Liberals have presented themselves as the saviours of healthcare but Gilles Duceppe went after Liberal leader Paul Martin on funding cuts to the provinces which deprived the provinces of funds for healthcare. Mr. Martin attempted to explain why the cuts were necessary but in reality did not succeed. As a result, healthcare is the issue of the campaign but the Liberals are not the saviours of this issue. If the issue revolved around the necessity to cut Federal spending because the country was on the verge of insolvency, the Liberals have not explained this to the public in any way that genders sympathy or acknowledgement for the reasons of cutting transfer payments. As a result, Mr. Martin finds himself on the defensive on this issue. Healthcare did dominate the debate but the gauntlet that was laid down especially by Mr. Duceppe was a challenge that Mr. Martin was unable to thwart. If the gauntlet was fiscal responsibility and keeping the country together, neither of these subjects were adequately handled in the debate by Mr. Martin and as a result Mr. Duceppe owned the mental state of mind for Quebecers.

When Jack Layton suggested that we have a new national health act, Mr. Duceppe simply mocked him and told him that they didn't need Ottawa to tell them how to run healthcare, they simply needed the money. Mr. Layton was treated like a boy scout by Mr. Duceppe and his body language, by his painted smile, indicated his discomfort in dealing with a Separatist whose sole mission is to weaken Canada. Mr. Layton had no intelligent response other than to nod his smiling head. The battle between Stephen Harper and Mr. Layton was about values and Mr. Harper was clearly uncomfortable in dealing with the issues of conscience; that is, abortion, same-sex marriage, Kyoto, Iraq. His responses were memorized and they came across as stilted. What's fascinating is that Mr. Duceppe doesn't want a new Canada, he wants the same Canada only weaker so that he could pursue his mission in life which is to destroy Canada as we know it. He played his cards brilliantly. Mr. Harper on the other hand could win this election and in the process give Mr. Duceppe everything he wants.

Mr. Layton wants a new society and Mr. Harper is prepared to lead Canada in a totally different economic direction. It seems to me that is not what Canadians want. They are not unhappy with our society or the way our society is evolving. They want to believe that politicians keep their word and the nepotism and corruption are not part of the Canadian psyche. They don't want a new society. Mr. Harper and Mr. Layton have not yet figured this out. Mr. Duceppe stuck to this theme.

I could see no reason put forward by Mr. Harper for Quebecers to vote for the Conservatives. The dissidence between Harper's vision for Canada both economic and values and Mr. Duceppe's vision will not encourage people to vote for Mr. Harper. If people disagree with Mr. Duceppe's vision, it is most likely they will vote for the Liberals who promise strong economy and the values Quebecers respect, and a stable Canada. What they have not done is dissipate the anger that Quebecers feel about being blamed for a scandal that was predicated on fighting Quebec independence. This resentment is deep rooted and hurtful.

The issue in last night's debate was that there were no issues even though many were discussed. The issue is trust and integrity and since Mr. Duceppe can never lead the country and make no pretentions about doing that, his promises are believed while the other three have considerable shades of exaggeration. It's not that Mr. Duceppe won the debate, it's that he accomplished his objective; keep the Liberals on the defensive.

Mr. Martin performed well but the strategic objective of convincing Canadians that the Liberals are the saviour of healthcare was not accomplished and I do not believe that it can be accomplished. As a result, he is not regaining trust which is essential to dissipate anger.

Clearly, Mr. Harper was unable to overcome the other three leaders' attack on his willingness to compromise individual rights as he refused to say the he would not use the Notwithstanding clause if the courts overruled a decision by Parliament. He was clearly uncomfortable in this phase of the debate.

Mr. Martin tried to convince Quebecers that they would be better off "in the tent" then "out of the tent". Quebecers will wait to see the results in Ontario on whether it makes sense to get in the tent with the Liberals. Only if Ontario swings back to the Liberals will Quebec then hitch a ride with the Liberals. As long as the Liberals look weak in Ontario, Quebec will stand with Mr. Duceppe and play its cards aggressively within Canada or step aside as it has threatened to do many times in the past.

Who speaks for Canada?
From Peter Donolo June 15

Watching the French language debate last night, I was reminded of Pierre Trudeau's famous rhetorical question: "Who speaks for Canada?"

The answer last night, unfortunately, was no one.

Don't get me wrong. Paul Martin looked and performed better than he has at any other time during the campaign. He seemed quite comfortable and ably deflected Gilles Duceppe's skillfully deployed shiv. Stephen Harper spoke well, if somewhat haltingly, in his second language. And Jack Layton was, well, even more annoying and irrelevant in French.

What irked me, though, was the how Gilles Duceppe was allowed to dominate the debate. It wasn't just his demagogic performance - bitter, humourless and grievance-drenched as it was. The more galling problem was the very premise of all his interventions and barbs: that Quebec is a perennial victim of Confederation, that Parliament is essentially about how much you can squeeze out for your region, that there should be no compromising, no generosity, no solidarity with other regions. Not a single one of the three other leaders challenged that premise. No one spoke for Canada.

It would have been great to see any of the other leaders tell Mr. Duceppe: "Your problem is your vision is narrow and bitter. You play on people's fears. You don't understand the power of Canada. In fact, you don't want Canada to work. Your success is based on Canada's failure."

Instead, we saw the three other leaders - to varying degrees - legitimize Mr. Duceppe's grievances. In some cases they actually echoed them, and entered into a bidding war over who could pander the most.

Not only was this absence of vision and spine reprehensible in terms of leaders vying for the top elected job in Canada, it was also just plain dumb politics. The debate was carefully followed by media outside Quebec. Its outcome is having a bearing on the English language tonight. Standing up unapologetically to a narrow, small minded regional vision in favor a strong, broad, national vision would have had its benefits, not just among federalists in Quebec - but, for example, among the millions of Ontario voters who share that view. All in all, an opportunity wasted - and a pause for concern about the quality of leadership in the next parliament.

Duceppe dominates
From Guy Giorno, June 14

Gilles Duceppe did not merely win the French-language debate. He dominated it.

More than anyone else tonight, Mr. Duceppe realized that there were no votes to be had in the studio. He spoke to the voters at home.

While Jack Layton and Stephen Harper focused on the journalists and other politicians in the room, and while Paul Martin's gaze was awkwardly fixed just off camera, only Mr. Duceppe understood the importance of eye contact. He looked directly at the camera and made sure to connect with Canadians watching on TV.

The BQ leader's communication discipline was flawless. He addressed the messages that he wanted to share with the audience, he was clear and direct, and he did not get distracted. (The only exceptions were his opening and close, which were scripted and stilted.)

Early on, Mr. Duceppe bridged from the red herring of proportional representation (no votes there) to launch an attack on Mr. Martin and alleged tax avoidance by Canada Steamship Lines. The poor Liberal leader, forced by the debate rules to remain silent during this exchange, had to eat into his answer to a subsequent question in order to defend himself.

Mr. Duceppe also understood that a message worth delivering is a message worth repeating. He returned to his themes again and again.

The result was that the Bloc leader held to his messages, while the others frequently found themselves responding to his agenda. During a two-hour debate, air time is precious, and a leader can't afford to spend it on the defensive or talking about issues that don't win votes.

In the English debate, the other three leaders would do well to follow the BQ's successful example: Maintain eye contact with the viewers at home. Talk to them. Use every opportunity to drive your messages. And don't play to someone else's agenda.

Not all advice is good advice
Guy Giorno, June 14

Today's Globe and Mail article by Campbell Clark and Jane Taber quotes named and unnamed strategists offering advice to their leaders.

Some of the advice is sound, but much of it, if taken, has the potential to backfire. Consider the suggestions:

  • Every Liberal whom I have heard, read or spoken to over the past week is convinced that Paul Martin must stress his record of tax cuts and balanced budgets. Yet doing so will leave openings for both Stephen Harper and Jack Layton. If tax cuts were so important before, then how come they are dangerous now? (Mr. Harper) If you are so concerned about social programs today, then why did you cut transfers as finance minister? (Mr. Layton) Bottom line: Mr. Martin is vulnerable if he protests too much about his old tax-cutting credentials.
  • Note that the advice urged upon Mr. Martin is the same approach taken by every incumbent who gets into trouble. (1) Run on your record. (2) Act "prime ministerial" (or premier-like) and most deserving of the job. The problem is that when time-for-a-change sentiment is so strong, people don't want to hear about the record and they see incumbency as a negative.
  • The suggestion that Mr. Harper should remind voters why they need change is good but incomplete. Conservative fortunes have improved to the point that the strategy cannot stop there. Voters already know the reasons to get rid of the Liberals; to move from minority to majority range, Mr. Harper needs the "change" vote to coalesce around him. That means connecting with the voters at home and building their comfort.
  • Generals too often re-fight their last battles. The advice that Mr. Harper should avoid props and excessive movement addresses a non-issue. At best, the advice is irrelevant. At worst, urging Mr. Harper to be "dull but competent" misses an opportunity for him to build a rapport with Canadians sitting in their living rooms.
  • The suggestion that Mr. Layton should take aim at Mr. Martin's record as finance minister is bang on (see above). Mr. Martin cannot have it both ways. He either was wrong about tax cuts then, or is wrong now. His opponents can pick up votes on both sides of the political spectrum.

Martin and the debate
From Peter Donolo, June 12

For Paul Martin, the debate is an ideal opportunity to remind Canadians of the qualities, the skills, and - above all - the record that made him the odds-on preference for prime minister in the first place.

The fact is that Canada was an economic basket case when the Liberals took over in 1993. The turnaround - going from a $42-billion deficit to seven consecutive balanced budgets, high employment, low interest rates, tax cuts, unprecedented investments in research - are an economic miracle and the envy of the industrialized world. Paul Martin was a key part of making that happen. Canadians know it. But they need to be reminded. And they also need to be reminded that brand of prudent economic stewardship is just as important in good times as it is in times of crisis.

That kind of steady, reassuring leadership also needs to be on display on issues like Canadian independence. Canadians want to know that when President Bush calls, our prime minister stands up for Canadian interests. That's a key point of difference between Mr. Martin and Stephen Harper.

Finally, keep the debate focused between the Liberal and Conservative plans for Canada. Don't waste time taking shots at Jack Layton. You're after his potential voters to support your party in a polarized election choice.

How should Layton debate?
From Janice MacKinnon, June 12

Jack Layton could play a key role in the debate if he plays his cards right.

First, he has to stick to the high ground and stay "on message" with established party policy.

He should continue criticizing both the Liberals and Conservatives and portraying the NDP as the only real alternative in English-speaking Canada.

