Stephen Harper's government frequently relies upon high profile issues to capture the narrative on how his government is doing. This is normally not a bad idea, but I wonder how effective is it really. To explain what I mean, let's look at how his government has handled budgetary matters in the past.
High profile, news worthy programs like Medicare have never been touched by the Harper government. Instead, small, incremental adjustments and changes in policy have changed which have essentially loosened to position of Medicare in Canada. The Canada Health Act is loosely, if at all, enforced which allows the provinces more leniency in going there own way on health care. This is probably not a bad idea, but the soundbites coming out over the last number of years emphasized that Medicare spending is stable.
On privacy, the government used the profile issue of the long form census and the abolition of the gun registry to emphasize their commitment to privacy. But, this government has all the while strengthened governing surveillance powers.
The Harper government's initial election in 2006 had a lot to do with government ethics. They decried the centralization of power in the Prime Minister's Office, and the arrogance of the Liberal party. Not to mention the un-elected, unaccountable, and ineffective Senate. But, very little has really been done to change any of these, accept some very high profile sound bite support for Justice Gomery, and some largely ineffective legislation on reforming the Senate. During this time, the powers of the PMO have reached new levels, and the Senate has been stacked with Conservative loyalists.
Right now, the Conservatives are reeling from the Robocall scandal. They have been forced to admit that something fishy went on in Guelph...after initially trying to deny that anything happened. Now, I think we can safely ignore some of the inflammatory language being used by all political parties, but the Conservative strategy of supporting an NDP motion calling on the investigative powers of Elections Canada to be increased are deserving of the Sound Bite Technique label.
On repeated questioning in the House on Friday, Tim Uppal, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform repeated only that the government supports the motion but would entertain no questions about what they will do about that support.
So, they will be able to say that they support the non-binding motion to untie the hands of elections Canada, and then when the issue has blown over, they can safely return advanced electioneering in time for the next federal election campaign.
They've been using the sound bite technique a lot lately. Any time they are asked about the robocall issue, they generally revert to the script which includes Conservative compliance with all Elections Canada requests, and an accusation against the Liberals.
I do wonder how effective this will be as I think it's becoming so obvious now that the general public is starting to take notice. In politics, whenever you start to get a reputation for anything, the media and the public tend to reinforce that reputation constantly. This won't always have a deleterious affect on polling numbers, for example the Conservatives being aggressive and quick to attack has been old news for years now. But, the Conservatives may be forced to come up with better lines in the near future.