Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Style vs substance

I gave you a break yesterday with zero political content. Not so today. But I think it's important.

Yesterday I watched our Prime Minister (or as we like to call him chez Piggy, Sweater Steve) be interviewed by Peter Mansbridge on The National. As those of you who have been brave enough to read my posts in October might recall, Steve declined the CBC's invitation to participate in the same format as the other federalist party leaders. That format, called Your Turn, involves Canadians sending in their questions for the leaders.

Apparently, Steve doesn't want—and, more importantly, doesn't think it is necessary—to answer ordinary Canadians' questions, I guess. Which I find troubling, to say the least. But I think he might have made a mistake. Without the need to roll tape on ordinary people's questions, there was a lot more time for Mansbridge to turn up the heat on Steve.

Anyhoo...onto the subject of this post's title...

The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) finally released its election platform yesterday—one week before election day. I’m not so sure Jack Layton’s guess that the Tories were hiding it under Stephen Harper’s stack of blue sweaters is true, though: a quick read through the document leads me to suspect Sweater Steve wrote the whole thing himself Monday night.

When I say a quick read, I don’t mean I just skimmed through it, either. I read the entire thing. It didn’t take long. The fact is, there’s a rather surprising lack of detail in the 44-page The True North Strong and Free: Stephen Harper’s plan for Canadians, which can be found as a pdf file on the CPC's website.

There are, however, plenty of photos of Harper himself. Twenty-two photos, actually—Harper laying bricks, Harper hugging small children, family portrait of Harper and his wife and children, etc., etc., etc.

There is also a fair amount of "white space"—space on the page that is covered by neither text nor images. And the heads and subheads are in rather large type. The actual text consists mostly of short paragraphs, also in rather large type. And the text itself was largely about what Harper himself will do, rather than his party. Perhaps Margaret Atwood's theory that Sweater Steve is fostering a "Cult of Personality" is right on the mark.

This got me wondering. I'll admit, I hadn't bothered to read the other parties' electoral platforms when they were released earlier in the campaign. So after reading the Tory platform, I went looking for those of the other federalist parties.

The Liberal Party of Canada’s platform, Richer, Fairer, Greener: An Action Plan for the 21st Century, contains one picture (a group shot over a double-page spread) of Stephane Dion within its 76-pages; the party’s 48-page The Green Shift: Building a Canadian Economy for the 21st Century, also contains a single picture of Dion.

The Green Party of Canada’s full-length platform, Vision Green: What kind of Canada do we want in 2020?, is also available as a pdf file on its website. There isn’t a single picture in its 121 pages, let alone any of leader Elizabeth May. The site also has an eight-page condensed version of the platform, as well as a Budget in Brief and Budget in Full. The "full" budget seems a little thin to me, but I'm admittedly terrible with numbers.

The New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) takes a slightly different approach; as far as I can tell from my web surfing, it does not have a printed platform handbook per se. Instead, it breaks its policies down into several pages within the site; the main platform page has links to Platform 2008 (subdivided into Jobs and Affordability, Health Care, Environment and Other Priorities—each with several links to further information), as well as the following: Aboriginal Platform, BC Platform, Northern Ontario Platform, Northern Platform, Saskatchewan Platform and Women’s Platform. The same two pictures of party leader Jack Layton are on every page of the website.

I'm going to 'fess up right here and admit that the CPC (or perhaps I should say Harper's) election platform is the only one I've read in full. I've only skimmed those of the Liberals, Greens and NDP. I'll try to wade through those before I head to my polling place on Tuesday.

I know a lot of people won't bother to read any of the parties' platforms, and that style likely plays a much larger role than substance for many of us. I also realize that a larger volume of words doesn't necessary equate with a superior policy.

But I do find it interesting that Harper (excuse me, the CPC), seems to think Canadians don't need the details, and that style trumps substance.

What do you think?

(If you've read this far, you deserve a reward. Leave a comment for this post by Oct. 10, and you'll be entered to win a set of stitchmarkers in your choice of Tory blue, Liberal red, NDP orange or Green...well, green! Your colour of choice doesn't need to match your political affiliation, either. LOL)


  1. This is the first presidential election in which I will participate here in the US and I have to say that I am totally confused on for whom I will vote. Next time, I will follow your example and do a lot of research so I am an informed voter and can help others to be informed as you are doing. Thanks for the push to know about the issues!

  2. Ugh, argh, WTF, and who's surprised? Not I.

    Enjoying the politcal commentary (& edification!)- do keep it up!

  3. I stumbled on your blog from Wendyknits. Isn't it interesting how style vs. substance plays out in all national elections. I'm sure you've heard those of us in the US making similar comments. I agree--read everything you can get your hands on. An informed voter is the best kind!

  4. You want my opinion? Of course you do, you're a bit weird that way. I'm going with the thought that the CPC is hoping/counting on the belief that we Canadians now have the attention span of a gnat and we couldn't be bothered to read a big ol' Grit manifesto (oops, did I say that?) anyway. Sooooo, just give the peasants what they want, fuzzy sweaters and sound bites that they are trying to pass off as policy and original ideas.

    Wow, I think I might be cranky. I need some chocolate and a glass of wine. ;)

  5. Hey you mentioned a large font... did he push in the margins as well? As someone who always turned in her college papers at the last minute and after having written them at 5am the night before, I am familiar with these tricks.

    (also, can I link to you on my blog... you know, eventually?)

  6. I thought the same when I went through the platform yesterday. I think it took so long to publish because they had to find that many people to look pleasant with Harper. Also they had to coach him how to smile.

  7. I'm familiar with the parties' policy approaches to the issues I care about... but I haven't read the platforms. Thanks for the info - I will now!