November 02, 2007

Did Conservatives Shoot Messenger to Send a Message?

There is a lot of speculation as to why the Conservatives cut Mark Warner loose. Race, red Tory-ism, being replaced by a star candidate, etc. are just some of the reasons being thrown around. I doubt these played any real factor into the decision to boot Warner. Rather, it's probably because he went off message. Something that Garth Turner and Bill Casey both experienced before him. Something that isn't looked upon favourably, no matter how small the deviation may be.

While Turner and Casey went as far as actually criticizing their governments' decisions, Warner only tried to localize and adapt national policy to suit the concerns of his electorate. However, in Toronto, this means dealing with issues that do not coincide with the policies and ideology of the Conservative brass. Such an issue would likely lead to there being conflicts between the positions of the local candidate and central party and/or potentially having another Turner/Casey on their hands some point down the road. It may also create some confusion amongst their core support of social and (hard) fiscal conservatives.

This is an unfortunate state of affairs for the Conservative party. However, it is much more unfortunate for those members that believe in grass roots politics, individual contributions to the government and democracy. In other words, this has sent the message that if you're not acting like a 'yes man' there's no room for you in the Conservatives. We shouldn't be surprised with this latest turn of events though as this has been the prevailing rule for candidates since the 2006 election after so many spoke out during the 2004 election and played into the hands of their opponents.

Yet this definitely sends the wrong message. On one hand they are overly worried about their image, hence the reason they micromanage their members and attempt to control the message at every turn. While on the other, the optics of this situation (and other incidences) can create problems because it can and will be portrayed negatively as speculation begins to grow and causes rumblings among members. This is the conundrum the Conservatives find themselves in. The very message and image they are trying to preserve are being put at risk by ignoring the wishes of their members, punishing divergence and leaving speculation to the media and others.

I have an acquaintance who is a member of a Conservative association in Mississauga. During the recent Ontario election they were complaining about Tim Peterson essentially being acclaimed by John Tory. Their complaint was about the lack of regard for the members' preference of candidate (who wasn’t Peterson) and the inclusion of faith-based funding as a platform piece. They closed their musing with this shot at the feds: 'It's bad enough that we are already pissed about this type of control by Harper and his guys…' While this is only one more example tacked on to only a few other public cases (Casey, Warner, etc.), I wouldn't be surprised if this is becoming an issue for the Conservatives - that somewhere beneath the surface there is a growing chorus of disgruntled members. And this incident with Warner will only serve to stoke those members even further.

Possibly this is just about sending a message to those that are amongst the growing cracks. Not only will the Conservative brass punish disloyalty – ala Casey and Turner, they will squash any and all deviation. Maybe Warner’s case is an example of the bigwigs using an iron fist to put all detractors on notice and push back against any potential problems that are appearing. It’s a message of ‘either you’re with us or against us,’ with the thinking that many members will settle down and ultimately stay in line. In a recent discussion I had, ALW talked about how Harper is always looking ahead in terms of policy and governing, and also with the longevity of the Conservative Party. In regard to the latter, I’m not sure what the immediate effects will be but I am pretty sure this won’t help in the long term. A leader can only appease or push back against their detractors for so long. Eventually they’ll want answers and accountability. Ultimately, this action sends the wrong type of message to the members and the public and one that has the potential to disrupt the message that the central party actually desires.

4 comments:

wilson said...

Let's fast forward to a Liberal Election Platform.
Libs haven't had a policy convention, so I assume some worthy representatives are making the decisions.
Not all MPs are going to be 100% on board, but they represent the LPC, so are expected to stick to the plan.

To ''get elected or re-elected'', some candidates may have to campaign against the Lib Plan.

ex: How many MPs/candidates are going to agree to the INCREASE in the GST policy?

Will the LPC let them campaign against the party platform?

Kyle said...

As far as I know, Warner didn't campaign against anything. He tried to make the national policies relevant to local issues, but that would have him deviate from the message even if it is only slightly.

As for your arguments on the Liberals, the situations are different. They've already had some people digress but their still around. Why? Because we're not about to squash individual ideas. Their ideas may not fit with general policy but that doesn't mean they're not welcome. Hell, with the exception of the Martin era, my digressions have been looked over and still I've been happily accepted as a director and policy/communications guy.

Miles Lunn said...

I think there are already many moderate Tories leaving. If you look at the trend since the formation of the party, there has been a steady stream of moderates leaving. Harper all along made clear he has no need for them, he just realizes he cannot push them out all out once.

He doesn't really care about the old PCs who still linger with in the party, he cares more about his Reform base who if anything, are disappointed that he hasn't been more right wing.

Kyle said...

Miles,

It's interesting that you say that. Many strong supporters will say that isn't true and that Harper has been more 'red' than people give him credit for and his latest policies are proof of that.

I don't buy it.

I think there is probably some truth to your statement. The few identified red tories that I know aren't happy with the Conservatives' direction or leadership. However, I also think there are probably many true blue conservatives that aren't also happy but for the opposite reason really - Harper isn't acting fast enough in changing the landscape of our social programs and such. However, I think the ousting of Warner had little to do with his centrist leaning and more to do with making an example of those that do not follow the message strictly whether you're red or blue.

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"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

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"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

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