Provincial governments were re-elected in New Brunswick, BC, and Saskatchewan. The PEI Progressive Conservatives transformed their minority into a majority.
In Ottawa, the Liberals’ approval ratings, and the personal ratings of the prime minister, also improved.
One Conservative strategist has recently explained the problem facing those not in power this way:
“It’s really hard for an opposition party to sort of break through, and in a pandemic it’s that much more difficult. The issue here is that when there’s a crisis, the public seems to turn to government and the polling and data shows that the Canadian public thinks that so far, Justin Trudeau has handled the pandemic response quite well. The challenge for Erin O’Toole and other opposition party leaders is really going to have to be to find a way to take the shine away from him a little bit.”
I realize that I am not a professional strategist, but I can’t help but wonder whether “taking the shine away” is really what opposition parties should be doing right now to improve their political fortunes.
I first wrote about constructive opposition back in August.
In light of ever-increasing election speculation, I think the idea is worth fleshing out.
Consider the difference between constructive and destructive opposition tactics to be similar to how scholars Dan Bernhard and Meenakshi Ghosha differentiate between positive and negative campaigning:
“Positive campaigning builds a candidate’s reputation; negative campaigning damages a rival’s.”
It seems to me that, just as Canadian election campaigns have become more negative, so too have opposition parties become less constructive.
Take the federal Conservatives. Of late, they appear to have been most interested in convincing Canadians that the Trudeau Liberals have utterly bungled the vaccine roll-out.
I am not surprised that this approach has not helped them in the polls.
If Canadians who don’t follow politics even notice, they are likely to have their distrust of all politicians reinforced.
Those who keep up with politics casually know better than to believe that our provincial governments (many of which are Conservative) have been better pandemic managers.
As someone who teaches strategic decision-making, I am personally most concerned with the impact of the Conservative critique on Ottawa’s ongoing negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry.
Government relations representatives from Pfizer, Moderna, and the other firms are fully aware that the Liberals’ grip on power is uncertain.
The weaker the governing party, the more leverage these companies have in negotiations over vaccine price, and delivery dates.
So how, in this context, might the Conservatives present themselves as a preferred alternative to the Liberals convincingly and without compromising the national interest?
What about focusing on vaccine hesitancy?
The new variants of COVID-19 that are already spreading across the country have increased the percentage of Canadians that will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
Conservative members of Parliament (and prospective candidates) could launch a virtual cross-country campaign to convince skeptical Canadians that the vaccines approved by Health Canada are not just safe, but also critical to our social and economic recovery.
As an added bonus, since a significant number of vaccine-hesitant Canadians come from marginalized communities that have not all typically voted Conservative, there is an opportunity to broaden the big blue tent.
The NDP could launch a similar campaign to increase awareness of the two weeks of paid sick leave that Ottawa now offers to any Canadian in need.
Unfortunately, many potential beneficiaries don’t realize that the policy exists, and pushing the Liberals to adopt it remains one of the NDP’s legislative successes of the last year.
My suggestions might not score the opposition parties a lot of points during Question Period.
But it seems pretty clear that very little will right now.
So why not try to be constructive? I suspect that Canadians who are personally affected by such efforts would remember.
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