Sunday, March 21, 2004

Policy Campaign vs. Leadership Campaign

I didn't really have a preferred candidate either way in the recently-completed Conservative leadership race; I didn't feel I identified with any of the candidates at all. (I suppose it doesn't matter, since I'm not terribly likely to vote for the party in the upcoming election.) However, I did tune in to the candidates' final speeches at the leadership convention on Friday night (which is more than I can say for the Liberal leadership convention — at least the Conservative vote had some suspense, if only it was whether Harper had enough support to win on the first ballot).

If you go by speech alone, I'd probably have picked Tony Clement. He lost a lot of points for his cheesy opening video, and I was a little bit uncomfortable with how he referenced SARS, but I was impressed with his enthusiasm, and with his method of delivery. He spoke on a small platform amongst his supporters, as was generally described by commentators, who seemed to interpret this as a move of desparation, and maybe felt smacked of a political stunt. I disagree; I felt it added to his presence; it made the speech more personal, and seemed resonant of the stump or soap box speech.

The biggest thing that struck me about the speeches, however, was a line used by Belinda Stronach. She said something to the effect of, "This isn't a policy convention; it's a leadership convention." The implication was that Conservatives shouldn't be voting on the basis of policy, but on the basis of who is the face that can dethrone Paul Martin and the Liberal machine. To me, that doesn't sound right. Yes, voters should be considering the actual candidate and their leadership abilities, but to me a leadership contest has a lot more to do with a referendum on what direction the party should be taking. Aside from The Coronation, the Liberal leadership "race" (such as it was) was distinguished by its divide between two political schools of thought. The new Conservative Party is faced with the task of uniting two different political parties and at least two or three different conservative factions, and so that policy debate should have been even more crucial in this case. Instead, the race turned into a question on the candidates' popularity and electability. Experience and perception is important, but a party leader isn't just a figurehead: (s)he's the one who leads the party from a policy perspective. Otherwise, the leader is just a puppet.

On the other hand, my first reaction to Belinda's statement: Perhaps it's fitting, coming from the candidate that's been criticized as being a puppet with no real policy platform...

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