As the country recovers from an uninspiring federal election campaign, I’m left wondering whether the Tories lost the election by trying to be too careful.
Much has been made about Stephen Harper’s controlling nature. As the leaders criss-crossed the country, it became very clear that no one other than Harper would be speaking for the Conservatives. Funny that, when he had more than 300 candidates. Only Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was permitted a microphone and that was only due to the extreme financial crisis that boiled over during the last two weeks.
Local Conservative candidates in Winnipeg skipped all candidates meetings. Trevor Kennerd – by most reports a decent guy with a good head on his shoulders – was attacked by critics who labelled him an extreme social conservative. Yet he did not respond in any substantive way. Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz even went so far as to make the media wait outside in the cold on election night rather than inviting them in to his headquarters as is the tradition. According to the CTV reporter last night, she was told he’d deign to give the media three minutes at the end of the night.
My theory is this kind of micro-management by the Prime Minister’s Office probably cost them their coveted majority. Preventing candidates from debating and discussing the issues is against democratic principles. It breeds mistrust, and acts contrary to the creation of a credible national party. Leaders need to trust their people; they need to be proud of their party and allow their people to do what they’re supposed to do; and they need to cultivate future leaders.
What I fear, however, is that Harper believes his team was too weak and not ready for primetime. He hoped he could skate through a few weeks without anyone really recognizing the lack of bench strength. We don’t know that for sure though and won’t until the Conservative leadership allows its MPs and candidates to have their own points of view.
What I find most perplexing about the muzzling strategy is just how impossible it is to control messaging this much in a blog-a-day, twitter-filled world. All it does is allow your opponents to frame the debate and position you as untrustworthy.
I’m not hopeful.