a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stupid Tory Tricks

If the current Tory regime ever wins a majority government from the Canadian people it will be in spite of themselves.

That is the only conclusion one can take away from last week's episode involving the Tory logo being placed on a display cheque presented to a community group by Conservative MP Gerald Keddy as part of the government's stimulus program. What the hell were they thinking?

Just as the Tories seem to be on their way to solidifying their support and taking over as Canada's natural governing party from the Liberals, they become their own worst enemies with heavy-handed communications.

In the last election against the hapless Liberals led by Stephane Dion, the Tories likely squandered a majority because of a whole range of miscues that started with some party functionary trying to discredit the father of a fallen soldier.

It is almost like a serial killer who leaves clues behind in a secret wish to be caught. Or rookies who are simply not up to the task.

But let's be clear. Neither of the reasons above are true. For the most part, the Tories are clever messengers who know how to read the public zeitgeist and respond with answers that resonate.

Take some of the election promises that got them elected in the first place like reducing the GST or making Ottawa more accountable and transparent. In both cases, the Tories were able to transform abstract policy arguments that had been kicked around for years into tangible promises that voters understood and applauded.

So what goes wrong every time they are ready to consolidate power?

First of all, the Tories like to play things close to the line. Keep doing that and somebody within your ranks is bound to go too far.

In the case of the stimulus cheques, the Tories had been using mock display cheques with signatures of their MPs on them for several weeks. If anybody in the Opposition or the national media had noticed, they were keeping quiet.

With a barrage of taxpayer-funded feel-good television ads about economic recovery efforts that stopped short of being Tory election ads, the Opposition likely felt overwhelmed.

It wasn't until someone within the Tory message team decided those cheques would look better with a party logo that the Opposition and media felt comfortable pouncing not only on Keddy's logo but on all stimulus spending. That logo was an important tipping point.

The Opposition, sagging in the polls and depressed by a singing Prime Minister who was finally connecting with ordinary Canadians, has suddenly received an early Christmas present. And it was all because somebody thought it would be a good idea to push things just a little more, to the point of crossing the line.

Another cause for sudden outbreak of Stupid Tory Tricks might be simple cynicism. This government doesn't actually believe in communications. It practises propaganda by repeating half-truths often enough until people believe them and doing the opposite of what it preaches without explanation.

As much as such tactics may work with enough voters most of the time, it also makes your own party workers very cynical. As they say in politics, it is not your enemies who do you in, it is your friends.

Now the Tories are forced on the defensive about their spending all because someone decided to push the envelope a little more.

If you have a different take on this, I'd love to hear about it. As always, I welcome feedback.

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