Because of the similarities in the Liberal and NDP platforms on issues such as daycare and wind power, Layton needs to remind voters that the Liberals campaign from the left but govern from the right, sometimes forgetting their election promises in the process.

With a clear and consistent record on issues like abortion and same sex marriage, Layton is well positioned to challenge Harper - even with a free vote, Harper as party leader and an MP must have a position.

Considering this election's focus on trust, Layton should challenge Harper on his past support for the War in Iraq and his current efforts to slide away from that position.

Layton's recent comment that Harper's agenda - major increases in military spending along with tax cuts that will bring cutbacks in social programs - sounds like George Bush suggests that Layton could be a colorful character to watch.

Pre-debate advice for Stephen Harper
From Guy Giorno, June 12

The debate's format creates the potential for a shouting match in which no one can be heard. Stephen Harper needs to rise above the fray and talk to viewers at home, not his competitors in the studio.

On the other hand, Paul Martin needs to score a knock-out punch. Nothing less will do.

Rather than rising to the bait of Mr. Martin's attacks, Mr. Harper should look directly into the camera and share with Canadians his beliefs and policies.

Millions of Canadians have already concluded that the Liberals are unfit to govern. But many still do not know the Conservative leader. The debate is his chance to explain policies (such as tax cuts, support for our soldiers and expanded trade) that will benefit ordinary Canadians. Looking right into people's living rooms should be a bright, sincere and soft-spoken parent who bears no resemblance to the scary caricature painted by the Liberals.

In doing so, Mr. Harper should willingly accept the risk that the pundits will pan his performance for failing to draw blood. The goal is not to titillate the professional commentators, but to go over their heads and convince the home audience.

The new TV ad telegraphs the Liberals' debate strategy: scattered attacks on a multitude of issues. Each time that the Mr. Martin swings, Mr. Harper should follow the same pattern. First, disarm the attack with a single, well-crafted sentence (two at most). Then turn to the camera, ignore the other leaders, and speak positively about your beliefs and what a Conservative government will do.

Debate advice
From Martin Goldfarb, June 12

For Paul Martin, this debate is about exposing Stephen Harper's beliefs on the so-called value issues and getting Canadians focused on the economy. Value issues include same sex marriage, abortion, decriminalization of marijuana, the war in Iraq, immigration, cost of postsecondary education, revising the hate law, the Charter and the supremacy of Parliament over the courts. The economy is working — it is an out of sight out of mind issue.

Martin should open on the value issues. He should put Harper on the defensive. Harper is thinking of changing much of what Canadians believe makes this country special. His ideas will result in a loss of freedom for many. Value issues appeal to immigrants, first and second time voters and women. Traditionally, the Liberals have done better with these groups as they have articulated programs and policies that appeal to these groups.

Martin should close on the strength of the economy. Harper has said little to disagree with what the Liberals have done over the last ten years. He has been relatively silent on this subject because there is little to criticize and talking about it would only highlight Liberal success. Martin needs to make clear the real implications of Harper's economic plan. Tax cuts will lead to inflation, higher interest rates (including mortgage rates), a lower dollar, debt and less money for current government programs. In fact, tax cuts are counter-productive for the average citizen; they will not give them more individual wealth. Canadians associate Martin with Canada's economic success. He has credibility on the economy and should finish the debate focusing on this personal strength. He needs to make Canadians realize that they need to think about the future of the economy. Harper's proposals are a clear change in economic direction. He wants to tamper with a working strategy.

The Liberal ads
From Guy Giorno, June 11

You make a good point about fun, Peter. It's too bad Team Martin didn't take that advice in crafting the latest TV ad.

Humour is one of the most effective ways to deliver a negative or hard-hitting message. A bit of wit lowers the audience's guard and helps take the edge off of harsh content.

Instead, the new Liberal ad is overly dramatic, almost funereal. Mr. Martin's campaign manager recently said the party is in a "death spiral." He might think that, but should not have let the dark clouds mar his party's TV pitch.

In addition, the ad crams way too many messages into a single, 30-second spot.

When I was a kid, McDonald's ran commercials in which individuals tried to recite the ingredients of a Big Mac as fast as they could. ("Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.") It was a cute gimmick that stuck in people's heads.

But most often in communication, less is more. Too much clutter means no one hears any of your messages. Astonishingly, someone on Team Martin actually believes that saying everything at once ("Iraq-defence-guns-Kyoto-health-abortion-taxes") is persuasive communication.

It's also curious that military spending was lumped into the attack. Most Canadians want to increase Canada's defence budget. Who exactly is the ad supposed to impress?

Observant voters will notice that the soldiers in the commercial are not Canadian. Two dead giveaways: First, the troops actually are properly attired for desert combat. (Many voters still remember our troops being sent to Afghanistan wearing forest-green fatigues.) Second, the ad shows tanks, which the Liberal government is phasing out. Is defence really an issue on which the Liberals want to wage the rest of the campaign? They're leading with their chins, if you ask me.

Where's the Fun?
From Peter Donolo, June 11

"Ed's Back", the NDP Web-only commercial ( featuring a senior citizen rap performance by Ed Broadbent, provides a welcome dose of what's been missing from this campaign: FUN!

No wonder voters are grumpy. What have any of the parties done or said to put a smile on their faces? Where are the happy warriors? We've see lots of finger-pointing, smearing, scare-mongering, solemn apologizing and the like. But a politician having a good time?

I don't think I could vote for Ed Broadbent. But I salute his eagerness to put a smile on our faces. Too bad his pompous leader and the other scowling candidates in the campaign can't take his lead.

An examination of fiscal assumptions
From Janice MacKinnon, June 11

While the Conservative platform criticizes the federal government's fiscal projects for being too conservative, the Conservatives' own fiscal assumptions should ring alarm bells for Canadians. An independent source for reliable fiscal data is the Conference Board of Canada and this agency released a study in March 2004 commissioned by the provincial and territorial governments that projected the surpluses available to the federal government into the future.

The study's revenue and spending projections were based on merely continuing with current federal programs and taxes; that is, it was assumed that no new federal programs and tax cuts would be introduced. Comparing the Conference Board's revenue and spending estimates from 2004-05 to 2008-09 shows:
  • Revenue, $1,026-billion (conference board) vs. $1,027-billion (Conservative platform)
  • Program spending, $792-billion (conference board) vs. $761-billion (Conservative platform)

The Conservative plan to spend $30-billion less over the next five years than what the Conference Board estimated was required to maintain the current level of spending. Also, the Conservative platform cost of $58-billion assumes a $10-billion cut in "business subsidies."

Hence, a Conservative government would have to find some $40-billion in spending cuts over the next 5 years.

To put that number into perspective, it is four times what is spent by the federal government addressing child poverty through the Child Benefit and it is about how much Paul Martin had to cut to eliminate the deficit.

What spending cuts of this size would mean has to be brought home to Canadians. Unfortunately, the Liberals are merely claiming that Stephen Harper would have to cut health care, which allows him the easy answer that he has already committed to spend more on health care than the Liberals. What needs to be fleshed out are the other federal programs and services that would simply have to be cut to reduce spending by $40-billion. The question that needs to be put to Mr. Harper is if he is not going to cut health care or tranfers to the provinces or the military -all areas cut by the Liberals when they reduced spending by $40 billion - what then will he cut?

Let's get the answer before the election, not after.

The challenge of a multi-party system
From Guy Giorno, June 9

Peter makes a good point about a divided centre-left vote.

Our multi-party system creates special challenges for the parties, who must consider how their messages affect both ends of the spectrum. For example, what the Liberals and Conservatives say in competing for voters accessible to them both may well have an impact (perhaps unintended) on voters making a Liberal versus NDP choice.

Take the NDP's decision to paint the Liberals as no different from the Conservatives on foreign policy and too cozy with the Bush administration. No doubt that story appeals to a certain crowd. At the same time, it may well influence an entirely separate group of voters, namely those who are angry at the Liberals but unsure of moving to the Conservatives. They may conclude that since Mr. Martin's foreign policy is the same as Mr. Harper's, the Conservatives cannot be very scary.

Whatever the intent, the NDP communication strategy can't hurt the Conservatives.

The Liberals are in a more difficult position. The "soft re-elect" polling shows them at a 2-1 disadvantage. ("Soft re-elect" refers to voter attitudes about returning the incumbents without taking the other parties into account.)

What this means is that much of Team Martin's advertising will be reaching Canadians who have decided to vote for anyone but the Liberals.

Former Ontario Premier David Peterson and his Liberals were in a similar position during the 1990 provincial election. Following a slump in the polls, they aired a devasting series of ads against the Tories. The ads actually succeeded in beating back the PC surge; indeed, the PCs ended up with virtually the same vote share as in the previous election. Unfortunately for the Peterson Liberals, none of that support went back to them. Instead, the anti-Liberal vote went en masse to the NDP, who ended up winning a majority. Had the opposition vote been split in two places, the Liberals would have won at least a minority.

Team Martin faces much the same predicament. Whether they succeed in attacking the Conservatives, NDP or BQ, a lot of those votes will just go to another opposition party. (Even to the Greens, in British Columbia.) They ain't coming home to the Liberals.

Healthcare is not the beef
From Martin Goldfarb, June9

Where's the beef?

Clearly healthcare is not the issue that has galvanized the country even though delivery of healthcare continues to be an anxiety in the country. The Liberals promised $9-billion, the Conservatives have promised more billions and the NDP have promised ever more billions. The NDP have opposed any private delivery of health-care services, while the Conservatives have suggested that private for profit health-care delivery is acceptable as long as the cost to the taxpayer is no greater than what currently exists. And, in fact, the Liberals are in the middle.

There are clinics that will give you an MRI for a fee. A lot of bloodwork is done by private, for-profit labs. Shouldice is a private hospital that specializes in hernia operations that has developed an international reputation. These all function currently within our health-care system. What's bothering people?

The average consumer has no idea what a billion is or what many billions are. So the question is, what does the public want? What does the public need to know? It seems to me timely access is what has not been answered by any of the political parties.

In my mind the average consumer wants to know that they can get an MRI in 48 hours, their chemotherapy or radiation therapy in 2 weeks, a cataract removed in a month. And I could go on and list various elective surgery requirements with reasonable appropriate time period expectations for the public to get service. This is why health care as an issue has no traction. Because no party is giving people answers to their core anxieties that they experience.

