The depressing power of political communication

The message coming from the PMO is simple, these days, at least when it comes to the OLO (TLAs! Woot!). Stephen Harper is a leader. Stephane Dion is not a leader. Stephen Harper gets things done. Stephane Dion doesn’t.

It’s an incredibly simple message and, by all indicators, a remarkly effective one. A Decima research poll released yesterday shows the Tories have essentially recovered the ground they lost to the Liberals in the post-convention surge and editorial graphics such as this have become a common sight in the daily press.

Yup, Dion has lost his lustre and Harper is a man of action. Whether it was the attack ads or the constant recitation of the mantra by leading Tories, it would appear this narrative has been a success for the Conservatives.

What depresses me is not so much that the Tories have succeeded in selling their message, what depresses me is what they’re using as evidence to back up their point.

Over the past few weeks, Harper has been criss-crossing the country, cutting cheques and posing for photo-ops with Canada’s premiers. Here, Quebec, have $350 million! Ontario? $586 million! What’s that, West? You want in? Kazaam! $160 million to Alberta!

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to see money being spent on environmental initiatives. I just can’t believe this is what leadership has become in this country. This is the “Made-in-Canada” solution we’ve been promised? The grand national vision?

Maybe I’m sentimental, or maybe this is a by-product of my transient childhood and subsequent lack of strong regional attachment, but I think the federal government should be more than a collector and distributor of tax dollars. I don’t want Canada to become a union of autonomous governments with no strong central body.

The provinces have done a great job of selling the idea of the fiscal imbalance – it’s clearly a communcations war they’ve won.  Rather than fighting for a federal say in important issues like the environment and healthcare, Ottawa is rolling over.

And that makes me kind of sad.

Coincidentally, as I was preparing this post in my head yesterday, I came across this web-exclusive commentary piece on the Globe’s website by retired journalist Anthony Westell. He was inspired (for lack of better word) by the Toronto transit funding component of the aforementioned windfall for Ontario. It’s congruent with this post, so check it out.

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