Getting Ready for E-Day

Welcome back...
J.R. McLoughlin (1918-2011)
Well, it's been an emotionally draining week for me and my entire family. We lost my Dad, James Rodgers McLoughlin on Monday, April 18th. At the age of 93, J.R. died in his sleep after a few hours in hospital. Faithful readers will know how close our relationship was, and how much he influenced my life and my values. My four sisters, our spouses, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren will miss him dearly. We gave him a great Irish send-off, and amid the tears, and the occasional laughter, we toasted his life, his wit, his faith and his leadership. Thank you to all who attended one of the celebrations, and who sent us their love and condolences.

Canadian Election Suddenly Gets Interesting
The first three weeks of the campaign were fairly predictable, with little movement in the polls and the Conservatives teetering on the brink of a majority. The first spark in the NDP movement was Jack Layton's performance in the English and French debates, and then really kicked into high gear when Gilles Duceppe appeared at a provincial Parti Quebecois conference and committed the Bloc to pursuing another referendum. That irritated Quebecers who are as equally tired of the never-endum referendum argument. Besides the off-tone Gilles Duceppe campaign has not gone down well - alternating anti-immigration and multicultural rhetoric with angry shots at the NDP and the others has shown a not-too-attractive side to Duceppe.
If they can hold that support and really make big inroads agains the Bloc in Quebec, the NDP may be able to get close to 100 seats, blowing the Liberals out of the water as the Official Opposition. If they do that, the Conservatives will not be able to secure the majority they clearly need.

All of which means......
A very real chance that a combined NDP-Liberal alliance [led by Jack Layton] could secure more than 154 seats between them, vote down the Conservative minority government's new budget [or perhaps the Throne Speech preceding it] and be in a position to persuade Governor General David Johnson that they can maintain the confidence of the House. Look for a possibility of Liberals in the Cabinet - to steady the markets and bring experience into government. The NDP have never foresworn Coalition government. Even if it's not formal, it has to be solid enough to persuade the Governor General that it can hold more than a few months.

What could the Liberals do now? Batten down the hatches and save as many seats as they can with a massive get-out-the-vote in close ridings - particularly in vote-rich Ontario. For the Conservatives, they need to rally soft and right-leaning Liberals to come aboard their ship and then deploy machine-like get-out-the vote capacity in their ridings that are reachable. The NDP need to stop mentioning the hyper-sensitive Constitutional issue with Quebec. And of course, all of them will bombard us with commercials in a last-ditch desperate race to the finish.

And they say that Canada is boring????!!!!

I will be on CTV Power Play with Don Martin Wednesday, April 27th at 5:10 p.m. EDT. to discuss what's going on in the campaign and where it's headed.

Until next time......


Post-debate prognosis

Welcome back to the post-debate, mid-campaign period of Canada's biennial election. With Stephen Harper's Conservatives still hovering just below the majority government threshold (usually estimated at around 42% of the vote) at around 39%, did the Leaders do enough in the English and French debates to 'move the dial'? That's what we will explore in this post.

The McLoughlin Media team has been very busy in recent days - with yours truly doing the pre-debate and post-debate analysis on CTV with Power Play host Don Martin, and my partner Laura Peck at the same time doing the pre-and post-analysis on CPAC (while also handling telephone calls from viewers with host Peter Van Dusen and the political panel).

So, who won the debates? By any reasonable measure, Stephen Harper won the English debate by staying calm, cool and collected and avoiding any gaffes. According to the Nanos Research post-debate analysis, the numbers for Mr. Harper rose noticeably. However, in terms of best performance - it was clearly Jack Layton who impressed the most - for his attacks on both Harper and Ignatieff and positioning himself as a credible alternative to the status quo. His body language, eye contact and tone of voice were excellent - which was remarkable considering that he was standing on his feet with a broken hip for two hours!

For Michael Ignatieff - even though he came across as too 'hot' for the cool environment - he scored some strong hits on Stephen Harper, although not many of them inflicted much damage. this was due to a tendency to ask three questions at a time, when he needed to focus on one at a time. However, he didn't do himself any damage, and in fact, more than likely gave some badly needed momentum to his campaign.

