Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Left Wing Locked

Warning: Canadian Political Content Ahead

A lot is going to be said about the defeat of the Liberal party this week in the federal election. Plenty about how the Liberals need to do soul searching to find out what they stand up for. How the Liberal brand has been tarnished and needs to be renewed. What you are not likely to hear is how the Liberals shot themselves in the foot.

One thing that is obvious from these results is that there is a desire for change. The Conservative seats that had been picked up are on a thin margin, with the NDP picking up a lot of votes from the Liberals. This vote splitting is the biggest cause of the shocking drop of the Liberals. The question is why the vote bleed occurred.

From the start of the campaign, the Liberals made a conscious decision to attack the Conservatives on their actions while in government. A fine idea. However, the Liberals chose to make their platform a leftwing platform. That was their undoing.

The platform had two effects which the Liberals did not seem to anticipate. First, it effectively ran away many of the centre-right voters who might be inclined to vote Liberal. These voters moved to the Conservatives, giving them a chance to pick up some Liberal seats.

More importantly, with the platform being left leaning, it moved into the NDP's territory. This set up a direct comparison between the two parties. When this is combined with the general malaise that the voting public was feeling towards the same old parties being in charge (the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc specifically), and you get plenty of voters who would have parked their votes with the Liberals instead deciding to give the NDP a chance.

The Liberals should have been putting themselves into a position to be the alternative to the Conservatives. The easiest way to do this would have been to create a platform that was centre right, which pledged to battle the deficit with the Corporate Tax Rate roll back instead of spending the roll back funds on additional programs. Quite honestly, the deficit is one of the biggest concerns for most of the public, and the public was looking for somebody to step up and show the same concern that they were feeling. Nobody really did that, so the public gravated towards the party they felt was the lesser of a bunch of evils

The Liberals still could have used some of their better ideas (such as the Education Passport), but funded them in other manners. They could have created a much better narrative, using the Conservatives own blundering, combining it with Stephen Harper saying that Canada wouldn't go into a recession, and dusting it with a bit of 90's nostalgia to remind the public that they actually had previously slayed the deficit that a Conservative government had left them. All of this would have resonated well with the public, and would have shown the Liberals as trying to lead the country, instead of auditioning for the role of main opposition.

The Liberals chose to stake their ground on the left; that gave the Conservatives much more room to manuever, and gave us three parties trying to battle over the left. When all was said and done, the Liberals found themselves with very little area left.

Going forward, the Liberals will likely go through the motions of refreshing and renewing their brand and party. With any luck, somebody will remind them that if they had only tried to battle the Conservatives on their ground, the results could have been very different.

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