27 May 2014

Contrasting Speeches #nlpoli

Liberal leader Dwight Ball and Conservative leader-designate Frank Coleman delivered speeches in St. John’s last week and you couldn’t have scripted more startling contrasts.

Ball delivered a speech at an event that reflected his party’s standing in the polls:  more than 500 people who paid $500 a head to attend.

Coleman spoke to a small meeting of the St. John’s Rotary Club where the audience paid a few dollars to the Club.

Thanks to the Telegram’s James McLeod,  you can compare the two speeches.  Since James posted the speeches and Coleman’s scrum to youtube,  we’ll also give you those links.

Take the time to listen to the speeches yourself, but here are some observations about the pair of them.

One of the things the Conservatives keep banking on is that the Liberal party is mired in debt and won’t be able to afford to run a strong campaign in the next general election.  The Liberal fundraiser demonstrated that the party doesn;t have any trouble raising large amounts of cash quickly, including sizeable donations from companies that used to give money exclusively to the Conservatives.

Listen to Dwight Ball’s speech and the first thing that will strike you is how comfortable he is speaking to a large audience.  Ball is not just confortable, he is able to speak off-the-cuff in places in his speech.  That’s an important contrast between Ball and Coleman and it is the sort of thing that will make a difference over the next year and into an election campaign. 

A good illustration of that point is the joke Ball makes about the province’s low number of small businesses.  He quickly tosses in a line about how the black-out in January drove generator sales through the roof. 

The next thing that will strike you about Ball’s speech is that he takes the standard Conservative speech and uses verifiable information to rebut the basic claims the Conservatives like to make.  As Ball notes, some of the figures Ball cites come from the government’s own budget documents.  He then gives an alternative approach.

When you are done with that,  listen to Frank Coleman’s speech to St. John’s Rotary.

NTV described the speech as “fiery.”  McLeod has described the speech as the best one he’s heard from a political rookie.  Frankly, the speech was a long way from “fiery”.  It didn’t really even smoulder. 

As for the rookie aspect,  that might be true. we don;t know how many rookie speeches McLeod’s heard.  Coleman’s lack of experience has been a huge factor in the level of controversy he’s faced so far.  His lack of experience in speech-making shows in this foray. 

Sure, Coleman reads the text well.  We don;t know how often he practiced it, though.  Given the number of strange gaps, including one repetitious part at the end,  Coleman has a long way to go when it comes to being a strong political speaker.  That may not matter, if recent experience is any guide.  Danny Williams was arguably the worst public speaker ever to serve as Premier but that didn’t hinder him. 

Coleman did attack Dwight Ball, as many of the media reports noted.  But it’s interesting to note that Coleman’s speech misrepresented Ball’s comments everywhere. That’s telling.

As part of the rebuttal, Coleman talked about “massive investments to provide insulin pumps to children” as an example of what his party has done over the past decade.

Interesting choice.

The program dates from 2007 and involved, initially, about 135 children.  The cost was $1.4 million.

Describing $1.4 million as a “massive” investment has a familiar ring about it.  So too, does the reliance on blatant falsehood sound familiar.

That’s no surprise. 

Coleman’s speech was the stock Conservative Party leader’s speech we have heard time and time again over the past decade.  We are “on fire”.  You do not want to go back to the bad old days. Attitudes have shifted toward people from this province. The Others are all pessimism and negativity. 

Coleman began, of course, by complaining about the great personal sacrifice he was making.  People ask questions and expect him to answer. Media record him at a hockey game.  In other places, he has complained about the “abuse” the and his family have suffered. 

The only thing missing from this classic Conservative speech was the line about living in the youngest and coolest province in Canada.  But everything else was taken – almost word for word – from what Kathy Dunderdale has said since 2010, what Tom Marshall has said, and, most recently what Danny Williams told voters in Virginia Waters. 

By 22 minutes into the speech, Coleman was even reciting lines delivered just a few days earlier to the same audience by Tom Marshall:  Nalcor has only one shareholder and he is you. Nalcor returns to its shareholders will be “staggering.” Coleman even finished with another familiar line, namely the need to “fix” the unfunded pension liability.

What’s striking about Coleman’s speech is the same as what has always been striking about the stock Conservative Leader Speech.  At the same time that Conservatives like Coleman proudly talk about the fact that the government spends the most ever on education and health care,  they also admit that they have been consistently spending more than the people of the province can afford.  At the same time that they talk about the need to “fix” financial problems like unfunded pension liabilities or the ballooning public debt, they never do anything about the financial problems the Conservatives have caused by spending more than the people of the province can afford.

Coleman’s scrum showed a more more natural speaking style.  What Coleman didn’t give is any concrete details of how he might keep the great things happening.  When asked bluntly “what are you going to do?”,  Coleman immediately falls back on the dodge that he has to get into office and get briefed before he can figure anything concrete out.  But he is “excited” about what is ahead.

In politics, you’ve got to present a clear choice to voters.  If these speeches are a sign of what is coming,  the Liberals and Conservatives have framed the choice perfectly:  change versus more of the same.

Since Corporate Research Associates is in the field this month, we’ll get the first indication in early June of how the match-up is playing with the public.