a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Finally, health care getting attention

If there is one useful byproduct to come out of the current federal election campaign, it is the emergence of health care as a public issue.

Since the 2008 election, health care has been the proverbial elephant in the room among political issues.

Publicly-funded health care may be this country’s pride and joy. Politicians may be constantly paying limit lip service to it. But up until a couple of weeks ago, no political party has wanted to talk about it, even though the federal-provincial health accord expires in 2014.

Political parties like to look like they have solutions to the issues they talk about, or at least like they have a handle on them.

It is easy to understand why any politician would be reluctant to talk about something that is eating up half the revenues of Ontario and Quebec and likely will affect four more provinces in the same way by 2017.

With one portfolio hoovering up tax dollars like that, there won’t be much money left over for education, infrastructure, law enforcement or, in the federal case, jet fighters and prisons.

Complicating things further is that aging baby boomers are the cause of this imbalance just as the post-war generation forced society to spend more than two decades building schools and universities.

Generational politics is something no politician welcomes. Health care is a tough sound bite, no doubt about it.

This is why the March 22 federal budget said little about health care or how future generations will pay for it.

Now almost a month later, all political parties are vowing to preserve public health care – without saying how of course. But it’s a start.

Healthcare is something Canadians will have to stop taking for granted and start looking at some tough options. It is also something that will wind up dominating the remainder of this election campaign, the next one and possibly the election after that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

If this doesn’t shake up campaign, nothing will

Most of us have been thinking the TV debates tonight and Wednesday would be the potential game changer or tipping point in the current federal election campaign.

But it looks like that potential game changer came a day early with the leak of a draft report of the Auditor General on how the Harper government plowed $50 million into dubious G8 infrastructure in Muskoka.

Actually there were two leaks of AG material on G8 spending, and the second one tells a lot about how the Harper government puts out a fire.

The first leak, as most of us know, was leaked to the Canadian Press. It is a draft report, dated in January, that concludes Parliament may have been misled and federal law may have been broken before last June’s summit – not exactly what a government wants to read about itself during an election campaign.

So the Tories got busy doing what they do so well during controversy – changing the channel – with a counter leak of their own. They distributed to media a second draft report from the AG that was dated in February.

This draft is also critical of G8 spending but uses softer language. It does not say Parliament may have been misled, for example.

We will see over the next week whether the tactic is enough to diffuse the controversy. However, it was enough for the Tories to turn the tables and challenge the validity of the draft obtained by CP.

Tonight’s debate will be a battle of narratives. The government will try to blur the impact of the AG’s findings with the softer version. The opposition will push an ongoing narrative of government misspending, as well an overall lack of integrity.

In 18 days of campaigning, the Tories have been plagued with allegations of everything from using RCMP officers as bouncers at their rallies to hiding the real costs of F-35 jet fighters. But they still maintain a healthy lead in the polls.

Will this latest controversy be the tipping point the opposition has been waiting for? We likely won’t know until this weekend. But tonight’s debate likely will be incredible political drama just the same.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A few surprises in election’s 1st week

When the election writ dropped, most of us thought Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was dead man walking. What a surprise the first 10 days have been.

Aside from an initial mistake in which Iggy waffled on the coalition question, the Liberal leader has turned in a very solid performance.

He now looks comfortable in front of crowds. When the Liberals announced their platform over the weekend, their leader, speaking without notes, turned the event into a giant infomercial.

The latest Liberal Red Book of promises may have its critics. But the Liberals have managed to change the focus of the campaign away from the Tories’ scare stories about a Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition.

Harper, on the other hand, is an enigma. In the 2008 campaign, Harper managed to soften his image with all those regular-guy shots of him in a blue sweater vest. This campaign, the comfy sweater shots are gone and the Prime Minister is looking very cross and angry.

His harum-scarum talk of coalitions has turned out to be a bust. A growing number of Canadians now think a coalition government wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Harper foolishly challenged Iggy to a one-on-one debate from which, as the frontrunner, he would not have benefited. After Iggy replied with a quick ``any time, anywhere,’’ Harper backed off. That prompted a couple of political cartoons depicting him as a chicken -- literally.

Then were a series of embarrassing disclosures for which Harper was clearly unprepared, most notably the ongoing Bruce Carson saga. Despite five convictions of fraud, Carson somehow got hired as the Prime Minister’s right hand man.

Furthermore since the weekend, there has been a litany of embarrassing incidents in which Tory organizers have kicked people with suspected Liberal connections out of rallies involving Harper. One of those frog marched out of a rally was a young woman who happened to have a photo of herself with Iggy on her Face book page.

So let’s get this straight. Someone attending a Conservative party rally is vetted very carefully. A person with a criminal record working in the Prime Minister’s Office? Not so much.

All in all, Harper has looked like he is not enjoying this campaign. And his performance has been underwhelming.

Yet, the Tories enjoyed continue to maintain a strong lead in the polls. If anything it may be increasing and Harper may be on his way to finally winning a majority government.

However, the latest three-day rolling poll reported by Nik Nanos has started to show that lead is shrinking. So the Tories’ campaign troubles may catch up with them yet.