(Note: as of 05/09/19 this piece has not been published on any other platform.)
According to John Ivison, when last I offered some strategic advice to the Prime Minister and his associates – advice he originally described as “politically incoherent”, fwiw – it was at least discussed, probably considered and maybe even taken seriously.
So why not roll the dice again?
The Laurentian consensus is clear that Justin Trudeau is fucked. At the same time, according “(Paul) Wells Second Rule”, if everyone in Ottawa knows something, it isn’t true. I would imagine that’s cold comfort to the folks in PMO as they read their daily clipping package.
What does seem clear is that Trudeau needs all the help he can get if he wants to continue to occupy the Building Formerly Known as Langevin.
Here’s my two cents.
Trudeau and his team came to power within the Liberal Party in what could only be described as a quasi-messianic ascension. The Party had been out of power and steadily losing seats in each of the four previous elections with 2011 representing the nadir in the Party’s 150 year history.
Whether it was Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Michael Ignatieff or Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Party loves a messiah. This is, one presumes, because electing a messiah is much easier than doing the hard work in church basements and legion halls across the country.
The problem is hope is rarely a winning strategy without the hard work.
To that end, everyone in Trudeau’s orbit – ministers, MPs, ministerial and Prime Ministerial staff, the boss himself – should be on the phones constantly for two weeks after the House rises calling Liberals directly.
Not the supporters of some ephemeral movement that may or may not take corporeal form, Liberals. As in the folks who turn out to work on election campaigns year in and year out; folks who have previously occupied the offices in which they currently sit; folks who have run; folks who have donated. Past party presidents, former regional ministers, fundraisers and long time Senators. Ya know, Liberals!
And don’t just go through the motions: actively listen to them bitch for a few minutes. Take it on board. And then ask what they’re prepared to do to fix the problems they’ve identified.
Activate the people who need to be your boots on the ground. Don’t rely on others. Make them feel connected directly to the leader, his team and the campaign.
And this bring us to the second piece of advice.
Sunny Ways and Partisanship
From before Trudeau was elected until today Liberals have been told about “sunny ways” in one breath and the evils of partisanship (i.e., them) in the next.
In addition to both premises being nonsense, people who might vote for you because of your ideas are not going to show up for the brutal slog that is a four month election campaign if you keep telling them there is no chance of belonging.
Because that’s what politics is all about: belonging to something. Yes, it often attracts some of the nerdier folks who weren’t voted prom queen or captain of the football team in high school – the makings of “nerd prom” as the Americans call the White House Correspondents Dinner – but they want to belong too.
Yes, partisanship can lead to tribalism, factionalism and blind obedience. But taking away that belonging – that opportunity to be an honest ta gawd, tangible part of something was a mistake.
Supporters might support, but partisan show up.
The sunny ways nonsense was a great wedge with the incredibly dower and often belligerent Stephen Harper. But he’s gone. And it turns out running a G7 country requires making some difficult decisions that won’t be universally popular.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
Take advice from the Tories
The Conservatives know for an absolute fact that ~40% of the population will never, ever, ever vote for them. And they don’t care.
Not only do they not care, they don’t waste any time worrying about the reactions of this group.
In that way, the Conservatives are massively unencumbered; free to focus on the folks who actually might vote for them.
Liberals have trouble with this concept. Partly because we’ve traditionally been the centrist party pulling from both sides of the moderate spectrum and partly because we have trouble understanding anyone who doesn’t agree with us, Liberals want everyone to like us.
Trudeau needs less than 40% of the public to vote for him. Focusing on a targeted ~60% of the population by key, discreet segments such as geography, demographics, socio-economic segments, etc. will give the Liberals far more than enough market segments from which to draw.
But that brings us to the last piece of advice.
What’s a Liberal?
As the LIberal Party has steadily moved to the left under Trudeau – something I freely admit made me giddy originally – and as party members have been replaced by supporters of a movement, the Liberal Party has lost its sense of identity beyond simply identifying with Trudeau himself.
And brother, that just ain’t enough.
Leaders come and go. Their popularity ebbs and flows (as Team Trudeau is learning). Lashing your electoral fortunes to that single mast is an incredibly risky proposition.
Liberals have been accused of occupying the “mushy middle” for, literally, decades. They don’t stand for anything. Their positions change with the wind. They don’t have a real ideology.
God, those were the days.
But the Liberal Party above anything else has stood for winning elections and providing peace, order and good government.
By focusing on ideology – gender equality, indigenous reconciliation, a firmly pro-choice stand, heavy emphasis on climate action and a very broad support for increased immigration – Trudeau has given his opponents concrete targets at which to take aim.
If Trudeau talks about a specific social issue outside of general pleasantries about supporting the middle class, making life easier for families and the strength Canada draws from its diversity it will be a huge mistake.
The Liberal Party has been the most successful political organization in the western world over the last hundred years. It has achieved that by adapting to the times and being whatever it is 40% of the public needs it to be.
That might sound cynical to some. But ya know what’s worse than being in a cynical government? Being in an idealistic opposition.
I await Ivison’s critique and subsequent retraction.
Jamie Carroll is a former national director of the Liberal Party of Canada who now lives and works in Calgary.