Between form and substance

By ANGELO PERSICHILLI

The Hill Times (May 29, 2017)

While writing this column, Conservatives were still looking for a new leader. Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter who is going to be the successor of Stephen Harper at the helm federal official opposition party.

Personally, I believe that Maxime Bernier would be the best candidate to challenge the present Liberal government of Justin Trudeau. Of course, some of the foolish things Bernier did in the past will be rehashed in the case of his victory.

 

Trudeau
From the Italian newspaper IL MESSAGGERO (The president of AS Roma gives Justin Trudeau the jersey of now retired Italian soccer idol Francesco Totti)

However, I believe that if there is nothing new compared to what has been already reported, those events will not be a deciding factor in the next federal campaign. This is also true because the opposition doesn’t have to win for a change in government, but the government has to lose. Not to be forgotten is that Trudeau was considered unfit even to be the mayor of a mid-size Canadian city only months before he was credited as being able to walk on water by the media and Canadian electorate.

 

The last election was a referendum on Harper. Up until then, the un-cooperative approach of the Conservative government towards media, opposition, and, eventually, most Canadians was balanced by the substance of the program. Let’s face it, Harper moved the government towards the centre on many social issues and some economic initiatives as well, such as when he went into deficit to suffocate the recession.

The Harper team lost because his government ran out of substance and tried to win a fourth term resorting to some peculiar issues that moved the ballot box question from substance to the form.

It was a fatal mistake because the Liberals—especially with a good-looking, charismatic leader with a famous last name—are unbeatable when challenged on form and communication skills.

So, who is going to be the best Conservative leader to defeat the Liberals? The name, now, is not important because all the cards are in Liberal hands.

The question then is: how are they doing?

I believe that the Liberals are like an artist singing a beautiful song. People will listen to it and applaud once, probably twice, after a while they want the singer to change the tune. I believe that the Liberals have exploited for too long the Conservative mistakes and now it is time to develop their own narrative. Basically, their make-feel-good approach is running out of steam very fast and people want to see some meat around the bones.

Trudeau, contrary to what many people expected (I confess I had some doubts too), has been able to handle himself properly during national and international events. He is liked and he could sell a fur coat in the Sahara Desert. But it is time that somebody provides him with something to sell.

His government, up to now, is tinkering around the edges of small issues and resorting to platitudes when talking about something substantial.

It is fine telling us that he is against terrorism, but he must start telling us what he is going to do about it. It is an important strategy to deal with free trade and, domestically, we need to know more about what his government will do about the aboriginal issues, and other social issues like a sustainable health-care program to face the ever-changing demographic needs. It also needs a clear approach with immigration that will be fair for Canadians, the Canadian economy, and new immigrants that our country needs more than ever.

So, who is the best Conservative leader that can defeat Trudeau?

It is the candidate that will be concerned about form and communications with Canadians, and also capable to prepare and sell a credible program, and add substance to his/her leadership. In fact, it was the lack of communication skills that defeated Harper’s government, but it was the substance of its program that afforded it 10 years of government.

Angelo Persichilli is a freelance journalist and a former citizenship judge for the Greater Toronto Area. He was also a director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper, former columnist for Toronto Sun and Toronto Star and is the former political editor of Corriere Canadese, Canada’s Italian-language newspaper in Toronto.

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