Uniting the Centre Left
From Peter Donolo, June 8

The 2004 election campaign has taken the "split vote" story of the previous three campaigns and turned it on its head. According to the polls, Stephen Harper is to a large extent succeeding in his quest to unite the PC and Reform/Alliance vote that so bedeviled the right over the last decade.

The irony is that this time, it is a split of the centre-left vote, between the Liberals and the NDP, which would help contribute to a Conservative victory. That's why the Liberals need to peel back voters that are indicating they'll vote NDP. The way to do it isn't by attacking Jack Layton - whose own campaign ineptness has limited his party's growth potential - but to rally voters who identify with the progressive agenda.

A year ago, Canadians were basking in the glory of "Cool Canada", the moniker we were being awarded by the international media because of our progressive path on everything from gay marriage, to marijuana decriminalization, to our divergence from the Bush administration of Iraq and Kyoto. Harper and company are on the wrong side of all these issues - and other untouchables like abortion. Yet voters who support the "Cool Canada" agenda don't seem to be galvanized.

We're almost halfway through the campaign. Can the Liberals keep the "divide the right" story of the last three elections from morphing into the "divide the centre-left" story this time around?

Is it the economy, stupid?
From Guy Giorno, June 8

I agree with Martin Goldfarb on this point: It's extraordinary that the Liberals' support is so weak when the economy is so strong. Usually voters who are generally comfortable with their own situation and with the direction of the country are content to re-elect the incumbents.

The Liberals' plight shows how seriously the scandals and the Ontario Budget have hurt. They can't blame bad polls on the economy or on tough times for voters. Nope. Voters are sending a message about the government itself.

Corollary: If people are unhappy with the government (not with the economy or with the country but with the people in charge) then a campaign based on looking prime ministerial is going to backfire. That's why the Liberals must switch gears, get Paul Martin out of the bubble and stop campaigning on the fact that he holds the office already.

The Liberals continue to be misled by polls showing that people think Paul Martin would make the best Prime Minister. Hence their attempts to showcase him in statesmanlike roles (such as the G-8 summit) that the others cannot match, to deliver announcements in dull, chairman-of-the-board like settings, and to hold American, presidential-style campaign photo ops with children and seniors.

Alas, the "best PM" statistic is useless as a predictor of voter behaviour. For one thing, the data are entirely predictable; of the four main leaders, Mr. Martin is the only Prime Minister that people know.

When an incumbent's campaign goes south, the "best Prime Minister" ranking will be among the last poll indicators to fall. Indeed, that number may not drop at all, yet the incumbent can still lose. For example, the day that Manitobans elected Gary Doer in 1999, they still told pollsters that Gary Filmon would make the best premier.

The statistic on which the Liberals should really focus is the number of voters who feel they deserve re-election. Currently, twice as many don't as do. As long as those numbers are upside-down, it is counterproductive to remind people that Mr. Martin is head of the government with which they are unhappy. Instead of presenting Mr. Martin as best qualified to be Prime Minister, the Liberals should deal with the fact that voters want change. They must offer change, or they will get changed.

What change do we want?
From Martin Goldfarb, June 8

The Liberal party promised change but did the country really want change in substance or policy direction? It seems to me Martin's Liberal party needs to acknowledge that many of the files they inherited from the Chrétien government the public did not want to change. They were comfortable with where the country was heading on a whole host of subjects including the economy, same-sex marriage, abortion access, gun control, Iraq, marijuana possession and the judiciary. There was a feeling of pride and a sense of well-being. Canadians are almost smug on these issues especially in comparison to the Bush USA. We see ourselves as contemporary, progressive and diverse and these polices have demonstrated that fact.

So, what is the change we want? The Liberal party has talked about changing how Parliament functions, with for example, more free votes, and the public isn't engaged. The Liberal party has talked about new rules for the ethics commissioner, and the public isn't engaged.

The change we want is about process and procedure. The public wants to see transparency and accountability in government; that is in the awarding of contracts and in accounting how the money is actually spent. The public wants to know that nepotism will stop and corruption will be abolished. The public feels abused over these issues. And, as yet, we have not seen how the Liberal party or for that matter, the other parties, is going to address what the public sees as unmitigated wrongs.

Why are people so angry and apathetic about politicians? It is this apathy that is a danger to our democracy. The public is cynical about politicians, and is becoming more cynical each day. Politicians need to engage the public on why it is they deserve to be trusted. We need a federal process that obliterates mistrust of our politicians.

We want some change, but the Martin Liberal party needs to come to terms with the Chrétien legacy and publicly accept that there is much that should not be changed.

It's the economy stupid! Does the economy matter?
From Martin Goldfarb, June 7

In Canada we created 56,000 new jobs (mostly full time) last month; we have had 7 surpluses in a row; inflation is below 2 per cent; we have reduced the debt, which allows for lower interest payments with the result that we have more money for programs and the ratio of debt to GDP is lowest in the so-called Group of Seven industrialized nations. Our unemployment rate is down; our dollar is strong. We've had a win in soft wood lumber trade dispute and it looks like we will have a win in the beef industry. Average consumer spending power has increased due to low inflation and tax cuts, and I could go on with other examples. The point is that the economy in Canada is functioning better than it has functioned in the past 35 years.

We can't complain about the way the economy is functioning.

So, why aren't people engaged in the economy in this election? Leadership does make a difference. The proposed Tory tax cuts would be inflationary and would probably result in deficits. Deficits mean job losses, which would create instability in our economy. The Deputy Chief Economist at the Bank of Montreal stated that dramatic reductions in social programs would be necessary to fund Conservative leader Stephen Harper's proposed tax cuts. These tax cuts will create uncertainty in global markets that would also likely result in a lower dollar and therefore decreased consumer spending power. It is therefore likely the average consumer wouldn't be any further ahead in terms of personal spending power.

Why aren't people making the link that leadership at the political level makes a significant difference in their personal economic well being? Is it because the economy is functioning so well? Clearly, in Ontario under the Harris Tories, the daily conflict that took place in the workplace, with labour including health workers, in the schools and on the streets resulted in a dissipation of economic confidence. The economy struggled, the deficit went sky high and we had higher unemployment. What happens politically affects the economy. The economy is Paul Martin's strength. Where is the Liberal voice on the economy in this election?

Harper: Stay the course
From Rod Love, June 4

Unlike the Liberals, who need to change their entire campaign in a hurry, Stephen Harper should campaign over the course of the next three weeks as he and his team have campaigned in the first two weeks.

A campaign is made up of many parts, from national headquarters to tour, from media relations to policy support, and from the candidates themselves to the volunteers who campaign with them.

By any standard, Stephen Harper's campaign is running smoothly on all cylinders.

And while the polls continue to improve, there is something else out there that can't be measured as scientifically as public opinion — it's momentum.

Veterans of campaigns past can attest to the fact that sometimes you just begin to pick up a subtle shift in the way people greet a candidate at the door, or begin to talk to canvassers over the phone, maybe a larger than expected crowd, or suddenly people start to wish you good luck if they know you are working on the campaign.

It is what pollsters can't pick up, but the foot soldiers can. That began to happen to the Conservatives last week.

As someone writing this just blocks from Calgary's famous 'red mil', let me offer you the obvious analogy; The Calgary Flames adopted a game plan at the start of the playoffs, everybody signed on, and they have stayed with it to success.

So too must Harper stay with his demonstrably solid campaign thus far.

How should Harper play the rest of the campaign?
From Martin Goldfarb, June 4

It's clear the Conservative party is not together on a number of issues of conscience; same-sex marriage, abortion, decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, immigration. Harper has to convince people that he will balance the budget and grow the economy. These are the issues that will differentiate the new party from Liberal party.

To convince the electorate, to trust the new Conservative party, Harper must tell us what he would do if he were in power. As it stands now, he is playing a cat and mouse game and Canadians will assume a worst case scenario whereby Harper would be seen as compromising individual rights by using the Notwithstanding clause on issues like same sex marriage and abortion. He is challenging women and first and second time voters. His economic proposals skirt the strength of the Canadian economy.

His task is to convince Canadians that surplus budgets will be a reality with his economic proposal and that inflation will not rear its ugly head. In today's anxious world, tax cuts may not be a reason for people to vote Conservative. Eves certainly learned that in Ontario. Mr. Harper must demonstrate why tax cuts are good for the economy of this country in that there will be productivity improvements and standard of life improvements. There has to be a bigger reason for the tax cuts than simply putting a few more dollars into some people's pockets.

Good public policy has to provide a vision of where you want to end up. If you know where you want to end up, there are lots of avenues to get there.

Advice for Mr. Harper
From Janice MacKinnon, June 4

Stephen Harper should continue with the tactics that explain his success: running a disciplined campaign in which he stays "on message"; dealing quickly and decisively with candidates who go "off message"; speaking in crisp, well crafted sound bites; throwing superficial attacks back at his attackers; avoiding gimmicks; allowing his opponents to underestimate him and sidestepping a debate on health care that is framed more by rhetoric than by the substantive issues at stake.

To establish his trustworthiness he needs to explain to Canadians why he supported the American-led war in Iraq and why he has changed his mind.

He also has to answer substantive policy questions. In March 2004, a Conference Board of Canada study, commissioned by the provinces, projected federal surpluses for the next five years at $48-billion; yet, Harper proposes to spend about $80 billion. Will the extra money come from program cuts or running deficits? What role should the federal government play in post-secondary education, the Innovation strategy, and social policy? How many of these areas would he leave to the provinces? Does Harper support women's right to choose on the issue of abortion?

Finally, Harper should wait until June 28 to declare victory.

What should Harper do?
From Guy Giorno, June 4

1. Keep up the visual momentum to demonstrate change.
Mr. Harper must maintain the contrast with the incumbent by showing that he is new and different, and has energy. The Prime Minister's bubble campaign presents poor visuals: staged photo ops and announcements made, sitting down, in chairman-of-the-board like fashion. The Conservatives can differentiate with enthusiastic crowds and policies communicated in interesting, message-related settings.

2. Stick to "message a day" discipline.
Saturday's platform unveiling does not mean all voters will immediately know what's in it. Mr. Harper should continue to profile a different topic each day.

3. Read the riot act.
All Conservatives must rediscover their Week 1 discipline. It wasn't leadership gaffes but individual MPs and a rogue pugilist who stole the spotlight this week. A tough-love message must be sent to everyone. Only disciplined campaigns win.

4. Use the debate to connect with Canadians.
Forget the knockout punch. Accessible voters need to see what Mr. Harper is really all about. The debate allows you to look through the camera and speak directly to them. Let Mr. Layton be the scrapper, and focus on your conversation with the viewers at home.

