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Friday, 28-Apr-2017 02:11:59 EDT
first report card:
ontario liberal party leadership candidates

Seven candidates for Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. Who is for status quo and who opts for change? After their first debate, we bring you seven report cards.

Sandra Pupatello (left) for status quo? Glen Murray (right) for change?

December 3, 2012 – The US Presidential Election that has just ended provided another chapter in what I like to call the 'insider-outsider two-step'. The current competition to select a new Leader for the governing Ontario Liberal Party is a home grown version of the same political dance.

Simply put, the insider-outsider two-step recognizes the fact that a candidate for the leadership of a political organization must appeal to party members in order to win. This is generally the ultimate insider courtship and requires language and tactics that appeal to the tiny sub-set of the population that belongs to, or joins, the party. More often than not, a status quo appeal is what is needed. Once selected, however, the new leader generally tries to offer the public at large something to differentiate themself from the existing legacy of the party. Usually presented in the language of 'change' this is the second step of the dance – the outsider play.

During the Republican nomination in the US, it was a matter of conventional wisdom that the Republican Nominee, Mitt Romney had presented himself as a much more hard-core Conservative than reflected by his actual record as Governor of Massachusetts or his actual beliefs. During the election campaign, he worked hard to return to the more moderate positions needed to sway the broader electorate which is, by definition, broader than the core of Republican activists to whom he needed to appeal during his pursuit of the nomination. The short time period between nomination and the actual election, however, made his transition much more difficult and far less credible.

This key element of time is critical in how well the two-step is danced and also how believable a leader proposing change to the broader electorate is perceived. Put bluntly, selling change in March is difficult if you sold continuity in January.

To assess how much a candidate believes change is required, it is useful to look at a second dimension which is best thought of in business terms. Is the selection of a leader a question of marketing or product development?

  • For a pure insider dance it is all marketing. The core of a party already, by and large, likes the product.
  • For the public at large, however, a real change is often highlighted by a changed product highlighted by different policy or direction.

This past weekend, the seven candidates for Liberal leader had their first debate. And what did the webcast tell us? In short, the courting of the insiders is well underway and, at the outset at least, most candidates are focussed on marketing and only a few are rethinking the product.

Given the very small time period between the selection of a new leader in January and what is widely seen as a probable election early in 2013, this race is all the more interesting to watch. As we do, it is useful to weigh the candidates along an insider-to-outsider axis and a marketing-to-product-change axis to estimate the extent to which their appeal is to the status quo or a broader change.

In the Report Cards below, scores for status quo are the sum of the 'insider' and 'marketing' values expressed as a percentage out of 20. Scores for broader change are the sum of the 'outsider' and 'product' values also expressed as a percentage out of 20. If Liberal delegates think future victory requires a new face and an existing product they should focus on the high 'status quo' scores. If they think they need a new offering in order to win they should focus on the high 'broader change' scores.

  • Eric Hoskins:
    Website | This candidate has been a member of the Government for just over three years and is subtly playing the outsider card by suggesting stay the course platitutdes cannot work and suggesting a need to acknowledge and learn from the mistakes of the past without actually identifying what those might be. A stellar biography is presented which supports a conclusion that marketing is the focus of his campaign but the recent presentation of a detailed policy plan for rural issues suggests a move to a strategy with some emphasis on changing the Liberal's product offering.

    Insider: 4, Marketing: 8. Status Quo: 60%
    Outsider: 6, Product: 2. Broader Change: 40%

  • Gerard Kennedy:
    Website | The man who came second in the last provincial leadership race before turning to the federal side and losing the Federal Liberal Leadership to Stephane Dion has returned to his Provincial roots. Although a senior member of the party in both Opposition and the first term from 2003 to 2007, Kennedy speaks like an Opposition Leader reflecting his years in Federal Opposition. Speaking as an outsider he has much to critique but leaves any changes he would propose implied rather than identified. He also tries to associate himself with the good aspects of the party record which dilutes a pure outsider appeal.

    Insider: 2, Marketing: 8. Status Quo: 50%
    Outsider: 8, Product: 2. Broader Change: 50%

  • Glen Murray:
    Website | The former big city Mayor has just over two years in Government. The most outsider of the group, he has not chosen to stress this fact. Instead, he highlights that he alone amongst the candidates has ever run a government. Murray is the only candidate who seems willing to break from the past with a clearly new 'product'. Major tax relief for the middle class, no-money down tuition for university and college and major change to corporate taxation mark clear new directions. His calls for greater autonomy for the North and municipalities in general highlight a policy plan that is the most detailed and different from the status quo of all the candidates.

    Insider: 1, Marketing: 2. Status Quo: 15%
    Outsider: 9, Product: 8. Broader Change: 85%

  • Sandra Pupatello:
    Website | The former Deputy Premier and, of the candidates, longest serving elected member of the Ontario Liberal Party is the ultimate insider. Her passionate defence of the party record appealed to the converted in the audience during the debate. Her offering is that she is the best ready to fight and her absence for a year, she did not run in 2011, is regularly mentioned but nothing of substance has, so far, been provided about what her fight – the product – would be. If Liberals are looking for an Opposition Leader she is it.

    Insider: 8, Marketing: 10. Status Quo: 90%
    Outsider: 2, Product: 0. Broader Change: 10%

  • Charles Sousa:
    Website | As with Takhar and Hoskins, Mr. Sousa stresses his biography. Present for only the second government term he is relatively new and can credibly straddle the outsider/insider divide. A suburban MPP, Mr. Sousa also appeals to the voters who are critical to the success of any political party. On policy, Mr. Sousa has outlined a broad area of issues and as the campaign unfolds it can be hoped that details will be provided. As with other candidates his policy proposals largely reflect existing Government policy or, as is the case with Ms. Wynne, process changes such as the suggestion that the Toronto Transit Commission be merged with the regional transit authority Metrolinx.

    Insider: 3, Marketing: 4. Status Quo: 35%
    Outsider: 7, Product: 6. Broader Change: 65%

  • Harinder Takhar:
    Website | The last to enter the race, Mr. Takhar stresses his biography. While unspoken, the fact that he would be the first party leader born outside of Canada reinforces his appeal as an outsider. A senior Cabinet Minister since 2003, he also has appeal as an insider candidate. An ethical sanction early in the Government’s first term and questions from the press about his campaigning while a member of the Cabinet against the direction of the Premier may become challenges. His 'Jobs and Family Prosperity Plan' attempts to provide policy as a foundation of his campaign. Much of this, however, is already Government policy or taken directly from the Opposition NDP which may become an issue.

    Insider: 8, Marketing: 8. Status Quo: 80%
    Outsider: 2, Product: 2. Broader Change: 20%

  • Kathleen Wynne:
    Website | The long serving senior Cabinet Minister speaks to the membership about their values and pride in the record of the Government. Many expected her to play a more critical role but she is at the outset working hard to establish her insider appeal as reinforced by her support from high profile members of the Government. On policy she has made some suggestions but these have been more about changing process rather than substance or direction. A new Cabinet Committee for the North and naming herself as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs are examples of process change presented as policy.

    Insider: 10, Marketing: 7. Status Quo: 85%
    Outsider: 0, Product: 3. Broader Change: 15%

Now we wait for the next round. Stay tuned for SayItCanada's next Report Card Day!

Leonard Spencer
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