a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Issue management is a Tory specialty

When I began this blog I had intended not to dwell on the current Canadian government two weeks in a row. But recent developments in Canadian politics are just too compelling to pass up.

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders were trooping to New York to speak to the UN General Assembly. All that is except Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He headed to Oakville, Ont., to a Tim Horton's to celebrate the repatriation of corporate control of the donut chain from the U.S.

Historians might wonder about Harper's motives of travelling back to Canada for an easy photo-0p sandwiched between an historic session of the UN and an all important G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. Indeed, Harper could be in for some ridicule in future years.

But Harper apparently didn't care. The visit to Tim Horton's was about far more than a double double or Timbits. It was intended to remind the Conservatives' core voters that the Prime Minister hasn't forgotten who sent him to Ottawa.

Much about Harper's appeal to Conservative voters is about sticking it to the swells just as Richard Nixon was elected to the U.S. presidency in 1968 on an anti-intellectual/anti-elitist ticket.

Harper was elected on a plain vanilla, ordinary folks agenda and his trip to Tim's was part of that. That visit also demonstrates how good Harper and his government are in issue management.

Four years ago in the months before Harper formed the federal government, Canadian politics was dominated by the quest for a national daycare system, better healthcare and the Kelowna accord for native self-government. Today those issues have disappeared from the media.

The visible issues now are crackdown on crime (even though the national crime rate continues to decline), ware on Afghanistan, and keeping the Arctic safe from the paws of the big Russian bear.

Daycare, health and a better deal for aboriginals are all urban liberal issues. Support for the armed forces, law and order and standing up for Canada are nice tangible issues to appease small town Canada and the core Tory vote.

The healthcare system may be fiscally unsustainable as it continues to eat up the revenues of the provincial governments. Excessive waiting times are accepted as just a part of Canadian life. But the government doesn't want to talk about stuff like that because historically, the Liberals do better with health and softer social issues than the Tories do.

This government will be in power as long as it can control the public agenda.

In the fairness department, let's look at the Liberals' messaging trouble next week.

As always, I'm eager to hear what you think. I'm grateful to Don Newman for weighing in on last week's post. For those who are receiving this posting by email, scroll down to the Spindoctor link to directly connect to the blog. Adding your comments is simple: just enter in the comment box provided.

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