5. Don't talk about transitions and minority government scenarios.
Letting the Bloc hold the balance of power can scare potential support elsewhere. And talk of transition planning serves no useful strategic purpose. Focus on positive reasons to vote Conservative.

How should Stephen Harper handle the rest of the campaign?
From Peter Donolo, June 4

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives had the wind to their backs for the first two weeks of the campaign. There is a very good chance that the musings over abortion this week will bring that momentum to a cold stop. Advice on how to make it over the finish line first:

1. Focus on winning former Progressive Conservative voters. Debates on abortion, bilingualism and the like make you look more old Reform than New Conservative. Tie yourself to successful mainstream PCs. For example, a rally in Atlantic Canada with all four Atlantic premiers sharing the stage with you would send out a strong message.

2. Stress your new generation candidates - both as a way of de-emphasizing all those neanderthals and yahoos in your caucus, and to stress generational change from what you portray as a tired Liberal leadership. One good way to do that would be to hit the road for a week accompanied by your leadership opponents Tony Clement, Belinda Stronach and Peter McKay.

3. Cherchez la femme. Your party suffers from a gender gap. The abortion fiasco will only make matters worse. Try to find a way to appeal to women voters.

4. Keep hitting the Liberals on their negatives - don't let the debate switch to your weak issues. You've already had two strikes, one more and you'll be out.

Campaign discipline
From Guy Giorno, June 4

It really comes down to how much you want to win.

There are many different reasons for lack of discipline. Thinking you know better. Getting caught up in what feels good, short term, with no concern for what happens later.

But like all undisciplined behaviour it ultimately comes down to not caring enough. In this case, not caring to win.

Stephen Harper was thrown off his big tax-cut message Thursday because of something an MP said Tuesday.

Harper also lost his message because some party supporters in Guelph felt that scrapping with a heckler was more important than their leader's announcement. Well, bully for you (no pun intended). You got on TV and Mr. Harper's message didn't. Your 15 minutes of fame had better be worth four more years of Liberal government, because that's what the stakes are.

By contrast, Team Martin is so disciplined that cabinet ministers dutifully discharge silly instructions. Everyone laughed, but even a mediocre plan, well executed, will succeed better than a great plan undermined by supporters who can't get their act together.

There's a story making the rounds that before the election Mr. Harper told caucus and candidates that if the campaign got into trouble it wouldn't be the fault of the plan, but the fault of undisciplined behaviour out in the field. He was right, but perhaps some in the audience felt they knew better.

This weekend the Conservative leadership should be reading the riot act to everyone involved in the campaign: candidates, campaign workers, those who organize events. That means a big conference call with candidates and managers, a meeting of all the campaign staff, and local meetings in 308 ridings.

Sure there's a double standard at play. Mr. Martin advocates pre-abortion counselling and gets no coverage. A Conservative backbencher speaks and generates a four-day story. Mr. Martin says private members are free to introduce and vote on bills, and that's democratic. Mr. Harper supports free votes, and that's scary.

In that issue environment, there are two choices. One is the defeatist approach, where you rail at the injustice and then give up, figuring you'll never get a fair chance. The alternative is to note the unfairness and the hostile environment and decide to be twice as disciplined to compensate.

Between these two approaches, a winning campaign has but one option.

The message thing
From Guy Giorno, June 3

This week's challenge is keeping on message.

The New Democrats and the Bloc Québecois have already released detailed platforms. I mean detailed. The BQ wants a 10-knot speed limit on the St. Lawrence between Sorel and Contrecoeur.

For the Conservatives and Liberals this was supposed to be the big week of policy announcements.

As of Wednesday, the Conservatives were 3-for-3 on substance, but communication discipline wasn't great. After Scott Reid's comments, Rob Merrifield's Globe interview almost derailed his party's careful message plan.

Mr. Merrifield had to know that his expression of personal opinion to the Globe would receive national attention. More ironic, Mr. Merrifield knows how issues can explode. Two weeks ago, he refused to be drawn into discussion of the morning-after pill, telling Canadian Press it was a politically-motivated attempt by the Liberals to paint Conservatives as "extremist." He side-stepped that trap, but …

I suspect that Mr. Merrifield and Scott Reid, both comfortable with reporters, underestimated the scrutiny because this is their first campaign as incumbents. Ordinarily it's darn hard for opposition MPs to get media attention, no matter what they say. The election spotlight is far brighter. Hotter, too.

Stephen Harper addressed the issue immediately; now his team must ensure that no other candidate repeats the error. A tall order, given that there are 305 candidates besides Harper, Reid and Merrifield.

Technically a general election is separate elections in 308 individual ridings. In reality, a winning party must mount one national effort with coherent messages delivered by its leader. No room for freelancing.

It's one thing to freelance, quite another to stomp all over your leader's news coverage at the behest of campaign headquarters.

Paul Martin's intended message on Tuesday, was a "$2.5 billion boost" for seniors. Instead, TV newscasts showed Judy Sgro in a T-shirt, John McCallum in a melee, and Mr. Martin talking about polls.

Don't blame Ms. Sgro and Mr. McCallum. They performed as asked. Campaigns are disciplined operations requiring total confidence in the campaign leadership … even when the instructions are dumb.

Sending a high-profile spokesman to your opponent's event can be an excellent tactic when it does not degenerate into a confusing row. But Tuesday's interventions merely highlighted Paul Martin's bubble campaign. He made no announcement on Monday or Wednesday. He delivered Tuesday's message looking like a chairman of the board.

Substance will win this race. He needs to show it.

Post-script: I had already written these comments when I read in today's Globe and Mail the interview with Team Martin's campaign co-chair, Hélène Scherrer. She, too, says that the Liberals need to start talking about substance, about real issues.

On abortion
From Janice MacKinnon, June 3

Joe Clark was right - the new Conservative party is more right wing and much less progressive than the Progressive Conservative party was, a reality driven home by the recent comments about abortion made by Conservative MP Rob Merrifield and leader Stephen Harper.

Merrifield stated that women seeking abortions need to have counseling first, and though Mr. Harper rebuked his critic for failing to adhere to party policy, he did not remove him, even though another Conservative MP who strayed beyond party policy on the issue of bilingualism had to quit his position.

While Mr. Harper has said that his private views on such matters will not affect his public decisions, it has to be remembered that he won the Conservative leadership with the strong backing of a variety of social conservative groups. Just as it is legitimate to ask the NDP what impact union backing has on its policies, or to question Paul Martin about how the support of business leaders affects his political decisions, it is reasonable to press Mr. Harper on the role that support from social conservative organizations might have on his future policies.

Canadians, especially women, should take no comfort from Mr. Harper's statement that he would not introduce legislation restricting abortions since he is also committed to a free vote on abortion. While all parties have some members who oppose abortion or gay rights, the Conservatives have many more such members who are vocal and do not share Mr. Harper's view that their private views should not affect public policy.

What Mr. Harper is really saying, then, is that the continuation of Canadian women's right to choose on the issue of abortion will be decided by a Parliament still dominated by men. Contrast this with Joe Clark's position, when he led the Progressive Conservative party. Instead, of having a male dominated parliament decide on such an important issue for women, he supported women's right to make their own wise and informed choices.

As the party with the clearest position on issues like abortion or gay marriage, the NDP should press Mr. Harper on these important matters. Jack Layton should be asking Mr. Harper whether he would respect a Supreme Court decision supporting gay marriage and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms upon which the decision would be based? Or would Mr. Harper use a free vote in the House of Commons as a justification for using the notwithstanding clause to overturn a court decision? On the issue of abortion, the question is simple: as a matter of public policy does Stephen Harper support women's right to choice on the issue of abortion. Canadian women deserve a clear answer from Mr. Harper before they enter the ballot box to make their choice.

Martin Goldfarb responds to Guy Giorno on laddering
From Martin Goldfarb, June 3

Laddering has been and continues to be used as a tool to understand how individuals respond to a whole series of issues. It is clear that Mr. Harper is sensitive about the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration and legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana - I could go on. Mr. Harper has indicated that he would use the Notwithstanding clause to overrule the courts. To me, this is an issue of conscience as it would compromise individual rights that are guaranteed under the Charter. This is a fundamental point of difference between Mr. Harper, Mr. Layton and Mr. Martin.

Your statement that polls show that people are not interested in values is not my reading of the Leger Marketing poll Wednesday and Thursday. They clearly indicate that 50 per cent of voters are prepared to change their mind.

Your eyes do not deceive you
From Rod Love, June 2

Believe it, because you saw it with your own eyes. Liberal cabinet ministers interrupting Conservative leader Stephen Harper and his wife as they were doing some traditional mainstreeting in vote-rich Ontario.

But there they were, the Hon. John McCallum and the Hon. Judy Srgo, pushing into the crowd, waving letters, shouting questions, and McCallum later telling reporters that it was all a coincidence.

Is this what McCallum thought it would come to when he was lured away from the banking industry to become a 'star' candidate in 2000. If he was a supernova then, he is a burned out planet now.

And is this what Srgo thought it would come to when she finally became a Minister of the Crown after years on the backbench? At least as a private member, she had her dignity.

The word 'pathetic' comes to mind, but doesn't nearly do justice to the spectacle.

Can you imagine Pierre Trudeau allowing his ministers to do such a thing? Can you imagine his campaign team even suggesting it? Hell, for that matter, can you imagine Jean Chretien, street fighter that he was, letting his ministers heckle Her Majesty's Leader of the Official Opposition, and his wife, as they walked down an Ontario sidewalk?


And the not-ready-for-prime-time Liberal campaign team not only defends it, they hint that there may be more of this juvenile nonsense to come.

Lord knows the Conservatives hope so, because the smell of death about the Liberal campaign only grows as the bizarre tactics increase.

Remember the part where Paul Martin was going to do things differently?

Well, give him credit — this is certainly doing things differently. He just didn't tell us that 'different' also meant 'weird'.

I just have this vision in my mind of, say, the classy Frank McKenna, as premier of New Brunswick, hearing that a couple of his cabinet ministers were harassing a Conservative Leader of the Opposition and his wife on a mainstreeting event on the outskirts of Fredericton? Cabinet ministers! The look on McKenna's face before he summarily fired the both of them and the campaign genius who dreamed it up would have been a sight to behold.

So, don't tell me the Liberals don't know what is going on out there as we approach the end of Week 2.

When the Grits start to send in the front bench to do the messy campaign jobs that used to be reserved for the beer-emboldened Liberal youth wing, it means they know the party is over.

What you are seeing are the tactics from some amateurs who have never had to fight for an election win.

