12 April 2005

Political risk management

How odd that when you flip from the Rocket Man to federal politics, you find another game of risk management.

The big difference is that I will bet the farm the Titan launch will go flawlessly and nothing will ever even see the Hibernia platform.

In Ottawa, things aren't quite as clear.

As I tell my public relation students, one of the things that makes news is newness or novelty.

Sarcastic bastard that I can be, I am tempted to say that the CTV Ipsos Reid poll benchmarking reaction to Gomery should have received NIL coverage based on that definition of news.

It is hardly news to tell us that federal Liberal support has taken a tumbled after the relentless media hype surrounding Brault's testimony. There has been little substantive reporting of his comments or their potential veracity. Nope. The reporting has been like our own little Michael-Jackson-feeding-liquor-to-little-boys kinda story.

The funky thing about the reporting, like say the National Lampoon's online edition today, is that it tells us a falsehood through the layout. It's an old scandal-sheet trick. Just not the sort of thing you'd expect from a national paper, even Canada's National Joke. There is the big picture of the current prime minister, whose name is Paul Martin in case you missed it. Underneath are words that the "adscam" goes all the way to the PMO. Read it quickly, you'd maybe miss the fact this happened under:

Jean Chretien.

Not a word of testimony has implicated the current Prime Minister.

And yet newspapers from the Lampoon to the Globe and just about every other media outlet can proudly point out that people are ready to punish "Liberals" for this mess.

How could they think anything else? It's all they have heard for months. "Liberals" are doing evil things. "Liberals" are corrupt.

But here's the kicker.

Look closely at the Ipsos poll or the Ekos poll just released. Ekos is available free, so here's the link to the background data.

Fully 83% of people had heard about the Gomery inquiry, yet 62% want to wait until Gomery has reported before an election. If I recall correctly, Ipsos had 83% wanting to wait.

That puts the Opposition in a risk-management mode. They have to juggle the temptation of toppling a government that is vulnerable with the risk that a majority of Canadians might just pounce on anyone seen to be guilty of forcing an election before Canadians want it.

The Cons are especially weak on this point since they expressly put the election call in the hands of Canadians. Nice democratic touch, but sometimes democracy is inconvenient.

The Ekos poll questioning is a bit funky - as in smelly. The way they phrased the question on the current PM being accountable is skewed to produce the result that the PM is accountable for alleged foul deeds there is no evidence he even knew about, let alone was party to. Ekos led their sample to water and the sample drank from the well.

In another question, they asked people if this was the worst scandal they'd ever heard of or just as bad. Not only is this skewed in and of itself, Ekos apparently left out a crucial question: what the hell do people remember of political scandals?

If their memories are junk, then their opinions are not solidly founded. Bullshit question. Bullshit response.

If however, they consider these accusations to be as serious as, say, the old Tory kickback schemes in Quebec, I'd have some info on which to base my judgment. Otherwise, people's shite-memory is vulnerable to new information and their willingness to either toss this government or have an election might be changeable.

The other problem for me, if I was a Con strategist, is the variable performance of my party across the country. Huge in Alberta. Beaten by NDP in the Prairies and BC. Ahead in Ontario but modestly so. Ahead in Quebec but that is meaningless since the Bloc dominates.

And here in Atlantic Canada? The Cons are modestly ahead of the Liberals. Modest is hardly enough to warrant going to the polls.

Ekos attributes the Atlantic Canadian reluctance to a single variable: the fate of the offshore revenue deals. Problem is Ekos doesn't have any research to support their reductionist conclusion.

But it does explain why Stephen Harper is busily scribbling letters to Danny Williams pledging that a Harper Titan election booster won't hit the offshore revenues platform. Reportedly, Harper won't give odds, but Danny is willing to risk billions on the basis of a less-than-perfect set of guarantees.

And Blarney the dinosaur is giving speeches to the St. John's board of trade, spreading nothing except his usual political tripe - there wasn't a single nugget of any Conservative policy in it nor was there anything even vaguely considered to be an insightful comment on current events:

It was a vintage Blarney coprolite.

Of course, both Harper and Blarney aren't telling you that the Cons are changing their position on the offshore in order to get your vote.

But hey.

Politics is the ultimate risk management sport. The variables change quickly, especially if the variable is what you stand for.

and a campaign is the ultimate risk.

The next couple of days will tell how the political parties in Ottawa are judging the risks.