Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Home to Roost

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Gaia, Brass Tacks (Thursday October 26, 2006 at 5:30 pm)

Some weeks ago, the opposition used one of its areas of cohesion in an attempt to embarrass the government. A Liberal backbencher’s private member’s bill which would, if enacted, compel the government to implement the Kyoto protocol, passed first reading in the House, sending it to the committee stage.

Why an attempt to embarrass rather than to embrace Kyoto? Not because the parties in question had ample opportunity to embrace it during their term in office — that’s just cynical. It was an attempt to embarrass because any fool with a basic knowledge of Parliamentary procedure would realise that the government could block the bill by any number of delaying tactics if it posed a real threat to its plans.

So why should parties sophisticated enough to bring about such a subtle plot act surprised when the Tories do just as expected? Do they think that throwing blame over legislative stalling resonates with voters other than their own supporters?

When the Tories block opposition legislation with the expected filibusters, they’re not being negative. When the opposition parties complain, they are. Negativity doesn’t sell, period. It makes Parliament itself look bad, and that takes all parties down.

If it was the opposition’s plan to bring things to the brink and make the government fight, they’re forgetting that the last election wasn’t won by brinksmanship — it was won by positive presentations in the space opened by the brinksmanship. Demonizing isn’t just cheap politics. It’s bad politics, especially when you have an upper hand to play. What about:

We will continue to work our hardest to keep this legislation moving forward. The environment is too important to compromise, and no matter what roadblocks the government tries to put up, we’ll keep pressing them on this bill.

Is that too hard to figure out, or is it just too hard to rise above the fray? Canadians have already heard about the government’s aloofness from the press; and those who care aren’t going to care more because you repeat it, as Jack Layton chose to:

He [Stephen Harper] has an arrogant and controlling attitude to his caucus, to the media, to the Canadian public, and also to the representatives (in opposition) of a majority of the Canadian people.

Yes, the press asks lots of questions; and sure, they’re going to try to get you riled up into saying something of this kind. The mark of a good politician, though, is turning that to advantage, rather than harping on a point fully digested by the public. It’s an arrogant mistake to believe that those who still disagree with you do so solely because they haven’t heard your message yet. It might be that they don’t care about your message; and if so, they don’t want to hear you complain about it.

Which is why repeating positives is better for you than the alternative. The initial decision to work on the private member’s bill was just such a positive, and the government’s stalling drew enough attention to it to repeat it. Under those circumstances, why go the other way?

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