O'Toole Needs To Be Radically Different

January 1st, 2021 | JH

It looks like Erin O’Toole is going to lose the next election. Polls have been consistent for some time now and Trudeau is set to easily win a third term. The good news is that polls don’t really start to matter until two weeks before an election. The bad news is that Erin has the deck stacked against him and it won’t be easy to overcome the odds.

The first big hurdle to overcome is the mainstream media. The MSM has a long and winding relationship with the Conservative Party in this country, but in order to keep this article manageable, let’s just trace back the issue to the beginning of this century.

In 2001, Bernard Goldberg published his book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How Media Distort the News. It shed a light on the issues of the liberal media bias found in the United States. This was an explicit call out on what before then loomed more as a conspiracy theory among hardcore American conservatives. The mainstreaming of the concept and term “liberal media bias”, led to the term “media narrative” as a shorthand for biased and corrupted news, which led to Trump’s designation of “fake news” that we have today.

In Canada, the idea of media bias has taken way longer to catch on. In 2000, it became obvious that the media had a bias in the way in which they covered Stockwell Day during the election. He became an undeserved punching bag for progressives across the board and there wasn’t much he could do to pushback against the message.

Conservatives learned their lessons and eventually they decided to fight fire with fire. The launch of SunNews was an attempt to create a Fox News North and the established media in this country went berserk. SunNews wasn’t great (I used to work for them), but at least it offered some pushback. The main problem was that they couldn’t get positioned onto the cable channels alongside the big networks. The CRTC forced them up into channel 105 or something and nobody could find it unless they did some serious digging on their guide screens.

Around the same time, the internet was wreaking havoc on traditional media. Facebook and Twitter were replacing television and newspapers for everyone under the age of 30. Revenue was shrinking and television stations and newspapers began dying. This hemorrhaging of money caused the remaining news sources to survive on lean budgets and skeleton staffs. Consequently, the overall quality of journalism in this country has gone way, way down.

Shrinking budgets means worse quality news, but it also means the industry can no longer attract decent journalists. People who used to go into news media were never paid exorbitantly unless they advanced up to anchoring (news reading) in an A-list market. Everyone else got middle-class wages. Today, the low wage, low opportunity environment attracts activists rather than journalists. People who have their sights set on “changing the world maaan!” are not too concerned about wages… especially if they’re basically straight out of school.

A disproportionate number of young journalists are also very good-looking young women. Often, they are intelligent and from good homes, so money isn’t a huge factor (yet) and they want to do something that seems smart, like deliver the news, rather than capitalize on their looks by acting or modelling. The big prize is getting to anchor on the desk and be the face of a network in an A-list market. Then you get the six-figure income, plus the fame and the prestige. These women are almost uniformly progressive liberals. Occasionally you’ll meet one that surprises you with opinions on certain issues that are aggressively conservative, but mostly they just fit the standard basic progressive model of “liberal journalist”.

This is the situation that Canadian media was in when Justin Trudeau announced his bailout package in 2015. Since then the pretense of legitimacy has dropped and the Canadian news industry is completely, unabashedly pro-Liberal and pro-progressive orthodoxy and most of all… pro-Trudeau.

What does this mean for Erin O’Toole now?

No matter how confident and "nice guy" his approach is, no matter how prepared or intelligent he is… the media is going to be his enemy. It will be full bore propaganda the likes of which we have never seen. It has already started, but the volume will be turned up to eleven once campaigning gets underway.

What can be done?

Harper should’ve cut all funding for the CBC in 2011 and salted the earth so that it could never be rebuilt. He then should have dismantled the CRTC and allowed any network from any country to operate directly in the Canadian market without their CTV, Global, Citytv proxies buying American programming and dumping it on Canadians. Go full libertarian on the media landscape and watch all the purveyors of far-left propaganda get crushed under the steamroller of free market capitalism.

But, I digress…

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What can be done now?