What you are seeing is an admission that the campaign is in serious trouble, as is the cushy free ride on Parliament Hill, and a job in the real world looms.

More Liberal cabinet ministers heckling Harper, or Layton, or Duceppe?

Bring it on. Desperation now has a face.

A response to Martin Goldfarb on Laddering Issues
From Guy Giorno, June 2

Martin, your commentary reflects exactly the desperation that has seized hold of the federal Liberal campaign.

Using "values" to depict your opponents as foreign to the voters and therefore scary is essentially an American political strategy.

This is becoming the last refuge of the Martin campaign because it cannot win a debate on policy and substance.

The argument that Canadians divide into two monolithic thought groups just doesn't wash. I personally know pro-life gays, pro-choice gun owners, pot-smoking opponents of same-sex weddings and pretty much every other belief combination.

This talk of "laddering" sounds suspiciously like guilt-by-association.

For instance, Nellie McClung campaigned for women's suffrage. She also supported eugenics. The Liberals erected her statue on Parliament Hill. It would be silly to paint them with all her beliefs.

Do Canadians all think the same way about social issues? Of course not. It is precisely because Canadians do NOT think the same way that moral questions should be subject to free votes by MPs.

That is, if such issues ever make it to the House of Commons. Stephen Harper has made it clear that his government will not introduce abortion legislation. Who triggered parliamentary debate of social issues, by introducing legislation on marriage and marijuana? The Liberals.

Team Martin is attempting to dress everything in the rhetoric of values. Cut taxes? Un-Canadian. Scrap the gun registry? Mean spirited and goes against values.

With respect, budgeting $2-million and then spending $1-billion on a gun registry is not an act of conscience.

This was the same strategy used unsuccessfully by Jean Chrétien to duck the sponsorship scandal. Hide behind national unity; say critics didn't value keeping Canada whole.

Polls show that voters are not falling for an American-style debate over values. They want a prime minister who will run a clean, accountable government that protects health care and keeps Canada strong.

The party leader who passes that test of substance will be the next prime minister.

Laddering issues
From Martin Goldfarb, June 2

Behavioural Scientists use the term laddering to indicate how people who think one way about an emotional issue also think the same way about a number of other issues.

The Conservatives have skated around the abortion issue but their website is clear in that they would allow for a vote in parliament on an issue of choice for women. And Conservative leader Stephen Harper has not said that he would not use the Notwithstanding clause to override the court. The issue of abortion ladders to issues like same-sex marriage, gun control, decriminalization of possession of small amounts of pot and other issues of conscience. Mr. Harper's followers are likely to think the same way about other issues of conscience. It is indicative about the kind of country that we would evolve to under a Conservative government.

Earlier this week, the Conservative party showed its true colors on this issue with the health critic, Rob Merrifield, saying that he advocated mandatory third party counseling in advance of an abortion. That is, he does not believe women should be able to make this choice for themselves.

Mr. Martin needs to make clear that he would not use the Notwithstanding clause on same sex marriage and a woman's right to chose. If Martin positions himself in this way, he will put Harper's attitudes and intentions out in the open for all Canadians to know.

Mr. Harper announced that the Conservatives would repeal the gun registry. Mr. Harper's vision for our society is mean spirited, exclusionary and paternalistic.

For me, these issues are issues of conscience. Issues of conscious and access set the Liberals apart from the Conservatives. These issues are issues of idealism and establish the vision for tomorrow. They are a way for the Liberal party to demonstrate how Mr. Harper thinks and how they are truly different.

Suddenly, we have a race

From Rod Love, June 1

 Obviously, the most interesting dynamic of the 2004 federal election campaign is that it is the first truly competitive election since 1988. While some would argue that the past three federal elections were, of course, a competition, no one would disagree that the split in the conservative movement made the Liberals prohibitive favourites.

 That is certainly not the case this time. Indeed, all four major parties are facing dramatically changed circumstances since the campaign of 2000.

• The Liberals have just emerged from a bitter and divisive leadership race and transition, and lack the unity and focus of past campaigns;

• The Conservatives are united for the first time in 15 years;

• Jack Layton, while his policies are still hopelessly out-of-touch, is clearly a more dynamic campaigner than the New Democrats have had in the past; • And lastly the Bloc Quebecois is enjoying a resurgence due to the disgust the voters in Quebec are expressing over the Liberals sponsorship scandal.

 These four factors, combined with a clearly angry electorate, make for a volatile campaign. My sense is that the margin for error here is very small. My visual of the voter is someone with a scowl on his or her, their arms crossed, and saying nothing, but listening very carefully with a mood that is quick to punish.

 The one happy circumstance for all the parties facing this volatile and undecided electorate is that a competitive election should mean a rise in voter turnout. Elections that appear to be over at the start don't motivate voters, particularly young voters. But an election that is truly up for grabs can have an exhilarating effect on people's determination to mark their ballots.

From Martin Goldfarb, May 31

What should the Liberals do now?

There are four weeks to go in the election campaign. The question is what should the Liberals do now?

The first requirement is to keep the issues agenda on track. The Liberals were successful on healthcare. They announced the plan and it dominated the news. They, however, were less successful with their plan for cities. Mr. Martin lost focus on his own agenda when he responded to Mr. Layton's personal attack, which was an insensitive attack without merit. Layton and his wife, Olivia Chow, sat on Toronto City Council during the period in which the cutbacks Layton referred to were made. They were the frontline workers - they chose not to spend on homelessness in budget decisions they personally were involved with. I am reminded of a famous Shakespeare line a fool "doth protest too much."

Second, the Liberals need to let Mr. Layton self-destruct. He has proven thus far that he will. It is not only Layton's remarks about Martin being responsible for the deaths of homeless people in Toronto that seem extremist to most Canadians, but also his statements on the Clarity Act and on the 200 billion dollar surplus in the budget. His proposal for an inheritance tax constitutes a tax on hard-working middle class families who have saved all their lives, and this too is out of sync with what most of us think is fair. Layton's own actions will sink the NDP.

Third, the Liberals need to focus on the real enemy. It is Stephen Harper and the new Conservatives that are the real threat to Mr. Martin and his government. In order to address this threat, the Liberals must focus on two fundamentals which are issues of conscience and access.

Any good marketing plan positions the relevant product in a way that exposes the competition. The Liberals need to use the same principal to expose Mr. Harper's attitudes which do not include all Canadians and are discriminatory. Harper supports the traditional definition of marriage. He wants a free vote in the House of Commons on this issue of choice for women on abortion. As Jeffrey Simpson indicated last week, in order for Harper to forward his exclusionary policies, he will need to use the Notwithstanding clause. Mr. Martin needs to make clear that he would not use the Notwithstanding clause on same sex marriage and a woman's right to choose. If Martin positions himself in this way, he will put Harper's attitudes and intentions out in the open for all Canadians to know. These two issues are only symptomatic of Harper's views on a whole host of other issues.

The second part of the positioning strategy is access. Martin got good coverage on health-care, but the commitment of 9 billion dollars was an overwhelming number and meaningless to most Canadians. We want to know: can I get an MRI within 48 hours?; can I get chemotherapy within 2 weeks or less?; and can I get cataract surgery in 1 month or less?. I could go on; we want to know that when we are sick we will be treated in a reasonable period of time. I propose a Health-care Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights should clearly state that access to high quality health-care is a right of every Canadian. It should go on to define expectations and what is reasonable with respect to time commitments. It is nothing less than a covenant with the Canadian people with a service level agreement. Announcing a commitment of 9 billion does not address the health-care problem for most Canadians.

Health-care is only one of many issues of access that need to be addressed in order to confront Stephen Harper head-on. Education and training are also important issues. Education and training are rights not privileges. They are fundamental to achieving one's potential. Young people believe it is unfair that they have been asked to carry increasing amounts of debt in order to receive the education they need to succeed. Access to the courts is another issue. Most Canadians can't afford to use the courts to adjudicate civil disputes. Access is a central tenant of our democracy; without it we do not enjoy all the privileges of living in a free society.

Issues of conscience and access set the Liberals apart from the Conservatives. These issues are issues of idealism and establish the vision for tomorrow. Canadians need to understand Mr. Martin's vision and what the Liberal way forward will mean for Canadians. Mr. Harper's way forward seems to be a return to the time before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by using the Notwithstanding clause. This is a vision with less individual rights. On June 28 we will be asked to vote about the kind of democracy we want to live in.

From Janice MacKinnon, May 31

What do the Liberals need to do?

First, Paul Martin needs to compensate for his major tactical error in responding to the Ontario budget by appearing to side with Premier Dalton McGuinty. Martin should continue down his newly found road of distancing himself from McGuinty, specifically his signing of a pledge to not raise taxes at a time when he knew Ontario had serious fiscal problems.

He also needs to address the trust issue directly by talking a lot more about his own record as finance minister. Did he ever break his word? Did people trust him as finance minister to do one of the toughest jobs of the 1990s?

Why is Martin letting people chip away at the difficult but necessary choices that he had to make to balance Canada's budget, while the same people merrily spend the surpluses that resulted from balancing the budget? On this issue, he should come out fighting — he's on good ground.

Martin also needs to be faster and crisper in his responses to issues. Look at Harper who has an immediate, tightly worded response to any major Martin announcement. Martin has been slow to make the most of some of the gaffes that the opposition parties have handed him. Since fatigue may be a factor, Martin might also want to follow Harper's lead and slow down his schedule.

In strategic terms, Martin's message that only the Liberals can be trusted to balance social programs with sound management of the economy needs to be broadened beyond health care. Access to post-secondary education — increasing tuition and student debt loads — is a major concern of many Canadians and in its last budget the Martin government took some modest, but important steps to tackle the problem. Return to this theme and ask Harper where he stands on the issue — does he believe that it should be left to the provinces? A similar tack can be taken with other social issues, such as poverty, which remains a serious problem in Canada.

On the economy, Martin needs to showcase what the Liberals have achieved through their Innovation Strategy and ask the other parties where they stand on the investments in research and development that are critical to success in the knowledge economy. Again, would Harper leave these investments to the provinces or to the private sector?

Finally, Martin needs to ask the other parties how they plan to finance their expensive promises. In March 2004 a Conference Board of Canada study, commissioned by the provinces, calculated future federal surpluses. In the next 5 years, from 2005-06 to 2009-10, federal surpluses will be $48. 7 billion. While the Liberals are spending about $40 billion, the Conservatives and NDP are clearly spending more than this. Will the extra money come from tax increases, program cuts or a return to deficits? This is critical ground upon which to flesh out the opposition. The former finance minister knows the routine - he should get himself back on track.

