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“I told him we just wanted him to, you know, win the f***ing election. That’s all.”
June 14, 2011 1:59 PM   Subscribe

The Biggest Losers. Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella explains the disastrous defeat of the party in Canada's recent general election.
posted by rocket88 (31 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Weren't they lead by someone who had initially supported the Iraq war or something like that?
posted by delmoi at 2:03 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, that was Harper. He won.
posted by reformedjerk at 2:05 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Weren't they lead by someone who had initially supported the Iraq war or something like that?

I haven't read the article above yet, but it should be said that Ignatieff recanted his support for the Iraq War, as well as his support for torture. It's often said that the decline in Liberal fortunes began 25 years ago, when the Progressive Conservatives took Quebec (and then lost Quebec), and they've been hit hard by the merger of the PCs and old Reform Party.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:08 PM on June 14, 2011


Kinsella must be looking at retirement... Within a year it's entirely possible there may be no Liberal-branded party in power in Canada.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:11 PM on June 14, 2011


Weren't they lead by someone who had initially supported the Iraq war or something like that?

In the U.S., Ignatieff was very pro-war, pro-American, pro-torture.

Ignatieff recanted his support for the Iraq War, as well as his support for torture.

Once it was politically expedient to do so.
posted by fatbird at 2:22 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


@KokuRyu - Kinsella doesn't work for the Liberals anymore. He runs the Daisy consulting company.
posted by Old Man Wilson at 2:23 PM on June 14, 2011


Kinsella doesn't work for the Liberals anymore

Kinsella works for Dalton McGuinty, Liberal premier of Ontario.
posted by docgonzo at 2:26 PM on June 14, 2011


Kinsella works for Dalton McGuinty, Liberal premier of Ontario.

Fair enough. I guess I was just pointing out that he's not exclusively a political staffer.
posted by Old Man Wilson at 2:30 PM on June 14, 2011


I kind of wonder just how much work Kinsella is getting these days, whether as a government advisor or as a consultant. There is Ontario for now, I guess. I'm not sure what his relationship is with the current power structure in BC.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:33 PM on June 14, 2011


Have yet to read the article yet but the necessary context about Kinsella is this: He is a long-time loyalist/henchman of Jean Chretien, the last Liberal PM to win multiple majority governments. Chretien was driven from power in particularly odious fashion by his finance minister, Paul Martin, who proceeded to spectacularly mismanage a scandal about Liberal Party fundraising in Quebec that had been brewing under Chretien. The resulting electoral extirpation of the Liberal Party in Quebec is much of the reason for the ascension of the Harper Conservatives.
posted by docgonzo at 2:34 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kinsella's great fun as a raconteur, but the blinkered point of view of deep political insiders never ceases to amaze me. It's pure strategy and War Room games in a vacuum.

The idea that maybe the Liberals lost so bad in significant part because Ignatieff failed to connect with voters on anything that actually mattered in their lives - that he only "connected" at all insofar as he put an enormous effort into appearing to be someone who really wanted to connect with voters, at the advice of inside-baseball poll junkies like Kinsella and against every instinct and reflex in his patrician Harvard-honed body - never even enters the equation. And as for the idea that part of the problem may have been that the Liberals hadn't floated a single resonant policy idea in five years, let alone a coherent vision or story of the country that actually seemed relevant to 2011, causing a great many middle-of-the-road voters to go with the purportedly steady economic hand of the devil they already knew - well, that's crazy talk. Have you looked at these focus group numbers?
posted by gompa at 2:35 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


All that you need to know about Michael Ignatieff.
posted by docgonzo at 2:35 PM on June 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


(Shoulda said no policy ideas in three years. Stephane Dion certainly had policy ideas, good ones even, but he is somehow the only politician in the history of representative democracy who didn't get the memo saying there is no possible way to win an election when the very first thing you say in every stump speech and sound bite is that you intend to introduce a whole new category of taxation.)
posted by gompa at 2:42 PM on June 14, 2011


