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Bruce Anderson: In 2013, Tories need to shed the biker-gang attitude

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, September 20, 2012.


Enough on the year that was, let's consider the things that will happen in Canadian politics in the year to come. With the epic fail of the Mayans still fresh, predictions seem foolhardy, so instead, here are three questions that bear watching.

Will the Liberal leadership show be a hit or a dud?

At the risk of sounding soft on democracy, this critical episode in the life of an important political institution is in danger of being ruined. There are too many candidates whose only claim to a piece of the stage is the $75,000 price of entry. In January the first debate will take place, with possibly up to 10 people scrunching together on stage. Unless new voting eligibility rules turn out to be a true disaster, only 3 of the 10 appear to have any chance to win: Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau and Martha Hall Findlay.

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The Liberals need a vigorous vetting process that will test Justin Trudeau and offer a chance to a few others to show their stuff, in case the front-runner stumbles. Unfortunately, they may end up with either the dullest show imaginable or something exciting, but for all the wrong reasons: more roller derby than race of thoroughbreds.

Will the Conservatives shed the biker-gang attitude?

The Prime Minister has downplayed the prospect of a cabinet shuffle, but the Conservatives need to hit the "reset" button in terms of how they approach their adversaries and the work of Parliament. For several months, Mr. Harper and a handful of his senior ministers (e.g. John Baird) have been re-casting themselves as more even-tempered, less partisan, careful stewards of the nation's affairs.

But this effort must take root more deeply across the front and back benches if the Conservatives are to win a fourth straight election. Odds are by the time of the next vote, the winds of change will be brisk, and the Conservative pitch will need to focus on being voices of maturity and experience, rather than the toughest brawlers on the block.

Mr. Harper should put his best talent into the spotlight, and sideline those who lack the skill or temperament to adapt: more James Moore, Rona Ambrose, James Rajotte; less Vic Toews, Peter Van Loan, Pierre Poilievre.

Finally, the CPC control room needs to recognize that their juvenile use of members statements to misstate and ridicule the NDP position on carbon is embarrassing, but not to the NDP.

Will Thomas Mulcair's economic policy meet voters in the middle?

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Come the next election, Canadians may be anxious about the economy, and feel that Conservative economic policies have failed, or feel the economy is pretty strong and that change is less risky.

In either scenario, an NDP win will rest not on convincing voters they would be more compassionate than the Conservatives, but that they would not replace sensible economic policies with radical left experiments.

The NDP is the best hope for union leaders, the Council of Canadians, and other fellow travellers; Mr. Mulcair must reassure mainstream voters that he is not in the pocket of these groups. He can do this by fleshing out ideas for economic growth and fiscal balance. His energy policies will also need more definition, and seem less like a proposal to put the brakes on what's working in the hope that something else, anything else, will materialize to fill the economic gap.

An inspiring Liberal leadership race, a shift from bare-knuckle politics by the Conservatives, and sensible economic proposals from the NDP would all contribute to healthier political competition than we have seen in a long time. Here's hoping.

Bruce Anderson is one of Canada's leading pollsters and communications strategists. He is a member of the CBC's popular At Issue Panel, a regular Globe blogger, and Senior Adviser with NATIONAL Public Relations.

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About the Author
Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data, a regular member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National and a founding partner of i2 Ideas and Issues Advertising. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. More


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