From Peter Donolo, May 31

What should the Liberals do now?

The Liberal campaign's essential approach - of polarizing the choice for Canadians between their party's "Canadian Values" and the more US approach of the new Conservative Party - is fundamentally correct. There is nothing cynical about it. All elections are about choosing. People have a right to see those choices clearly etched out.

The Liberals have also been right to more or less ignore the NDP - in an effort to force voters flirting with that party into the Liberal camp, in order to avert a Harper government. That said, Jack Layton's outrageous performance should call for an adjustment. Unexpectedly, Mr. Layton, with his puerile platform, his over-the-top attack on Paul Martin on homelessness and his latest vow to axe the Clarity Act, has emerged as the Stockwell Day of the 2004 campaign. The Liberals might well counter the desire of many voters for a minority by pointing out that the flaky Mr. Layton is perhaps the last person who should be holding the balance of power in a new Parliament.

In fact, the broader issue of the risks - to Canadians - of minority government should become more of an explicit theme. The country has significant challenges facing it - especially internationally and Canada-US-wise - it needs to have a government that is stable, not straightjacketted and beholden to Mr. Layton's NDP or the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

The Liberals also should emphasize their record - both Mr. Martin's record as Finance Minister and the broader successes of the Liberal Government over a decade. The fact that the Chrétien Government, with Mr. Martin as Finance Minister, eliminated the deficit, lowered taxes, and launched a new era of economic prosperity is something that needs to be trumpeted louder. It should also immunize the Liberals from complaints about the Ontario budget. On taxes and deficits, the Liberals can say, "don't read our lips... look at our record." Same goes for the independent road taken from the United States - especially on Iraq.

Finally, a couple of DOs and DON'Ts:

· DON'T start making senior campaign personnel changes, You don't change horses in mid stream. And Liberals who are making those complaints in the media should start showing some restraint. Canadians won't vote for a government that doesn't exhibit self-discipline.

· DO muzzle Jean Lapierre. If Jack Layton is the Stockwell Day of this election, then Jean Lapierre might as well start donning the hairnet - because he's showing all the lack of judgment and accident proneness that Gilles Duceppe displayed in 1997. You know there are problems when the Leader on his first appearance in the province has to defend and make excuses for his star lieutenant - as Mr. Martin did this week.

From Guy Giorno, May 31

What should the Liberals do now?

"What should the Liberals do now?" Five steps.

First, resist pressure to change the campaign team.

There is always room for improvement, but in my experience it is naïve to believe that the arrival of Mr. (or Ms) Big will rescue a floundering campaign. Things deteriorate as often as they improve. Any incremental increase in talent offered by the newcomer(s) is offset by days of disruption, delay and loss of message.

Especially foolish would be reaching back to bring in a veteran of Jean Chrétien's election wins. Old warriors fight battles the same way, and their recycled strategies will not inspire a cynical electorate hungry for change.

I know David Herle, Martin's sharp and talented campaign manager; years ago I worked with him. Dropping David would be a mistake.

Second, get out of the bubble.

Paul Martin has been running an American-style presidential campaign. Lots of staged events, much talk of "values," but very little substance. Visiting the Calgary Flames' locker room and touring a home for veterans typify the presidential bubble campaign: all pictures and no content.

Martin's advisers are being misled by polls that show him as voters' best choice for Prime Minister. They want to build on this impression by presenting him in prime ministerial and statesmanlike settings. Unfortunately, the bubble campaign just reinforces the fact that Martin lacks substance, has no clear agenda, and fails to offer change.

Above all, Liberal strategists must cancel plans (reported in Saturday's Globe and Mail) to use the G-8 summit as a forum for third world issues irrelevant to the day-to-day lives of Canadians. This is a U.S.-style attempt to distract from domestic failings with international leadership, and will backfire.

Third, present real substance.

To date, most of Martin's pronouncements have been vague and platitudinous. His one "big" policy, promising to throw more money at health care (even with a specific dollar figure attached), is a fuzzy and meaningless solution.

If the Liberals' platform (as yet unreleased) does not contain clear and measurable policies, then they should tear it up. Instead, quickly develop five, seven or ten specifics, and campaign on those. Better that than releasing a lengthy platform document that proves you lack substance.

Fourth, clearly repudiate Dalton McGuinty.

The Ontario Liberals are hurting Martin, badly. He made an oblique reference to their conduct in Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday when he said politicians should keep their promises. But that was not clear enough, especially after his initial defence of their budget.

Martin must formally declare that it was wrong for McGuinty to break his word. Further, local candidates should be instructed to keep Ontario MPPs off their campaigns. (Voters will not respond warmly to doorstep entreaties from politicians who lied to them eight months earlier.)

Fifth, show real, specific contrast from Stephen Harper.

The negative attacks on values and health care are vague and are backfiring because Martin himself offers no substance. He needs to identify specific Liberal policies and then hold them up against the corresponding Conservative stances.

The risk is that voters may well prefer Harper's offer of smaller government, stricter justice and lower taxes. But at least the Liberals will be campaigning on issues.

The youth question

From Martin Goldfarb, May 28

 Youth are disaffected. They are least likely to vote in the election and youth voter turn out has been steadily declining over the last several elections.

 Why? If we look at the parties' platforms, none of them deal with young people's needs. The major political parties are behaving as if health-care is the defining issue of the election. But, health-care is not youths' need and we are asking them to pay for it. The youth are being asked to financially support, for the next twenty years, the very people who penalized them.

 These people are over 50 and are coming to the end of their tax contributing years. The group that needs health-care is the very same cohort that under-funded education. We ask young people to assume debt to achieve what they need to prepare for life; yet older people are not being asked to assume debt for what they need.

 Why should today's students graduate with enormous debt? The first ten years out of college should not be about debt repayment — especially to fund health-care for their parents.

 Look at the record of people over 50: How many new universities did they build, how many new postsecondary opportunities have they created whether it be at a university, trade school or community college? Young people want to know where they will end up. What will their lifestyle be?

 When you are young, more than any other time in your life, is a time when you can be idealistic. Where is the idealistic vision for the country with which youth can identify? For example, the NDP have articulated clear policies on fairness issues including same-sex marriage. They demonstrate a sense of idealism in their approach to governance. The Liberals are seen as too pragmatic and the Conservatives as too self centered. The Liberals have not been seen to implement their promise of cleaning up government and this only further alienates youth and, indeed, all of us. Traditionally, the Liberals have done better with first and second time voters as they have had articulated programs and policies that appeal to these new voters.

 There was a sense of idealism in how they approached young people. Where is the election platform that will do this today? If we want to engage young people in the political process we need to involve them and we can do that by broadening the political discourse to include issues that they care about such as same sex marriage, abortion, decriminalization of marijuana, and cost of postsecondary tuition. These are issues of conscience. The parties need to be precise on their stand for these kinds of issues. It is the issues of conscience and the principles of access to healthcare, education, courts and jobs that will interest young people.

Yes, but what was the message supposed to be?

 From Guy Giorno, May 28

 For party leaders trying to deliver their messages, Thursday was not a good day.

A challenge of our system is that the parties only have five weeks to explain their policies to the voters, and spending limits make it impossible to communicate their full platforms through advertising alone. They need to rely on "earned" or "free" media — in other words, getting covered in newspapers and on radio, TV and on websites like this.

 Part of campaign planning involves breaking your policy into bite-size pieces, each big enough for one day's news. If outside events intervene or, worse, you step on your own message, then the voters simply won't hear or read what you have to say.

I went to the parties' websites to see what the leaders were actually trying to tell Canadians on Thursday. Paul Martin was demonstrating his connection with veterans. Stephen Harper pledged to reinvest in the military following Liberals cuts. Jack Layton outlined the NDP's plan for a national, non-profit home care program.

 No one quite succeeded. Layton's claim that Martin's policies were responsible for deaths of homeless people dominated both the NDP and Liberal coverage on Thursday. Meanwhile, Scott Reid's comments about bilingualism, and Harper's reaction to same, were the major Conservative news story. As a result, whatever else they had to say to voters was lost.

 Whose fault is that? Well, the parties should blame themselves for lack of message discipline. You want to talk about three things at once, one of them a hot-button issue like bilingualism? Sorry, the media can't cover them all, and no surprise which they choose. Accuse the Prime Minister of killing people on Wednesday night? You'd better expect that the fallout will cancel your message for Thursday.

 At the same time, the media bear some responsibility to ensure that candidates succeed in conveying their policies to Canadians. As I said earlier, our system makes it essential for the parties to explain their platforms to the voters through the news media. When news coverage focuses on the "horse race" rather than the substance of each message, Canadians lose.

 For example, interesting as it seems, the story that Jean Chrétien won't campaign for Paul Martin is about election process, not substance. Newsworthy, but not nearly as vital as what Martin said yesterday … whatever that was.

The Thing about Jack, Part II

From Peter Donolo, May  28

 Not to say I told you so... but Jack Layton's outrageous - and ongoing - comments about Paul Martin being personally responsible for the deaths of homeless people underline my point yesterday that Layton just can't help himself.

 Rather than trying to climb out of his hole yesterday, he just sank further into it with his contrived emoting and phony near-breakdown on television. The pros in the NDP - and I know they are there - should really shut this down, or Jack's ego-trip will scuttle what could be a once in a generation opportunity for their party.

 Yahoo Eruptions

 During the 1992 U.S.  presidential campaign, Bill Clinton's Little Rock headquarters had a special SWAT team dedicated to putting out what they termed "bimbo eruptions" - women from Mr. Clinton's past who might be prone to pop up and share reminiscences with the media. With the notable exception of Gennifer Flowers, the SWAT team was VERY successful. I think it's highly unlikely that Stephen Harper has the same problem past as Mr. Clinton; come to think of it, if he did, it might actually spice up his image a little. But the Conservative campaign could certainly borrow the Little Rock template as a way of handling "yahoo eruptions", like the one involving MP Scott Reid yesterday. Too many times over the past decade, the Reform, Alliance and now Conservative parties have been brought down by the musings of their more reactionary MPs and candidates.

 Each neanderthal utterance - and they're predictably around areas of tolerance (racial, gender, sexual orientation or linguistic) just confirms the caricature that has held the party back. As polls point to Canadians taking a more serious look at Mr. Harper, he and his party need the discipline to prevent these eruptions, lest they blow a permanent hole in his campaign.

