Parties test-drive election messages on Canadians

OTTAWA - Listen carefully: you can hear the usual Parliament Hill yadda yadda yadda suddenly evolving into a higher-form of political blah-blah-blah called campaign messaging.

OTTAWA - Listen carefully: you can hear the usual Parliament Hill yadda yadda yadda suddenly evolving into a higher-form of political blah-blah-blah called campaign messaging.

The rhetoric emerging over the last week is being tweaked and tested and is likely what Canadians will hear repeatedly should there be a fall election.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff got the ball rolling last week when he declared he could no longer support the minority Conservative government. That's when he first road-tested the phrase "We can do better," later to be echoed in the party's new national television commercials released over the weekend.

The ads portray the professorial Ignatieff as a friendly, positive man with a wise, worldly perspective that would be a valuable asset in tackling complex economic and environmental issues.

The narrative is that the Liberals offer hope and big ideas, in contrast to the mean-spirited and small-minded Conservatives.

The party's national director Rocco Rossi made no secret that the Liberals intend to tap into the undercurrent of optimism that characterized Barack Obama's winning 2008 presidential campaign.

"I think hope is always a theme of the best kind of politicians, and what we've had is several years of mean-spirited politics," Rossi said in an interview.

"What Canadians saw to the south reminded them that politics can be done differently, and actually we'd like to have our politicians act that way and that's the kind of politician that Michael Ignatieff represents."

The Conservatives, say insiders, are still formulating their core campaign themes.

But it's clear that stability and good stewardship of the economy will be Prime Minister Stephen Harper's key message to voters. Why take a risk on an untested commodity at such a critical time? Canadians will be asked.

"When you vote Conservative you know what you're getting: a proven, tested leader; a plan that's working on an economy in recovery, and a federalist Government," said one senior Tory.

"When you vote Liberal who knows what you'll get? A leader who's just visiting, an agenda that is either unknown or in flux."

Already, Conservatives spokespeople have been warning that bringing down the government puts the nascent economic recovery in jeopardy, with the added scare that the opposition parties have a secret pact to form a coalition government.

"Canada's economy, we're obviously challenged, we have difficulties, but the performance of Canada's economy has been significantly better than elsewhere, and an election does nothing but prevent a great risk to the country that we could get off track," Harper told reporters last week in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

The NDP was actually the first party to test-run its campaign messages. With 2,000 party faithful gathered at a policy convention in Halifax last month, national director Brad Lavigne said it was a natural stage for leader Jack Layton to try out some new lines.

Layton told the friendly crowd that Canada needs "a government on your side. Not one mired in the old thinking, but a government based on new thinking."

Some of that new thinking for the NDP would include a different approach to economic recovery, with an emphasis on the environment and reforming the employment insurance program; and bringing Canada's combat mission to Afghanistan to an end.

"It would be a government that's on your side," said Lavigne.

Lavigne said the party also plans to put more emphasis on promoting Layton's team of MPs as strong members of a future cabinet and government.

Consistency is a hallmark of Bloc Quebecois campaigns.

The slogan in the last fall's election was "Present pour le Quebec," roughly translated as "Here for Quebec." Their website now features the word "Debout!" or the phrase "Debout pour le Quebec," meaning "Standing up for Quebec."

"We are going to assume our responsibilities to the very end. That is to say, we are going to stand up for only Quebec's interests, as we have always done in Ottawa," Duceppe said last week.

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