Gilles Duceppe clearly under-performed in the English debate, compared to previous debates. With the exception of a few good lines, he mostly repeated his attack points, but didn't really score well.

French Debate Analysis
Duceppe was back on solid ground in the French debate as he took on all comers. Jack Layton again performed the best, while Michael Ignatieff's performance improved significantly over the night before's English debate. He was calm, focused and used the camera well to address Quebecers with his vision. Both Ignatieff and Harper side-stepped skillfully the traps that Duceppe laid out - on imposing Bill 101's French-only laws on the currently exempted federally-regulated industries, as an example. Jack Layton was the clear beneficiary again of the debate as he showed he could hold his own against Duceppe's attacks.
Stephen Harper survived the debate without any self-inflicted damage by choosing to mostly ignore Duceppe's attacks. He must have had welts on his tongue as he listened to the former Communist (by his own admission) lecture Harper on Quebec's inability to score more hand-outs to match Ontario's bail-out of the auto industry etc. He refuted him on the issue of helping the forestry sector, but for the most part knew that it would be a mug's game to take Duceppe on directly. However, Harper didn't need to 'win', he just needed to 'not lose' and, even though he under-performed against his English debate, nevertheless that was to be expected.  He just needs to hold those 11 Quebec seats and he may well just do that.

For my debate analysis on the English debate which I did for Carol and Paul Mott on the Motts radio show, click here  and select 'April 13' podcast.

So What Will this Mean?
The real proving ground for Stephen Harper is Ontario, and he is neck-and-neck with the Liberals. If the Conservatives can grab more seats in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) from the Liberals, that will be a key. [Hence all the focus on the so-called 'ethnic' vote, which is causing a firestorm of accusations about some of the candidates from the Tories and Liberals with questionable backgrounds.]

The second proving ground will be a possible pick- up of several seats for the Tories in Atlantic Canada - in particular from Newfoundland. The Prairie Provinces look solid for the Conservatives, with the NDP holding seats in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. British Columbia, however, appears to hold the key for the NDP and the Tories as they battle over seats. If the NDP get a bounce from Layton's two debate performances it should show up in British Columbia where they have organization, unpopularity of the HST and other issues giving them a potential edge.

Finally, if the Liberals bring back the nearly 1 million Liberals who stayed home last time out under Stephane Dion, they could make a solid gain in seats, thus holding the Conservatives to a minority. If there is some kind of 'scandal' to be unearthed, it could turn into a very close race.

The Helena Guergis Story
Speaking of 'scandal', the 'Helena Guergis Story' ["soon to be a major motion picture an episode of CBC's Insecurity"] has been resurrected thanks to a copy of the PMO letter to the RCMP falling into the hands of the CBC. It shows that there wasn't really anything to the allegations against her other than private investigator Derek Snowdy's hyper-ventilated rumours. At her live news conference on Friday morning, she was very effective in her heartfelt reaction to the attack on her character, and her emotional response to what has befallen her and her family was understandable.
She chose to avoid the trap of broadening her attack on her Party even though she is in a head-on battle with the highly qualified Dr. Kellie Leitch, the Conservative candidate. That will be an interesting riding to watch on election night. Will this story involve any more collateral damage to Stephen Harper? Probably not directly, but it certainly lost him another day of focus on his message. He made it clear he doesn't want her back, without mentioning her name.  The photo of Helena holding her baby Xavier at the news conference will be hard to top, of course. That young boy has a future in politics! His party? To Be Determined.

Heading towards the finish line
As the Speaker has now cleared the way for Auditor General Sheila Fraser to release her final draft of her audit of the G8/G20 spending, expect that to be the hyper-focus for next week. So the momentum could slide against the Tories in the final weeks of the campaign - thus endangering their vision of a majority victory. The Liberals have moved to a thematic of 'fear vs. hope' to get the Tory numbers down. In my view, that won't work, as they have tried the 'scary Harper' theme in previous elections. Remember 'Tanks. In our streets. In Canada.'? Right now the frame is 'fear of the unknown (coalition) vs. 'fear of the known' (Stephen Harper). Stephen Harper has had five years in which he has been defined and the scare tactics rarely work when the public feels they already know him. However, their internal polling probably tells them it's all they've got left in their need to move the dial.

