Political leaders stoke cynicism


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The Harper Conservatives are in high dudgeon, scandalized by a Liberal "plot" to launch a Canadian political "culture war" hatched by Ekos Research president Frank Graves, who provides regular polling data and commentary for the CBC.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/04/2010 (4713 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Harper Conservatives are in high dudgeon, scandalized by a Liberal “plot” to launch a Canadian political “culture war” hatched by Ekos Research president Frank Graves, who provides regular polling data and commentary for the CBC.

It’s an interesting role reversal. The Conservatives have been waging a non-stop political culture war of their own against “Liberals, socialists and separatists” ever since they won power in 2006, daily accusing their opponents of being anti-Semitic, anti-American, soft on crime, soft on child pornography, unpatriotic, attacking and undermining “our troops,” and the list goes on.

Virtually every wedge issue in the political handbook has been pile-driven into the Canadian body politic, the impact doubled by a perpetual election campaign of attack ads to destroy, not just their opponents’ policies, but their personas.

In an interview last week with Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin, Graves said he “told the Liberals that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.”

By sinking to the Conservatives’ level, Graves undermined himself, the Liberals and the CBC, the Conservatives’ perennial media whipping-boy.

Graves apologized and retracted what he acknowledged was “incendiary language,” adding his intention was “to foment debate.” He pointed out journalists frequently ask pollsters what advice they might offer a party or politician but that doesn’t imply the pollster is an actual adviser. He also said his firm has never worked for any political party. However, in a CBC interview, Graves revealed he has contributed nearly $11,000 to the Liberals and just $500 to one Conservative candidate.

Conservative campaign manager and political operations director Senator Doug Finlay sent a broadcast email to the faithful requesting money to fight “the powerful array of vested interests” threatening the party. Conservative president John Walsh sent a letter to the CBC ombudsman claiming the Graves affair raises “serious questions” about “Canada’s publicly funded broadcaster’s impartiality.”

The CBC released a statement saying it uses a wide variety of polling firms and vigorously reviews the data with its own internal research. “We take care to present it accurately, fairly and without bias. That hasn’t changed. Won’t change.”

The CBC could also have added that it recently hired Kory Teneycke, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former communications director, as a political commentator. He joins another frequent CBC political talking head, former Conservative campaign chairman and Harper confidante Tom Flanagan.

Flanagan, a University of Calgary political scientist, writes a periodic column for the Globe and Mail that is a roadmap to Conservative strategy. While the situation is not analogous to Graves because the newspaper is a private corporation and Flanagan’s Conservative ties are well-known, the parallels otherwise are stark. Indeed, in terms of sheer Machiavellian political scheming and manipulation, Flanagan far outdistances Graves.

On Aug. 1, 2007, Flanagan encouraged the Harper government to practise “minority brinksmanship” by making virtually all legislation a confidence matter. The Harper government followed that advice and the country teetered on the brink of an election for over a year.

Flanagan’s most famous counsel came in two columns in the late summer and fall of 2008. He proposed all-out war to destroy the Liberal party, financially and politically.

On Aug. 24, he likened the Conservatives to the rising Roman republic and the Liberals to the evil empire of Carthage. The Romans “defeated Carthage totally, razed the city to the ground and sowed salt in the fields so that nothing would ever grow there again.” He proposed the Conservatives “force the Liberals to exhaust their limited resources in repeated battles.” Then, “the Liberals could be pushed into a financial pit they can never climb out of.” Days later, Harper called a snap election and the Conservatives won a strengthened minority Oct. 5.

On Nov. 14, Flanagan returned to the Punic War theme of Liberal obliteration. He advised the Conservatives to write off Quebec “because she expects more and more” and instead take ethnic voters away from the Liberals. “If the Liberals lose the ethnic vote, their Evil Empire will go the way of Carthage, razed to the ground by the rising power of Rome.”

As if on Flanagan’s cue, the government’s economic update later that month proposed eliminating the public subsidy to political parties, the intended push of the Liberals into Flanagan’s hoped-for “financial pit.”

Pot, greet kettle. Kettle, greet pot. Canadians’ disgust with their politicians grows.

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