Perhaps you might
say winning a majority is the Conservative Party’s “secret
agenda”. They have been trained not to talk about that,
because it would make them sound arrogant. It was a mistake they
made in the last election, compounded by the unusual behaviour
of their leader in that campaign’s final days. With about
three dozen close seats that could still be won in Ontario, he
went on an absurd victory lap around Alberta. A third catastrophic
mistake was, not responding effectively to last-minute Liberal
smears. Add these errors together, and a Conservative Party on
the verge of government threw its victory away.
The 2006 campaign
has gone so well for the Tories, and so poorly for the Grits,
that I am inclined to congratulate Mr Harper on his learning abilities.
But they account for only part of his success; he has benefited
mostly from developments beyond him.
Five days left, and
the Conservatives have still escaped being mugged again. We should
assume the Liberals may still have better smears coming than the
ones they tried last week; and Conservatives should assume they
are planning to unload them on the very eve of the election, in
the hope that any rebuttal will come too late.
This is a device the
Democrats tried in the last couple of U.S. elections. It backfired
for them, however, for they failed to anticipate the speed at
which Internet blogs can now expose any stunt that relies upon
a lie or imposture. And the Democrats had the advantage of attacking
a sitting government, with a public record to defend; our Liberals
have no such luck against their long-out-of-power opposition.
It appears that last
week’s “record low” blows from the Grits did
not work. They did not arrest Tory gains, which accelerated, especially
in Quebec, where the worst of the Grit ads were running. I doubt
they were completely ineffective, however. I suspect the polls
concealed a crossover, as people who were frightened by the ads,
into abandoning their flirtation with the Tories, were outnumbered
by others revolted by the ads, and driven into their arms. At
the end of the exchange, the Conservatives were left with both
more, and more committed, supporters; the Liberals with both fewer,
and less committed.
What I think the Liberals
failed to anticipate up here, like the Democrats down there, was
a development that may well prove the antidote to smear advertising
over the longer run. For this is the Canadian election in which
our “blogosphere” came of age. Sites such as Small
Dead Animals, Angry in the GWN, the Shotgun, Andrew Coyne.com,
Relapsed Catholic, and many others, respond to events almost instantaneously.
Then, “news aggregators” such as Nealenews and Bourque
direct readers quickly to the latest memes. Things that would
have taken a week to unfold in the old media, now break over breakfast
and are resolved by noon; and an hysterical smear ad is being
mocked and parodied, long before the evening news.
It should also be
said that the Canadian mainstream media are being transformed,
I think largely by their own timid entry into the web, and by
reporters’ access to new information they are finding therein.
Though also because, at a certain point, our mainstream journalists
decided they had had enough patronizing from Paul Martin’s
cocky and arrogant backroom braggarts. This process being itself
enhanced by the power of email, to make people on the front line
in alien territory feel that they are not alone. Email can remind
the boy who says the emperor has no clothes the knowledge that
others think so, too.
In short, the Internet
has broken the stranglehold the Liberal Party had over sympathetic
media, and created an information environment in which you had
better be darned sure what you are saying is the strict truth,
because there’s an army of fact-checkers out there. Moreover,
an army that cannot easily be intimidated by off-the-record threats
from Party lawyers, or made to desist by peer pressure. For even
when (as we saw in the delayed release of Gomery testimony) a
legal ban on publication can be obtained, the information simply
passes through electronic space across the border, and we can
all read the banned material on such sites as Captain’s
Quarters from the USA.
The Internet has also
brought a new class of people into politics -- I would almost
say a new generation who aren’t accustomed to the old rules.
We will look at the longer-term implications another day.
For the moment, to
put it nicely, the same thing has happened to the Liberals in
Canada, as has happened to other long-serving single-party regimes
elsewhere in the world. Technology has caught up with their ability
to manage information; and a sheltered population is losing its
fear. The more the ruling party tries to scare them, with heavy-handed
old-media campaigns, the worse things get -- for the ruling party.
2006 Ottawa Citizen