 Raising Expectations

As the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meets in Edmonton, we're getting a text book study in the risks of politicians raising expectations. Paul Martin made the "New Deal" for cities the centerpiece of his leadership campaign. Today, rather than thanking him, Canada's mayors are grumbling about too little, too late, because of perceived backtracking and short changing. Rule #1: in elections, no one ever says "thank you". As he announces his urban package today, Mr. Martin also runs another risk: the perception that he's madly scribbling checks to win the election. The number will be tallied with his earlier $9-billion health care commitment earlier in the week. He needs to watch that front; his reputation as a fiscal manager is the bedrock on which he's built his political reputation.

Sometimes raising taxes doesn't increase revenue

From Janice MacKinnon, May 28

While Jack Layton and the federal NDP are proposing to raise taxes on corporations and high-income earners, NDP governments, like the one in Saskatchewan, have lowered taxes on income and on corporations, including making significant cuts in oil royalties. What's the difference?

The federal NDP still clings to the traditional NDP line that everyone, including corporations, should pay their fair share of taxes. What is lacking is an acceptance of the realities of having to run governments in a global, market economy.

 Today borders are open and corporations and high- income earners can move their assets, income and operations to another jurisdiction if taxation levels become excessive.

 When I was Saskatchewan finance minister between 1993 and 1997, the NDP government cut various corporate taxes based on models done by the finance department that showed that the specific tax cut would lead to more jobs and more government revenue — in every case, the model proved to be accurate. In the case of oil, beginning in 1993 the government made various royalty rate cuts and the effect was to raise government oil revenue from less than $200-million in 1992 to almost $700-million by 1996. The biggest fight was an internal one with the left-wing of the NDP, which opposed each and every tax cut!

 The sad irony is that in many cases raising tax rates is not only bad public policy, it will often not even bring in any new money.

 It is merely feeding cynicism about politics when a party suggests that voters could have dramatic increases in social spending at no cost to themselves if governments only raised taxes on corporations and high-income earners. Elections should be about real choices, not phantoms.

The problem with the health-care debate

 From Janice MacKinnon, May 27

 Health care, as Canadians' highest priority, will be talked about a lot in the campaign but no politician will dare raise the fundamental issues at stake in Canada's health care system and this will contribute to voters' cynicism and disengagement from the political process.

Though many Canadian health care services are delivered by private agencies -from doctors' clinics to ambulances to radiologists - our leaders will stick to the line that only public delivery ensures quality, ignoring recent reports about the number of unnecessary deaths in our publicly run facilities. All will claim that we have a one-tiered system, turning a blind eye to those who avoid Canada's long waiting lists by leaving Canada or in Saskatchewan traveling to Alberta where people can pay for MRIs.

 And despite the fact that the costs of health care are increasing faster than the revenue of any government, all parties will sidestep the affordability issue and promise more money to "fix" the system, never mind if this means that other priorities suffer.

 There will, then, be no debate about health care, only a bidding war. No party gets a "clean" political win on health care. Potentially vulnerable on the topic, the Conservatives have cleverly refused to engage the debate and even used the promise of a national drug plan to try to soften their image. The Liberals' announcement of $9-billion, much of it to tackle waiting lists, was clouded by questions as to why such money was not included in its recent budget. And though the NDP may gain the most if health care remains a major issue, its promise of more than $27-billion comes at the cost of massive tax increases.

 What is substantive in the public commentary is the argument that Canadians cannot have both a high standard of social programs like health care and American tax rates. The battle lines on this are clear, with the Conservatives favoring lower taxes and spending less on the social envelope, the NDP advocating more social spending and higher taxes, and the Liberals strategically straddling the political middle balancing social programs with the need for competitive tax rates.

 If Canadians go the polls to choose a new government — as opposed to venting their wrath, sending a message or weighing in on a specific issue like gun control — then this is a substantive issue that could frame that choice.

The thing about Jack

From Peter Donolo, May 27

Jack Layton just can't help himself. I've watched him since he was a Toronto city councilor in the late 1980s and it's always the same pattern - he starts off sounding pretty good, raising great points effectively, throwing in a little pizzazz... and then he always overreaches. You can almost see it in his face as it's happening. It's as if he's convincing himself of his own brilliance. His look gets more and more cocky... his language more and more pompous and... whammo! He's overstated his case and blown his credibility.

He's like the Robert Goulet of Canadian politics. Too much in love with his own resonant baritone to know his own limits.

I had thought this time around he might be different. In fact, in the first couple of days of the campaign - as I noted in my earlier entry - he'd played it pretty smart. Then yesterday, he comes forward with the NDP Platform - which might have been more accurately titled, "500 Reasons NOT to Vote NDP."

Smilin' Jack put together a platform with something in there for everyone to hate. From inheritance taxes to capital gains - he's set himself and his party up as a great big target. And it was all so unnecessary.

No one expects the NDP to win the election. Not too many people would want them to win. What people may want - according to the polls, at least - is to give the Liberals a spanking in the form of a minority government, and use the NDP as the paddle to do it. Mr. Layton should have sidelined his visions of grandeur and focused instead on a platform that outlined how the NDP would keep the Liberals honest. A short, punchy manifesto of 10 to 12 principles, maximum, on how the NDP would hold the government accountable - especially in a minority situation. Broad, directional stuff like keeping Canada out of U.S. foreign adventures, no more corporate tax giveaways - all good red meat for the NDP rank and file, but also somewhat resonant for the middle class. Instead we get a dissection - and reconstruction - of tax policy!

Mr. Layton should snap out of his reverie of sleeping in the master bedroom at 24 Sussex, and get back with the program - not the one he announced yesterday, but the real program on winning serious seats.

On the purpose of lawn signs

From Guy Giorno, May 27

Their merits are debated, but lawn signs are a staple of campaigns and consume copious amounts of money and volunteer labour. It only makes sense to ensure that they are serving a strategic purpose.

 What purpose? Primarily, signs display momentum and support. They also build name recognition for the candidate, but most voters choose based on the leader or party and in federal elections partisan affiliation is on the ballot.

Driving through three ridings, I tried to assess how well this year's signs advance the parties' strategies.

The Liberal signs seem really busy. I'm pretty sure it's a different red than last time, but I doubt that the average voter notices it, much less is influenced by the subliminal message of change. The only effect, when coupled with the red screened photo of Paul Martin, is to give the signs a washed-out look. "Team Martin" makes strategic sense when the leader is more popular than his party. If public opinion shifts, and the Prime Minister becomes a liability, then watch candidates scurry to paste over his name.

 The New Democrats go one step further, promoting their guy, Jack Layton, in big letters. The local candidate's name is nowhere on the sign. Just Layton, and a plug for Presumably this tactic is exclusive to the Toronto area, where Jack is well-known. Still, it's gusty and clever. Meanwhile, three adjacent ridings, three completely different Conservative signs. Indeed, three different messages!

If consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, then the Conservative sign designers are big thinkers indeed. The only similarities were that all Conservative signs devote significant space to the new party's egg-shaped logo, and none (that I saw) promote the party's website. The website omission is a lost opportunity. The Conservatives devote considerable resources to maintaining a robust site and updating it in real time. You'd think other elements of an integrated campaign would want to drive traffic there.

The Liberal effort is no better, displaying the web address in tiny type invisible to drivers. The height of redundancy, appears in fine print beneath the stylized "Liberal." Only the NDP seems to get that, in the digital age, your web address can be your wordmark. A few dozen lawn signs do not an election make. However, this is one area where the Liberals and Conservatives practice variants of "same old," with only the NDP stepping outside of the box.

The electorate is angry

From Martin Goldfarb, May 26

The electorate is angry.

We are angry at the Liberals not only for the past sponsorship scandal but also over how the Liberal Party treats the other parties. Liberals are making accusations about Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, Jack Layton and the NDP that the electorate simply does not believe. The hysteria about the other guy is a turn off and extends overall anger.

Liberal statements about Mr. Harper's tax cuts do not ring true as we saw Mr. Martin implement similar tax cuts as finance minister in 1995. Their attack on Mr. Harper's past statements about Quebec and the Maritimes, trying to position him as a demon, also create anger. The reality is those statements may not have been politically correct but they are cultural truisms, ethnographic observations. That is, Canada is not bilingual and people do not believe it is and there needs to be a change in policies or programs for the Maritimes to succeed.

We want to trust Paul Martin but we are not yet buying into his arguments.

Mr. Harper has also been extreme in his rhetoric. We do not believe, at base, that the Liberal government was a poor fiscal manager. Canada has outperformed all other G8 nations in the important growth and debt to GDP measures. We are the only member to achieve a surplus for the past seven years. Criticizing the Liberals on the economy does not ring true.

Mr. Layton and the NDP are just not believable. Their response is often way over the top. He has also engaged in stereotypical bashing of the other leaders. No one believes Mr. Layton's reaction to the last budget with his statement that there is a huge hidden surplus. And, Wednesday's announcement about an inheritance tax is a punishment of the middle class. Many who have owned a home for the last twenty years will have estates worth over $1-million and these people do not see themselves as wealthy.

For the Liberals the election is about managing the anger of the electorate and they have not done that so far. Their health care plan will not do it either. If they do not manage anger they will not win the public back and personal attacks on Mr. Layton and Mr. Harper will only create more anger.

People want to hear a vision articulated. How does each party see the country? Where is the idealism? What is today's equivalent to Pierre Trudeau's Just Society that will challenge us and engage us — especially our young people. Access could be the defining vision: Access to health care, university, courts and work opportunities. The Liberals need to deal with these issues to dissipate anger and engage the public. Unless and until they do the electorate will punish them.

The first couple of days

From Peter Donolo, May 25

The first couple of days of the campaign has resulted in much pundit hand-wringing over "mud-slinging" and "negative tactics" and the expected predictions that this will be "the dirtiest campaign" ever. What's happening, of course, is the opening gambit by party leaders on how they want to frame the choice for voters and how they want themselves to be perceived. Before we all howl our very predictable outrage, let's actually have a look at how they're doing.

Paul Martin. His critics charge he's wrapping himself in the flag. Sounds like a pretty good tactic to me. For Liberals - despite the media's feverish horse-race language - one of their biggest problems is the broad sense of the inevitability of their re-election, even as a minority government. It gives voters a zone of confidence to choose other parties - particularly on the left, with the NDP and the Bloc. Mr. Martin, from his very first words after meeting the Governor General, has been attempting to polarize the options into a choice between a pro-Canada Liberal government and a more-American Conservative party. He's playing the avuncular paterfamilias, smiling benignly over his brood (as with those pre-schoolers in Charlottetown on Monday), sweeping us all up in his warm embrace, and shaking his fist (and jowls) at those who would threaten our happy family. In the Liberal lexicon, he's borrowed from Mackenzie King ("King or Chaos") and Louis St. Laurent ("Uncle Louis").