Kinsella says it's all the fault of the Liberals and the NDP for not merging or cooperating or something. He claims that the Liberals were okay with cooperation so long as: the NDP renounced socialism, Ignatieff was leader of the new enterprise, and the NDP "senior saints", Romanoff and Broadbent had to be on board. If some kind of merger had gone ahead on that basis, I would have torn up my NDP membership card and I can't think of anyone I know who would have stayed with the party (possibly including my popular MP, though I don't claim to speak for him). Kinsella says something more interesting when he says the Liberals needed a "winning ballot question", i.e., a coherent platform with more to it than simply wanting power. The question he liked was Afghanistan but Ignatieff was soft on this subject, in fact had already allowed the Tories to extend the withdrawal date, so the Liberals would have to backtrack quite a bit in order to make this a "winner". Beyond that, we have Kinsella promoting attack ads that he says Ignatieff refused to use. (And you can't tell Kinsella attack ads don't work because he's written two books!) But attack ads or no, the Liberals had nothing to offer the voter. Actually Kinsella sums it up here:
My list of frustrations included the undeniable rightward tilt of the party — on Afghanistan, on the oil sands, on health care — and its yawning policy vacuum. It included the collapse of whatever election readiness we had built up, and the fact that Ignatieff hadn’t been cured of any of his bad habits: namely, always talking tough about the Reformatories (for example, calling them corrupt, incompetent, and bullies, blah-blah-blah) but never actually acting on these criticisms by voting against them.

Yep, a party without policy, a leader without substance. That's why the Liberals lost.
posted by CCBC at 2:43 PM on June 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


(Shoulda said no policy ideas in three years. Stephane Dion certainly had policy ideas, good ones even, but he is somehow the only politician in the history of representative democracy who didn't get the memo saying there is no possible way to win an election when the very first thing you say in every stump speech and sound bite is that you intend to introduce a whole new category of taxation.)

Every time people lament about the inability to be elected on taxation my mind drifts to The Simpsons episode, "Much Apu About Nothing".

Homer: Woo-hoo! A perfect day. Zero bears and one big fat hairy paycheck.
[opens it up]
Hey! How come my pay is so low? ... Bear patrol tax! This is an outrage! It's the biggest tax increase in history!
Lisa: Actually, Dad, it's the smallest tax increase in history.
Homer: Let the bears pay the bear tax. I pay the Homer tax.
Lisa: That's home-_owner_ tax.
Homer: Well, anyway, I'm still outraged.

The mob is back, yelling "Down with taxes! Down with taxes!"
Quimby: Are those morons getting dumber or just louder?
Assistant: [checks his clipboard] Dumber, sir. They want the bear patrol but they won't pay taxes for it.
posted by Talez at 3:37 PM on June 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


According to this, the Liberals proposed this plan for union with the NDP:

1) The NDP must renounce socialism
2) The NDP must accept Ignatieff as leader

Wow. We could unite if only you would surrender your principles and leadership. And you wonder why Canada has four center-to-left wing parties.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:42 PM on June 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


And you wonder why Canada has four center-to-left wing parties.

Because the conservatives plant them to split the vote and win pluralities in centre-left urban areas?
posted by Talez at 3:44 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, at least we now have four socialist opposition leaders.
posted by No Robots at 3:50 PM on June 14, 2011


the conservatives plant them

Oh no, we Canadian lefties are quite capable of planting spoiler candidates against each other all by ourselves.


Campaign rhetoric did matter. A crucial exchange from the French language debate, paraphrased translation:

Duceppe (Bloq Quebecois): “but of course, only the Bloc can truly represent the interests of the Quebecois”

Layton (NDP): “I’d like to take exception to that...you know, there are many people in English Canada that agree with the kinds of policies that you would like to see enacted. However, since the Bloc doesn’t run candidates in English Canada “as a matter of principle,” so they can’t vote for your party. The NDP, on the other hand, runs candidates in Quebec as a matter of principle. Take a look at our platform and join us so we can work together to enact the kinds of changes we’d all like to see in Ottawa.”

