a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Monday, August 30, 2010

Political landscape very different when Parliament goes back to work

Parliament goes back to work the week of Sept. 20 and a lot has certainly changed since it recessed for summer. The Tories are no longer on cruise control toward a majority and Michael Ignatieff may be doing a Lazarus act in his political fortunes.

Let's look at how things may shape up:

Conservatives: A clear, understandable narrative was the Tories' most potent weapon against the Opposition when Parliament broke for summer. It was the law and order party standing up for a strong and secure Canada as well as ordinary Canadians.

It is going to be a little more difficult for the Tories to continue to present themselves creditably as the law and order party while they continue to feud with the country's police chiefs, who oppose the government's plans to abolish the gun registry. In addition, it is going to be difficult to continue to be the party that stands up for the troops when war veterans are complaining publicly of shoddy treatment by the government

Pat Strogan, the recently fired federal ombudsman for veterans, may have done the Tories more damage than the whole census fiasco.

Speaking of the census, the worst for the Tories may be over. But this was a miscue that branded the government of Stephen Harper as ideologues with a hidden agenda. No wonder the Tories have lost their enthusiasm for a fall election. It may be too early to write them off but they're going to have to work a lot harder just to stay in office.

Liberals: Ordinary Canadians can be forgiven for being confused by the way the media have been reporting current Liberal fortunes. When the summer began, the Liberals were framed as a faded party that had lost its way with a leader as inspiring as dishwater.

Now Ignatieff is being portrayed as an invigorated leader of a party that somehow got it's game back on the summer barbecue circuit. Sure Iggy's bus tour not only went better than most expected, it really was a cleanly executed, professional operation.

But neither Iggy nor his party have undergone that much of a metamorphosis in the months of July and August. In reality, the media have switched news frames after tiring of the Tory juggernaut narrative of last spring. Expect to be reading and hearing a Cinderella story starring the Liberals for most of autumn.

This would be a good time for a reality check among Liberals, however. So far they've been fortunate that the Tories have been doing more damage to themselves than any Opposition party could ever hope to do. The Liberals should not count on the Tories shooting themselves in their collective feet forever.

NDP: Party leader Jack Layton is in danger of being the major casualty of the gun registry debate. The caucus is the most divided among the parties on this issue.

If the gun registry ends because enough NDP MPs side with the government, the party will undoubtedly face the wrath of urban voters as the price for saving a handful of rural seats.

No wonder Layton is now trying to straddle the issue with a compromise for a kinder and gentler gun registry that looks a lot like something Iggy proposed a few months ago.

Bloc Quebecois: If there is one constant in federal politics, it is the Bloc. It may present itself as the party that will one day break up the country. But those intentions really are a useful fiction for everyone on Parliament Hill.

As long as the Bloc exists, the Tories don't have to worry about the Liberals holding Quebec as the fortress it was in the Trudeau years. Meanwhile, the Liberals also don't have to worry about being wiped out by a Tory majority as long as the Bloc controls Quebec.

For the NDP, it is nice to have a second left-leaning party that can be an ally on important issues.

As for the Bloc, a separate Quebec may be growing less likely. But isn't it nice to have generous federal salaries with indexed pensions, courtesy of the country you want to break up.

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