Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Right-Wing Conspiracies

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, A House Divided (Wednesday November 23, 2005 at 11:37 pm)

Keen followers of Canadian politics might recall Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s last interaction with a federal election. Days before the end of the 2004 campaign, Klein made passing reference to a proposal which “might violate” the terms of the Canada Health Act.

The Prime Minister seized the opportunity and suggested that Klein’s forthcoming reform proposal was part of a secret arrangment with Conservative Leader Steven Harper to ruin the Canadian health care system.

Whether the shift in polls to the Liberals in the days leading up to the election was a result of this event or a longer series of attacks on the Conservatives is uncertain. But Tory supporters weren’t pleased by the possibility that the most senior active Conservative politician in Canada may have torpedoed the party’s chance at federal power.

Is he at it again? In a recent interview, he suggested that the Liberals will return with another minority government, largely due to an expected failure on the part of the Conservatives to make further inroads in Ontario.

Once again, Conservatives are less than pleased. Deputy Leader Peter McKay has recommended “duct tape” to deal with the party’s difficulties, adding that the Premier’s comments were “not helpful.” What is he thinking?

Premier Klein is no fool. He’s campaigned effectively and powerfully long enough to know the effects of his own statements; and he’s not been blinded to the need for careful campaigning by the apparent strength of his own support base.

Prime Minister Martin can’t possibly have a monopoly on conspiracy theories. Let me offer a few of them up.

First, take a look at the broader context of Klein’s comments in 2004. A major part of his government’s appeal has been the contrast of his policies with those of the federal government. Since the National Energy Program, Ottawa-bashing has been a major component of Albertan identity; and the Premier’s ability to portray himself as a fighter against the status quo of government has been a consistent part of his campaigns.

Would Klein’s government be as necessary or urgent if a Conservative government were in power in Ottawa? Especially considering that the government in question would be based principally in Western Canada, and built on the movement launched by Albertan Preston Manning?

Now consider the fact that Premier Klein was about to enter his own election campaign. If the Tories had won, he would have been campaigning during their honeymoon period, while hope still ran high. Under those circumstances, Klein’s supporters would likely have been harder to rally; and his purpose would have been diminished.

Now there’s a conspiracy theory for you.

But if you think Klein doesn’t want the Conservatives in federal office, consider the following theory.

Last federal election, the Conservatives started strongly, and by mid-campaign, were neck-and-neck in the polls with the Liberals. Talk was already beginning of a Conservative government. Forced on the defensive, the Liberals at last resorted to the tactics of past campaigns, alleging that the Tories would attack health care and rights. The Conservatives, forced into one of the more common no-win scenarios of what now passes for debate, were forced to disprove a thing of which there was no evidence to begin with. An assertion is easy to make and hard to disprove. The result was clear as it had been before. Conservative support was eroded or Liberal supporters rushed back to save themselves — either way, the Liberals won.

But the Conservatives have learned their lesson. Don’t look strong. It’s not just advice to keep your own campaign focused. Canadians don’t like strong figures, they like to tear them down (that’s a whole theory on it’s own, but forgive me, I’ll get to it eventually). Most importantly, your opponents ease off when you already look threatened, and your supporters aren’t likely to see the same urgency in supporting a position they believe will win.

Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s the same reason why Klein wouldn’t want a federal government based in Alberta while running his own campaign. It’s not a new idea, just ask Sun Tzu (verse 20), but it’s still a good one. Looking weak might be an excellent tactic at this point.

Ralph Klein is no fool.

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