We could have done better
Over at Let It Bleed, an old debate has been exhumed: as an opposition party, do you put policy out there early in order to get a head start changing minds, or do you hold back until you see the whites of the incumbents' eyes in the the hope you'll prevent them from stealing all your best planks?
What I know about proven political strategy would fit neatly in double-spaced twelve-point Times New Roman on a single sheet of Cottonelle. Probably wouldn't change what the sheet was best used for, either.
Having said that, some things feel right and others don't. My party's strategy - keep your policy cards close to the vest - just doesn't work for me.
Why? Because at most, policy platforms change the way people think, and Stephen Harper's Tory party needs to change the way they feel. Of the 70% of the Canadian adult population who don't particularly want to vote CPC, most would say it's because Harper's scary, or the Conservatives make them nervous.
Imagine for a moment any of those people picking up their morning newspaper next Monday and reading - I'm pulling this from thin air, OK? - that the Harper Conservatives are committed to a fully-funded and accountable public health care system. Can you see them setting the paper down, taking a sip of their coffee, and with a warm smile spreading across their face, saying "Scary? What was I thinking?"
Any sales professional can tell you that emotion trails thought. We have a host of time-honoured chestnuts to remind us of this truism. "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." "People will do business with those they know, like, and trust." The best tool for overcoming objections I've ever come across is Feel, Felt, Found: "I know how you feel. Other customers of mine originally felt that way too. But here's what they found..."
All this simply acknowledges that people's buying decisions are most often emotional rather than intellectual. And the fact of the matter is that Harper needs voters to buy him and his party, and quick. All the policy in the world won't do that overnight.
I think Harper and his handlers have mismanaged the opportunity from the start. I think a coherent policy platform followed up with interviews, with editorial board visits, with articles and letters to the editor would have started people talking. I think it would have given him an excuse to get in front of Joe and Jane Canuck with a positive message and start looking like a Prime Minister in waiting. I think it would have done wonders to help him finally shed the Mr. Angry albatross around his neck.
Those I've heard argue the other side of the coin - that hanging on until the last minute keeps Liberal paws off your best ideas - are missing the point. Unless voters get a better feeling from Harper and the CPC, the policies won't matter. Keeping the policies under lock and key until an election starts just reinforces that you have something to hide, and you just can't overcome that in eight weeks.
Think I'm nuts? Ask yourself this: if Harper ran on the Liberal platform, but with the trust of the electorate, would he win? Anyone answering no needs to pull their head out of...the sand. Trust trumps ideas. Putting the ideas out there early would have given people an opportunity to see the sincerity, the integrity, the compassion of the Conservative Party as Harper defended and explained them in public. And once he had their trust, the rest would have taken care of itself.
Harper may yet salvage a frail minority out of this election. I'll be working with my local CPC candidate to ensure he manages at least that.
But he could have done so much better.