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RICK MACLEAN: Party strategies aren’t of their choosing

Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan speaks during Wednesday’s agriculture debate hosted by the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture at the Murchison Centre. MacLauchlan was the only one of P.E.I.’s four party leaders who did not call for a review of the P.E.I. Lands Protection Act.
- Mitch MacDonald

Elections are like playoff games. Pick the sport: hockey, basketball, football. The reality is your strategy is rarely of your choosing.

Your team is big and tough? Try pounding the other side into submission. Speed is your thing? Turn the game into a track meet and wear them down. Maybe.

You make do with what you have. And that’s just what the parties are doing in this provincial election.

• The Liberals are in power, with all the usual advantages and disadvantages. They have a track record dating back years, three terms worth of it.

Politics, real politics that affects people in their homes every day, is the spending of public money. So a long track record can be a problem.

Spending public money is about saying yes to some, and no to others. People who get money often say, ‘we deserve it,’ and that’s all the thanks a politician gets. People who don’t get money are angry.

Politics isn’t a place to make new friends.

So the Liberals must play a defensive game. Their leader isn’t seen as warm and fuzzy – political observers like to use the word ‘likeable.’ So they try to avoid errors, anything that can throw their strategy of ‘stick with experience, stick with the people you know.’ Forget that we’ve been in power for three straight terms.

So far, they’ve succeeded in avoiding a headline-making error.

• The Conservatives are used to being in power, or waiting for their turn to be in power again. Their leader is seen as likeable, but a bit light on the policy end.

Meanwhile, the party has spent years in the political wilderness careening from one leader to another without finding political success. Not a great way to inspire confidence in voters.

They’re forced to make lots of policy announcements so they look like a party of substance. And they must find a way to use their leader’s likeability to counteract the looming threat to their chance at power, the Green Party and its popular leader.

The sales pitch has to be part ‘it’s time for a change’ – the standard campaign slogan of every party that thinks its turn has come – and part ‘those new guys aren’t ready to run this province, we are.’

• The Greens have the most popular leader, if the polls are to be believed. He’s seen as bright and honest. The strategy is a simple one: ‘We’re not like the other guys.’ It’s variation on the time-for-a-change theme.

So their game plan must be to highlight their leader, because in too many cases their candidates are relatively unknown to potential voters.

The leader’s job is to convince the electorate they’re ready to rule, while papering over the reality that the party has little money, no experienced political machine to deliver votes, and precious little knowledge about what it takes to run a province for four years.

• The NDP are in the political wilderness. Partly, it was bad luck. They earned over 10 per cent of the vote last election, about the same as the Greens, but it was scattered, so they didn’t earn a seat.

They need a win, so they must concentrate on their leader’s riding, and on one up west where they have a candidate who won a seat for them years ago.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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