Who will form the Government? 50% chance it could be Ignatieff
If that happens, and the Liberals boost their seats, I believe that there's a 50% chance that Michael Ignatieff would be Prime Minister by the end of June - all without technically violating his promise that he won't have a 'coalition'. He won't need one; he won't need to offer Mr. Layton or Mr. Duceppe a place in his Cabinet.

IF the Opposition brings down the Conservatives on their budget (which they've already said they will), and IF the Governor General were to refuse Mr. Harper's wish to dissolve Parliament and call an election (which is possible given the threat of ongoing elections), he MIGHT be given the chance to gain the confidence of the House. He could do so with a letter of agreement covering a two-year period, without technically being a 'coalition'. And if that were the case, it would be.....Prime Minister Ignatieff. Do you think this is in the back of his mind - and Mr. Harper's? How about the front of his mind? And Michael Ignatieff's for that matter. Why do you think there is such a focus by the PM on getting a majority? The real tip-off will be on May 3rd. If there is no call by Liberals for Mr. Ignatieff's early departure, it will be because the negotiations will already be underway.

So, it's still ridiculously early to predict, but stranger things have happened - such as right after the 2008 election, for that matter - because, hey, welcome to Canada!

See you soon.


Campaign Craziness

Welcome back!
All the focus in Canada is on the election campaign while in Washington, the focus is on trying to keep the government's doors open and the revenue flowing..... Are we having fun yet?

The Conservatives have weathered about three solid days of media coverage on the ousting of two young women who were given the heave-ho from a campaign event by the RCMP. This led all newscasts at least two nights running, which means it really was the most important newsworthy event in the world, or it's a perfect example of the loss of proportionality by the media. You decide.

Prime Minister Harper finally apologized to them today which puts an end to the "controversy". In the meantime the Liberals had their own controversy - a 'white supremacist' candidate was given the boot by Michael Ignatieff which only threw them off their message for one day. However, a second candidate - Liberal candidate John Reilly from Alberta after making 'unacceptable comments about a sexual abuse case' decided to keep him on - thus throwing him off message for a second day. In my weekly gig on CTV's Power Play as Don Martin and I discussed some of these matters and the ads posted on websites by the Tories and the Liberals: CTV Power Play April 6th .
Debate Preview
Not surprisingly the polls don't indicate much movement so far, but wait until the debates on April 12th (English) and April 14th (French) and then I think we will see some dislodging of the 'don't know' and 'undecided' swing voters. Having coached many leaders for debates, each leader has to define clearly their goals, core messages, key positioning, and be able to get their messages across under fire.

In a nutshell, Stephen Harper has to survive, while Ignatieff has to introduce himself to voters as he has been sharply defined by the Tories over the past year. Jack Layton has to present himself as a clear alternative to the status quo. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe has to merely show up in English (where he always exceeds expectations) but most strongly deliver in French on the second debate - positioning himself as the 'only alternative' to the federalist parties.

In today's Postmedia news I was interviewed about the strategies that the leaders will be employing in their preparation for the debates.

I was interviewed by Carol & Paul Mott on their radio program this a.m. on the debates & campaign controversies. [Click on April 7th podcasts and it's about 2 minutes in]  http://lnkd.in/AMJPEV

In Washington, today's the deadline for negotiating a compromise over the budget. Failure to come to an agreement will mean the shutdown of key government offices, which will, in turn, hurt ordinary folks who depend on the government for help on their mortgage problems to their social security checks. If the Republicans don't come to an agreement, it will be 1996 all over again as they will be blamed for bringing on the pain and the President will be positioned as the one trying to fight on behalf of the middle class and the vulnerable. The President went on television last night and while his declared message was the differences have narrowed he reached beyond that to the messages about the 800,000 families who won't have a paycheck, the Americans who won't have the services they're counting on - passports won't be delivered, etc. the economic damage etc. - which clearly positioned the issue  as going backwards because Washington doesn't have its act together".

Until next time....pay attention and stay very, very calm.