Stephen Harper. Mr. Harper got some mild brickbats for his choice of the National Press Theatre for the launch of his campaign. Boring, said the media. Savvy, says I. Mr. Harper opted to look prime ministerial in a dignified, official-looking setting. He and the Conservatives need to get Canadians used to the idea that he could be a PM. As well, the background of Canadian flags was perhaps a subconscious rebuttal to the Liberal charge that he is somehow not quite Canadian enough. Mr. Harper going into Quebec on the first full day of campaigning was also clever - he wants to be show he can play on the national stage in both languages, and that he didn't believe that he faced an -excuse the expression - impenetrable firewall around that province. It was also very smart not to kick off from inside his party's electoral fortress of Western Canada. His message is: I'm broadening the base - not defending it. Mr. Harper's messaging is clearly, by necessity, two-pronged. First is the evergreen "Throw the bums out," which has some resonance after a decade-plus of Liberal government. But the fact is that, because of the unique history of his party (not to mention his own history of ill-considered quotes) he also feels a burden to explain his party's fitness to govern.

Jack Layton. Mr. Layton's launch can be deemed successful for three words he didn't say: "an NDP government" (okay, two words and an acronym). By opting not to hold out that timeworn political fiction, he's cutting straight to his USP to voters: "40-plus NDP MPs will keep the Liberals honest" or "you'll get a good thing, but not too much of a good thing." His show-and-tell took place on Parliament Hill, with the strategically-placed Ed Broadbent visible just behind him - or, more symbolically, as a reassuring angel on his shoulder. Mr. Layton has even updated Mr. Broadbent's 1988 sales pitch about "which twin is the Tory" (it was a dated reference to a very old hair-care ad even then) to cast the Martin Liberals as having abandoned their roots (hey, maybe the hair-care analogy does work!). This appeal to disaffected Liberals was also clear in his Vancouver event with the Chinese community - an effort to rub salt in west-coast Liberal nomination wounds.

I won't spend much time on Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc today, for as befits his demagogic roots, his campaign is pretty bereft of nuance. Just a couple of things: he too knows what NOT to say - and in his case it's the old s-word. His pitch is "send a message" about the sponsorship scandal, CSL, whatever. It's like a 75-seat by-election. Besides, he can assure Quebec voters, it's worked before.

Telling moments

From Janice MacKinnon, May 25

A telling moment, when the leaders made their statements on Day 1 of the election campaign, was Stephen Harper's response to a reporter's question about the Liberals' claim that values and having a vision of Canada was what the election was about: Harper did not answer the question, but shrewdly turned it back on the Liberals. Harper is very astute at turning Liberal attacks on him against the Liberals. However, Canadians (especially outside of Quebec and Alberta) will want to know about his values, his vision of Canada and specifically the role that he sees the federal government playing in the 21st century — unanswered questions that feed many Canadians' unease about Harper.

Without that unease, Canadians might be prepared to defeat the Liberals, not merely punish them. A ten year- old government, heading to the polls with no overriding issue and an electorate disillusioned and angered by the sponsorship scandal, the antics of provincial Liberals and a Prime Minister whose lack of focus has earned him the name Mr. Dithers should be easy pickings.

Anger at the Liberals and unease about the Conservatives also help to explain the success of the NDP and the Bloc. Both are benefiting from the idea that it's possible to vote against the Liberals, but still have a minority Liberal government — it will be interesting to see what the Liberals use to counter this prospect that appeals to many voters at the outset of the campaign.

The NDP also has a media savvy leader who can keep the party in the limelight — a crucial plus for a minor party — and it has abandoned its traditional strategy of attacking the Conservatives only to drive voters into the Liberal camp. Instead, it has focused on painting Paul Martin as pro-American and too pro-business. Jack Layton's message on day 1 was essentially that voting NDP is a safe way to send the Liberals a message.

The federal NDP's vulnerability lies in the fact that while the European left and some NDP provincial governments have made the transition to accepting a global, market economy, it still preaches the traditional message that expensive election promises can be paid for by raising corporate taxes, without considering that a competitive tax regime is essential to expand the economy and generate the money to pay for an activist social agenda.

The question as to how the NDP would pay for its promises was raised in Martin's election announcement statement in which he stressed the Liberals' greatest strength — their record of balancing sound management of the economy with an activist social agenda. In this area, Harper has left critical questions unanswered. How would he balance his tax cuts with funding for health care and other social programs? Is his plan for the economy limited to tax cuts? What about investments in human capital and enhancing the affordability of post-secondary education; would he merely leave such responsibilities to the provinces? And neither the NDP nor the Conservatives have as yet committed to supporting the Innovation Agenda, the investments in research that are vital to success in the knowledge economy. Such unanswered questions explain why, while voters are justifiably angry with the Liberals, more Canadians still prefer Martin as Prime Minister relative to his rivals.

On election day an important question will be- how many Canadians go to polls to choose a new government, how many go to send the Liberals a message and how many are so cynical about politics that they just stay home?

Is Harper underestimated?

From Guy Giorno, May 25

It's ironic, really.

Paul Martin could be the last federal politician to choose the timing of his own accountability to the voters (fixed election dates are more democratic), yet he may well have picked a moment when his team is not ready to win.

It's not the weak polls so much as absence of an evident strategy to turn them around. An incumbent government can gain support during a campaign, but only by disciplined execution of a sound plan. For example, Mike Harris decided to call the 1999 Ontario election while internal party polls showed him trailing the Liberals, and then went on to secure an even greater share of the vote than four years earlier.

On the other hand, this election was called amid media reports that the Liberals were amending their campaign structure. Hardly the sign of a clear plan to recover lost Liberal support.

Which is bizarre, when you think about it. There is no reason for Paul Martin to enter this election with anything but the perfect, winning strategy. He and his advisers have had years to plan their campaign to the very last detail. They lack any excuse. Liberals should rightly expect that Team Martin will mount their party's most disciplined and polished effort in the last 40 years.

Of course, Paul Martin has also had most of a decade to plot his agenda as Prime Minister. Yet for some reason he has failed to reveal just what his vision is.

So it was noticeable that in his kick-off statement the Prime Minister promised to set out a plan, and said the election would be about "asking for a mandate from the public to act on that plan."

Given the lack of policy specificity to date, that's a risky move that sets the stakes fairly high. If you intend for the election to be a referendum on your plan, then that plan had better be clear and impressive.

Meanwhile, given his background, you would think the expectations on Stephen Harper would be equally high. For some reason, however, the man is underestimated.

People forget that Harper, too, has spent years anticipating this election and thinking about where he wants to lead the country.

Consider how Stephen got this far: For more than two years he has been enjoying success at each stage of a disciplined and methodical plan. Toppling Day to lead the Canadian Alliance. Uniting the centre-right. Winning the leadership of the merged party. None of those occurred by accident.

His inner circle has been planning this campaign for a long-time, including developing strategies to respond to the predictable and inevitable negative attacks. No doubt they have spent weeks in "war-gaming" exercises, with some advisers playing the role of Martin's campaign team so that the Conservatives will be ready for each and every Liberal attack.

Which leads to the subject of so-called negative ads. Pointless or personal attacks serve no useful purpose. On the other hand, contrast ads (which compare you to the other guy) are in my view fair ball.

In 2000, Stockwell Day was a deer in the headlights. He seemed blissfully unaware of the need to fight back against Liberal attacks. For some reason he refused to take on the Liberal record, though it was a big, fat, inviting target.

This time, both major parties will come out swinging. And when the Liberals go negative, expect Harper's team to respond instantly.

I'm not sure that this will be most significant election in Canadian history, but it surely promises to be among the most interesting.

This election is about more than health care

From Martin Goldfarb, May 25

Health-care is not only a service; it is a way of thinking. This election is about more than health-care. For certain, health-care will be a major battle ground for all parties: all three national parties propose a vision for Canada. What they say tells us how they think about the role of government in Canada, and our lifestyles.

Paul Martin has stated that health-care is one of his top priorities. This is reflected in the Liberal decision to unveil today a detailed comprehensive plan on health-care. Martin said: "Canada's health-care system is an expression of our values as a nation — a belief that care must be based on need and not income." The plan calls for stable, predictable long-term funding, a strategy to reduce waiting times, primary care reform, a national home-care strategy, and a national pharmaceutical strategy. The Liberal party announced an additional $3 billion in funding to the provinces to meet these commitments. The Liberal approach is pragmatic and flexible — it embraces the public model without rolling back current private-public arrangements.

The new Conservative party has thus far not been very specific about health-care. Stephen Harper said "We must focus our attention not on the management structure of health-care, but on its accessibility. It does not matter who delivers health-care; it matters who can receive it." Harper clearly leaves the door open for an escalation in privatization including the operation of hospitals and private for profit clinics.

The New Democratic Party believes health-care is underfunded. It would immediately increase the federal share of health-care funding to 25 per cent. The party says national standards would guarantee access to the same quality of health-care for all. They have a clear prescription for health-care, the problem is that it provides little flexibility. They do not support private sector innovation in health-care, and thus may even rollback current successful programs like the Shouldice clinic, private blood testing clinics and private MRI scans.

The Liberals, Conservatives and the NDP all favour better health-care, yet they articulate visions that are quite different. Knowing what each party thinks about health-care tells you what each one thinks about that issue, but also what they feel about other issues. In essence, health-care is the tipping point for the kind of society we as Canadians want to define our future.

The Conservatives and the NDP both have a vision of Canada that is less inclusive. They are both restrictive. Harper's vision is not progressive and leaves people out. His support for a two-tier American style health-care system demonstrates this fact. Layton is driven by an ideology that is beholden to organized labour. His approach to health-care is a function of this commitment. Liberals embrace a vision of Canada that is more inclusive. Their practical approach is predicated on their belief that policy needs to embrace the various lifestyles that define the values of Canadians.

Health-care is an issue that points to each party's policies in other areas including the definition of marriage, decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana and women's right to choose. This election is about inclusiveness. The choice of party is an indication of how much freedom and how inclusive you want Canadian society to be. Each party has a different perspective. Your choice is how much freedom you want to have, and how much government control there is over how all of us live.

Health-care may appear to be an important battle; I would argue it is not this battle that is particularly important; it is the fight for the Canada we all want to live in. The fact is the battle over health-care defines the rules of engagement with respect to the future of Canada. This election is about health-care, but not necessarily health-care.

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