That's when Quebec decided to try being socialist Alberta.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:54 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stephen Harper has a kitten named Stanley, so I guess he's okay.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:55 PM on June 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


BTW, Slate ran an election article saying that Canadians refused to elect a genius like Ignatieff because he was uppity. Most comments on the article held a different view. There's also stuff on the attack ads in the article.
posted by CCBC at 5:35 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Kinsella has it wrong, in that he's looking at this as one bad leader, one bad election.

Since riding the anti-Mulroney wave into power in '93, the Grits have been trending downwards ever since (with the exception of 2000, catching the Aliance at a very vulnerable time). Twenty years of decline is not one bad leader, one bad election. The Grits had the good fortune of being the beneficiaries of a disjointed right, and were it not for that artificial inflation, who knows how much quicker their decline would have been.

So why the decline? In the recent past, it was Adscam in Quebec which totally ruined the Liberal brand. It's done. Finished. The Liberals were left to fight for power in Ontario alone, and Fortress Ontario of the 90s vanished under the reunited right. And before Adscam?

There I think it was a legacy issue. Chretien was a managerial PM. He didn't have grand ideas, he wasn't a man of principle -- only practicality. Trudeau was the philosopher king, and even Turner was respected for his principles, even if Canadians didn't want that particular set. But with Chretien, the Grits didn't stand for an identifiable set of ideas. They drifted further away from what they had been in the past. More and more Canadians began to see that their concept of the Liberal party was very different from the actuality of the party, and so drifted away.

I think that the selection of Iggy was in part a response to that, to find a new philosopher king like Trudeau. Only Iggy proved not to be much of a king at all, and not much of a philosopher, either. He denounced the Conservatives at every turn, how terrible they were for Canada and democracy, but would never act on those convictions.

The Grits were waiting for a more favourable time to head into an election, of course (and Kinsella wanted to wait even longer). But the longer they waited and more they denounced, the less credible their message was, and they became effectively indistinct from the party they were opposing. Sure, the attack ads didn't help, but I'm convinced it was this self-sabotage that did far more damage. The Liberal brand didn't mean shit anymore.

Which isn't to say that Iggy wasn't a bad choice -- he was. Baggage going in was bad enough, as was his daily outrage and refusal to do anything about it. But the country was told time and time again that once we got to know Iggy, we would like him. The fault couldn't have been his -- no, it was ours for not knowing him. And Kinsella touches on that a bit here, saying how much better a campaigner he was, only we didn't see that. And indeed, he may have been. Apparently he's great in person. Only this is the television age, and personal politics don't register. Iggy may have done better in another time, but not now. That makes him a shitty choice in leader.

I've gone on long enough -- suffice to say that the Grits have been on the slide for a long, long time, and maybe now they're almost at bottom. Can they come back? Perhaps. I doubt in a merger with the NDP (which is another essay for another day). I guess it far more likely that they go for a complete rebranding like the Saskatchewan Conservatives; come up with some new faux-umbrella party, and just go on under a new name.

Too bad, really -- there was a lot of good history in the Liberal party. If only the last twenty years was worthy of it...
posted by Capt. Renault at 5:55 PM on June 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


The Liberals have been fighting a civil war, and the warring factions have been installing leaders incapable of actually leading one after the other since Chretien.

Dion's problem was not the new tax proposal, it was a lack of support from his own party. He deserves a lot of the blame for that, certainly, but.. Well, Kinsella is right that the Conservatives got to brand Dion, but Kinsella doesn't bother examining how half the Liberal party bought into that Conservative imposed narrative. That was the real disaster.

I think Kinsella makes a lot of strong points. I wish he would come a little cleaner regarding that civil war though. He does hint at it a few times, but there is a ton of dirt there that needs exposing.
posted by Chuckles at 6:56 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally I think it's been a long time since the Liberal party has stood for anything beyond the desire for power. In contrast the Cons, NDP and Bloc all come at politics from a pretty firm core set of values. Voters may finally be tired of the mushy middle.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:35 PM on June 14, 2011


previously:

The basic problem is that Liberal party back-room masterminds parachuted in Michael Ignatief as the solution, like a sort of Trudeau version Mark-2. The specific problem with this plan is that Iggy lacks Trudeau's existential charm: This is a very crucial design flaw. A dark horse is nice and all of that, but it doesn't work unless it can run fast.

