a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Could the Liberals' strange weekend be the beginning of a party renaissance?

You have to give the Grits credit for having a weekend policy conference that was, well, different from most political gabfests.

Instead of the usual partisan hoopla before a friendly crowd, the Liberals had speakers telling the party faithful in Montreal what they were doing wrong and why Canada's former natural governing party needed a collective slap upside the head.

Retired diplomat Robert Fowler went so far as to tell the Liberals they had lost their souls and principles to the point of saying anything to get back in power. Ouch.

In fairness, Fowler also accused the governing Tories of pandering to the Jewish vote to the point of ignoring the truth to win a majority. But that part of Fowler's speech was not as widely reported because it did not fit the media's issue frame of Liberals being in deep trouble.

But Fowler, Canada's longest serving ambassador to the United Nations before he retired, told the Liberals they don't stand for much any more.

In another bizarre twist, the Liberals head from Derek Burney. Yes, that Derek Burney, the chief of staff to former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the head of the Tories' transition team when they took power in 2006.

It is no secret that Burney and the current Prime Minister can't stand each other. Burney no doubt relished an opportunity to send a message to Stephen by being a guest of the Liberals.

Regardless of what you might think of this bizarre conference on the weekend, be sure of one thing. It was part of deliberate strategy.

The Liberals are trying to turn their problems into a campaign asset just as they were able to make an impossibly large deficit into a political asset in the 1990s.

First you say the worst possible things about yourself (or in this case invite someone to your function to say the same things) before the rival party can. That way you have established a bottom benchmark in the minds of the media, as in things are so bad even the speakers at a Liberal conference told them they had lost their principles.

The Liberals likely now hope the media will be looking for recovery from that bottom point here on in. If the strategy works, the Liberals will have changed the media's narrative from a plummeting party to one that is recovering.

This time, the strategy may not be so easy. The media, after all, could decide the Liberals are a spent force as Canada's centrist party and turn their attentions elsewhere.

But the Liberals are likely betting there is enough fatigue with the Harper regime out there, that Canadians will want to believe there is an alternative government in the waiting.

They might be right.

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