24 September 2008

"A" but "C" except before seal

Danny Williams may like to claim Stephen Harper is a kitten-eating lizard from outer space but when push came to shove last week, Williams gave up the chance to campaign against a key Harper minister in Nova Scotia.

Williams chief publicity agent responded via Blackberry (that's pretty much how she deals with everyone, apparently) to a Green Party request telling them that Williams wouldn't campaign with Elizabeth May against Peter MacKay "in large part due" to the Green Party stance on the seal hunt.

Huh? What about getting rid of Stephen Harper? What about spreading the word about how Steve and his minions will destroy the country? 

Geez, from the amount of time spent discussing this ABC Family Feud thingy you'd believe it trumped just about anything else.

Apparently, not.

Apparently, seal-bashing is that much more important than opposing pure evil. 

Or largely more important.

Or maybe the real reason is less about seals and more about the politics of the whole Family Feud.

Firstly, the ABC campaign is really just a family affair;  it's a gripe one bunch of Conservatives have about another bunch.

Secondly, it's a negative thing.  As such, the rhetoric will centre on why people should vote against one federal party but there is absolutely nothing in it to explain what people should vote for.

Thirdly, and related to that, Danny Williams would have a hard time justifying spending time on the ground campaigning for one federal candidate against another federal candidate.  There's an unwritten rule in Canadian politics that federal politicians and parties don't inject themselves directly in a federal campaign and vice versa.  If Danny Williams takes to the campaign trail actively working against a federal party, he'd be inviting retaliation the next time he goes to the polls.

That's no small issue, especially in a small province like Newfoundland and Labrador. Having screwed over the federal Liberals and now the federal Conservatives, Williams would be running a huge political gamble that they wouldn't look for some payback in 2011 or whenever Williams calls a vote again.

And make no mistake:  it wouldn't be about punishing either the province as a whole or the party Williams leads. Any intervention by federal parties would every bit as personal as Williams' attacks.  There's a good reason why Williams pulled back from focusing on Fabian Manning, the only incumbent Conservative and the one most likely to hang on to his seat.

Fourthly, the unwillingness to campaign actively for a candidate can be traced back to the polls. Initial polls show that after two years of ABC rhetoric 30-odd percent of voters in Newfoundland and Labrador intend to vote for the federal Conservatives in this election.

As much as some people would like you to believe the two parties are completely different, they aren't.  That 30-odd percent is entirely made up of the core that in provincial elections votes with the Provincial Conservatives.  Depending on which poll you want to look at, that percentage makes up a half or three quarters of Williams' core vote. If those people are immune to his ministrations at the outset, the only way to suppress them or swing them would be with a campaign that ultimately would have runs the risk of opening up severe cracks within Williams' own party.

The federal Conservatives have already pressed on that sore spot several times.  Williams himself gave some credence to it when he responded to a claim by Loyola Hearn about fissures in the provincial Tory caucus by demanding loyalty declarations from his 43 caucus mates.  Other politicians would have sloughed off the Hearn claim.  Williams' actions left the clear impression there was a concern over caucus solidarity.

Think about it for a second. Danny Williams already redefined the objectives for his ABC campaign and he did so - fairly obviously - in the face of public opinion polls that shows he likely won't even be able to deliver a goose egg to the Conservatives in his own province, as he consistently used to claim as the goal.  If he is unlikely to deliver a goose egg in his own province, any effort to unseat incumbent Conservatives elsewhere in the country would only serve to weaken his political position later on. Better to haul back now than have to face the jibes and taunts later on.

And look, fifthly, it's not like Williams ever considered Elizabeth May important enough to bother with before.  She may be a national party leader in the leaders' debate but Danny didn't send her a begging letter.  Odds were against him hitting the doorsteps on her behalf now.

If not of that was persuasive, there's a sixth good reason why Danny Williams won't be spending much time on the hustings outside Newfoundland and Labrador. There are major issues on the public agenda right now in Newfoundland and Labrador. Huge ones.  Ones that typically turn up at the top of polls about what weighs on voters' minds.  There is simply no political value for Danny Williams to spend four or five weeks knocking doors and giving speeches across the country when the job he was elected to door appears to be left untended. As much as it might be possible to run the place and campaign simultaneously, the public perception  - especially in light of the polls and the likelihood of success - make that an even more risky venture than any of the others alone.

Put it together in a package and the whole idea of an active ABC campaign just becomes too dangerous a political proposition.

So Danny won't help Elizabeth May, in large part due to the seal hunt.

If that helps you sleep at night, go ahead and believe it.