I also suggested that they must have been paid off by the Conservatives to keep pushing Iggy. The Federal Liberal Party is dead as in d-e-a-d because the Liberal back-room masterminds who run the show and pull the puppet strings made several really awful decisions. The first was shoving the old guard out the door too quickly. The next was pre-deciding that untested Iggy was the new savior, which was wrong.

Kinsella is correct in that the Liberals lost a decent chance in trying to make a coalition with the NDP. The Liberal/NDP coalition government in the 70's was good for Canada.
When Harper started on griping about how bad coalitions were, Iggy was pretty stoopid about gulping at that bait so fast.

Kinsella is almost right in the idea that you have to fight attack ads with attack ads, but the title "Grit Girl" sounds kinda dumb. How about the title: "Harper is creepy"?.
posted by ovvl at 8:11 PM on June 14, 2011


Kinsella gets a pretty big pass from me for The Hot Nasties.
posted by stinkycheese at 8:37 PM on June 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


On Kinsella:

Or as I refer to him, Whorin' Kinsellout. I'm sure I'm not the first to come up with that.

The guy is basically a hired hitman, preferably Liberal but not necessarily. And so self-serving it makes me sick. He worked for (conservative) John Tory's campaign for mayor of Toronto, then had to attack Tory when he ran for Premier of Ontario against McGuinty. Kinsella was only working for McGuinty because he was jettisoned from the federal Liberals because Paul Martin won the civil war.

The only true allegiance I have seen from Kinsella is to Jean Chretien. This is just my impression but a bit of an informed one.

He currently writes a column for the Toronto Sun. Need more evidence he will work for anyone who hires him?

On Iggy:

As crass as the Conservative ads were, turns out they were pretty much right. He failed to contribute anything of worth to the national conversaton, failed to inspire anybody, got smoked in one election and promptly split.


Oh man I could go on but it's late..
posted by raider at 9:05 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Canada Post has just locked out CUPW workers, and soon Air Canada CAW workers will be legislated back to work. If the Liberals had thought about it, they may have foreseen a summer of labour strife, which might have reminded people of the new, nasty Canada of a Conservative government, and held off forcing an election until after these labour disputes had been settled. It may have meant another minority Conservative government and the end of Harper. But here we are.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:09 PM on June 14, 2011


Kinsella is almost right in the idea that you have to fight attack ads with attack ads...

My guess is that after Swiftboat, there was no excuse for not responding to attack ads, however demeaning, and that any political strategist knew that. I understood that the Liberals didn't respond for the simple reason that they didn't have the money, that the Conservative war chest would beat them with simple volume anyway, so better save the limited resources for the election. But I could be wrong.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:27 AM on June 15, 2011


The Liberals have been fighting a civil war, and the warring factions have been installing leaders incapable of actually leading one after the other since Chretien.

It may be even longer than that. Trudeau was undermined by Turner. Turner was undermined by Chretien. Chretien was undermined by Martin. Martin was a dud, so his successors never even bothered with him, and just fought each other, Rae and Iggy. They undermined each other, allowing Dion to come up through the middle, which no-one wanted. Dion was undermined by Iggy. And then there was nothing left to undermine, as everyone else had already quit or had been chased out.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:33 AM on June 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The takeaway from all this is: never let your opponent define you. The Conservatives defined Dion, and they defined Iggy, both with a barrage of ads that made them look like fools (or worse).
If you asked any random Canadian in a Tim Horton's to tell you three things about Ignatieff, I'd bet that all three would be Conservative talking points. "Only in it for himself", "not even a real Canadian", "badmouthed Canada to the Americans", maybe even some "Tax and Spend Liberal" thrown in for good measure.
And what did the Liberal campaign machine tell us about their leader? Nothing.
posted by rocket88 at 7:19 AM on June 15, 2011


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