In Gerry Nicholls book, Loyal to the Core: Stephen Harper, Me and the NCC, he speaks of how they were able to manipulate the NDP and their supporters.
The NCC also had a couple of noteworthy political battles with our ideological opposites — the socialist New Democratic Party. One battle was waged against former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, the other against Bob Rae, during his ill-fated reign as Ontario's Premier. (1)I have written of how they spent Bob Rae's entire tenure as Premier of Ontario, tearing down everything he did.
But knowing that their national membership wouldn't pay for ads targeting a single province, they set up Ontarians for Responsible Government, and Nicholls headed up the campaign.
Their assault on Ed Broadbent however, took a bit of conniving, but they had Arthur Finkelstein, Richard Nixon's former guru, to help them out.
The Broadbent campaign was a short but intense melee that occurred before and during the 1988 federal election. In the summer of that year Arthur Finkelstein had done a poll for us on Canadian attitudes towards political parties. What he discovered shocked us. According to Arthur's poll, a whopping 40 percent of Canadians supported the NDP, meaning the socialists could actually form the next government. Arthur told us his findings indicated Canadians liked Broadbent because they viewed him as more honest than either Prime Minister Brian Mulroney or Liberal leader John Turner. Ed Broadbent as Prime Minister of Canada? The horror! The horror! (Reference to Heart of Darkness) Something big had to be done. Somebody had to undermine public support for Broadbent and the NDP. We took on the task. (1)So they looked for Broadbent's weakness, and believed that it might be his agenda. Canadians liked him but may not like his "socialist views"
So they launched a campaign with the theme that Broadbent was "very, very, scary". The NCC poured $500,000 into their attack using radio, newspapers and direct mail. There were skits interchanging Karl Marx with Groucho Marx, and at one point focused on the fact that Broadbent had said that Canada should get out of NATO.
Now there have been times, when I've felt the same, believing they may have lost their way, given that Afghanistan is nowhere near the North Atlantic. But that's a subject for another day, or maybe never.
At the time the NCC really had no opinion either way on NATO, but were concerned that a Broadbent victory could put an end to the Free Trade deal, and they wanted to take the sting out of the left's campaign against it. They had already helped Mulroney's leadership bid, with their ABC campaign, Anybody But Clarke (1), to destroy Joe Clarke, paving the way for a Mulroney victory.
Part of the problem with pushing free trade, however, was that a lot of Canadians (and for that matter a lot of NCC supporters) just didn't like Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In other words, we had to sell the idea of free trade, despite Mulroney. Or as Arthur so indelicately put it during one Of our strategy sessions, "We have to convince Canadians to drink pig piss."It was a very strange day yesterday, on the eve of the advanced polls and those advocating strategic voting going into the final leg of the journey.
So we figured if we couldn't drive up support for the Tories maybe we could do the next best thing and help drive down support for the Liberals. To do that, we ran a newspaper ad Machiavellian in its cleverness. To the unwary observer the ad was a typical right-wing assault on the NDP. The headline was, "Look Who's Opposing Free Trade." And under a photo of Broadbent the ad copy declared, "Ed Broadbent: A dedicated socialist, who means what he says. He doesn't believe in free enterprise. He doesn't believe in free trade. He's very, very scary."
But the ad also had a subliminal message directed at NDPers who were thinking of strategically voting liberal to stop free trade. That message was, "Hey, we nasty right-wingers at the NCC are attacking your guy because he's a true socialist. Are you going to let us get away with that?" Get it? We were sneakily using psychology to drive NDPers back home. After all, it's a natural emotional reaction for people to rally around their friends when they are under attack. We wanted left-wingers to rally around Broadbent.(1)
Headlines everywhere were suggesting an enormous NDP surge. Conservatives on Twitter were telling people to vote NDP, some even using the 'strategic voting' concept, by suggesting that the Liberals were on their way out.
So I took a close look at one of the polls conducted by Nanos research. If you scroll down to Regional Ballot of Committed Voters - April 20, you'll see the breakdown by region.
In Quebec for instance, where a lot of the headline grabbing focused, Nanos shows the Conservatives at 17.5%, the Liberals at 20.8% and the NDP at 23.4% (actually down 2 points from the day before).
However, when you move down, you'll see the "margin of error is a whopping 6.4%. How are any of the previous numbers valid? 6.4% means that the Conservatives are either 11.1% or 23.9%. The Liberals either 14.4% or 27.2%, and the NDP either 17% or 29.8%. At any given point, any of the three parties could have been leading.
The same with Ontario which had a 5.6% margin of either. If you remove that from the Conservatives they would be 39.1%. Add it to the Liberals, they would be 42.1. And the plus or minus for the NDP puts them at either 8.9% or 20.3%
So why the sudden push for the NDP, despite the fact that the numbers don't suggest any big gain?
Pollster Allan Gregg calls it "an unholy alliance with journalists who routinely misconstrue data and ignore margins of error." And he warns us about putting too much stock in polls. When asked who among the pollsters we should believe, he says:
"Nobody," says veteran pollster Allan Gregg, an outspoken critic of his own industry and chairman of Harris-Decima, which conducts polls for The Canadian Press. As far as Gregg is concerned, the election campaign has magnified problems with political polling: methodological issues that are skewing the results of both telephone and online surveys; commercial pressures that are prompting pollsters to over-hype their surveys."Commercial pressures". They are never going to allow the NDP to win, but at this crucial, yet still safe, part of the campaign, they are playing the same game that the NCC played.
The day you hear a Conservative suggesting that people vote NDP, "their ideological opposites", is when you know there's something else going on. They are trying to throw us off course. And it would appear that Jack Layton has taken the bait.
He will now pound away at Michael Ignatieff, in the same way that he pounded at the carbon tax, giving Harper a stronger minority.
If the NDP had legitimately spiked and it was at the expense of the Conservatives, I'd be thrilled. But this was just a clever manipulation by what Gregg calls an "unholy alliance".
It's created confusion for strategic voters, and may be just enough to give Harper his majority. They gave Mulroney the largest majority in Canadian history.
I wonder how much the National Citizens Coalition has poured into this campaign.
1. Loyal to the Core: Stephen Harper Me and the NCC, By: Gerry Nicholls, Freedom Press, 2009, ISBN: 978-0-9732757-8-0