It was just yesterday that I wrote about a spectacular communications gaffe from the Liberals on carbon pricing, in which I talked about the importance of consistent and well prepared communications. But being politics, there are always going to be many examples of communications done poorly to go around. It’s more of a matter of waiting long enough for the next gaffe or example to come your way. And this week we didn’t even have to wait 24 hours for the next one to come and folks this one is a doozy:
Wow, this story is as close to a carbon copy of an example of yesterdays as one might get. Like the Liberals have been dealing with regarding carbon pricing, the Conservatives have been dealing with social conservative issues like access to abortion and LGBT rights. The Liberals have been talking all summer about the agenda of some Conservative, not so hidden in some cases, regarding trying to limit access to abortion services and rolling back LGBT rights.
In an attempt to defend against this, many Conservatives are saying that the Liberals are just making things up and that Andrew Scheer has no interest in re-litigating any of these issues. If this line of messaging sounds familiar, it’s basically exactly the same one that the Liberals have been using to defend themselves against allegations that they would increase the carbon tax after the election: We have been clear on this, we won’t do it. As we saw yesterday, that message can only work as long as the party in question stays consistent in what they say. The second that they break from that message discipline and say something else, like Environment Minister Catherine McKenna did in the Globe and Mail, you open the door to those who say you’re going to do something. Only this time, they will be quoting your own words to use against you as proof that you were lying to the public and trying to keep a hidden agenda hidden.
Amazingly the Conservatives managed to replicate this exact same scenario yesterday. Andrew Scheer’s Quebec lieutenant, MP Alain Rayes, admitted on Monday that he has “publicly misrepresented the Conservative leader’s policy on abortion.” You see part of Mr. Rayes’ duties as Quebec lieutenant was to help with candidate recruitment in the province. As a part of that work, he admitted that has been informing candidates and telling media that the abortion issue is dead and that MPs will be prevented from reopening it. As it turns out, that wasn’t exactly true and came as quite the surprise to Scheer’s team and to social conservative groups working to elect Conservative “pro-life” candidates.
You see Mr. Scheer has been trying to have his cake and eat it too on this issue, trying to walk a line where he doesn’t alienate social conservatives in his base that he needs to win while trying to seem moderate and reasonable to the public. It was an attempt that was probably always doomed to fail, as groups like “Right Now” have been organizing within the Conservative Party in an attempt to gain more power around policy and to elect anti-abortion candidates to run for the Conservatives in the fall. This has been an ongoing internal battle within the conservative movement, so it’s not shocking to hear that these groups were doing this.
But in places like Quebec, where the Conservatives are trying to make a breakthrough, issues like abortion are pretty settled and running on promising to re-open this debate can be a deal breaker. This helps to explain Mr. Rayes’ messaging on this, seemingly hoping that no one would ever scratch beneath the surface of the statement to check it’s veracity. But now that scratching has happened and the Conservatives are caught in the exact same trap that they were gleefully happy that the Liberals had fallen into. With this news, the Liberals now have the ammunition to point out that the Conservatives weren’t being truthful about this issue.
What makes this development all the juicier is the fact that this came out while the Conservatives were doing the media rounds with their newest big candidate, former Olympic Synchronized Swimmer Sylvie Frechette. Not only did this news step all over the roll out of that objectively big get, Frechette ended up being quoted on the record stating that Rayes’ line. She told a Montreal radio program that it was “false” that Conservative backbench MPs would be able to reopen the abortion issue going onto say “That’s totally false.” Hmmm, turns out it wasn’t that false now, was it? Adding to the pain of this development are quotes from actual Conservative candidates in Quebec who are now saying that they were assured during their recruitment that the Conservatives wouldn’t reopen this door. One candidate, when asked about this assurance earlier this summer, went so far as to say “There is no doubt. If I had one, I am telling you, I would not have run.” She wouldn’t have run for them if the party was going to re-open this debate? Ouch, ouch, ouch. The things that happen when you’re caught in this vise.
The end result of this development yesterday is that now both the Liberals and the Conservatives have proof points to be able to continue their respective attacks on the others “hidden agenda”. I’m not sure if that’s going to be great for the civility of the debate to come during this campaign but really both parties only have themselves to blame for this, as it was their own mistakes and actions that brought this upon themselves. We’ll see how this affects the race to come but again we see another great example of what it is so important to have message discipline and the consequences that come when that discipline falls apart.