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Revenge of the Sweater Vest — Retail Politics and Policy Myopia

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Retail politics is about selling multi-colored sweaters (or targeted policies) to all kinds of folks, given wide-ranging preferences. Some had said that this election was the death of retail politics in Canada, especially when the Prime Minister started to slip in the polls due to his non-response to the financial meltdown. The logic was that he was not able to move away from his scripted day-to-day retail policy agenda in the face of the mounting uncertainty.

Well, I think retail politics are alive and well thank you very much, and in fact this election shows that heavily weighted single issue platforms can bite, and bite hard. Take the Liberal Leader’s exclusive focus on the carbon tax with recycling. While this balanced economic and environmental policy was supported by climate policy intelligentsia, it failed to resonate with a broad enough electoral base. And without other planks in the platform, the Liberals died a slow death.

So many commentaries in today’s press (see here and here) miss the point somewhat. Canadians still support environmental action, but importantly they also care about a whole host of other issues:

“it’s the economy stupid, and oh yes health care, and what about…..” says Joe Canadian.

And if one is unable to convey a range of policy ideas, then one is perceived as myopic, out of touch and subsequently penalized at the polls. So while retail politics did seem to cost the Prime Minister his majority through his inability to react to the financial crisis (Ontario anyone?), platform myopia hurt Mr. Dion more.

So, while Mr. Dion’s single vision was a good one, and would have worked best for Canada on the climate issue, the vision was incomplete, and so did not reach a wide-enough retail audience. Blaming the election loss on the carbon tax is therefore as myopic as the Liberal Party’s platform. The key to electoral success seems to be selling the sweater-vest after all.

Written by Dave Sawyer

October 15th, 2008 at 3:49 pm