One option is to propose solutions that out liberal the Liberals. This was proposed in Poletical a while back. The idea would be to promise to increase the funding of the CBC and increase the bailout money to the industry. The hope with this strategy is that by not threatening to crush these subsidies when in power, it will demotivate the media from fearing and smearing the Conservatives. Less fear for their jobs means fairer, more balanced coverage.

It's an empty hope. After all, it might be more relaxing for journalists to know that the CPC isn’t going to stop the gravy train, but at the end of the day they’ll still root for their own team.

The other problem with this method is that a good 50% of the Conservative base would love to implement the “cut all funding and salt the earth” idea and listening to promises of more subsidies and increased CBC funding would disgust most Conservative supporters faster than you can say, “Cuckservative Party of Canada”.

So, for the third time… What can be done?

Get Erin O’Toole in front of as many non-mainstream media opportunities as can be mustered. Canada’s fragmented media landscape provides more opportunities to participate in more outlets than ever before. As the mainstream media outlets slowly lose viewership, the smaller more boutique outlets will play a bigger role.

Harper pioneered focusing on local television news outlets in the belief that doing a CTV or Global interview in a Calgary or Halifax or Ottawa station provided a fairer and more friendly reception than doing a nationally broadcast piece. The local regional stations are just jazzed to have high profile people visit their market. The interviewers are more likely to see the exchange as a time to demonstrate their own personality and charm (This will look great on my reel!) rather than use it to impress the Laurentian crowd with their authority and belligerence (This will get me a Senate seat!).

Blogs, podcasts and alternative news websites are also ripe for picking. One of the biggest mistakes Andrew Scheer ever made was blacklisting Rebel News. Scheer name dropped True North and The Post Millennial during his speech at the leadership convention, but I don’t recall hearing much from Scheer on those websites during the election campaign. Erin O’Toole is extremely open and transparent regarding new media and he’s spoken with us at Poletical in the past. This needs to keep up and accelerate. People are migrating online for their sources of information so why not exploit the people who are already on your side?

Non-political media is also crucial. You have to meet people where they’re at, not where you’d like them to be. The biggest voting block in Canada is “non-voter”. These are people who aren’t motivated to vote for anyone. Now granted, many of these people should not be voting and will likely not vote no matter how you do your outreach, but nevertheless, if you can mobilize even 2 or 3% of those non-voters by appealing to their interests, then do it.

Wrangle an interview in magazines and websites about dogs or car racing or hunting or whatever niche people enjoy. Appear on podcasts in which you review your favourite movie or go on a cooking show and cook your Grandma’s gumbo or Christmas cake or whatever. This gets you time in front of people who don’t care about politics and can win over new and non-voters that will prove crucial to future wins.

Secondly, advertise on the platforms that invite you to appear!

The ever growing alternative and online and non-political opportunities will be much more grateful for a thousand-dollar ad spend on their little music or military podcast show or their current events blog or their dog magazine or whatever. Gratefulness breeds loyalty and good-will and new audiences. Spread the money around instead of fire hosing millions of dollars into the enemy’s coffers. 

All this cash spent on 30-second ads shown during national news broadcasts during an election is insane. You’re feeding the enemy! I know the idea is that news watching folks are the informed voters that you want to win over, so advertise to those already in the voting game.

The problem is that people are getting a steady stream of anti-Conservative messaging from these network news sources and then when they go get their second helping of lasagna during the commercials, the commercial that blasts out at them is a 30 second Conservative ad that’s supposed to undo all the anti-Conservative messaging they’ve previously been exposed to.

There is a case to be made that the ads help push back against the messaging, but that case is weak. You can’t undo a newscast with a 30 second purchased ad. If anything, people will be too cynical to absorb it.

More and more people are getting their mainstream news clips via Facebook, not live television. Conservatives would be better off advertising directly with Facebook in order to counter message the MSM. Hardly anyone clicks on follow through links, so meme warfare is what is needed to flatten the value of the MSM on the newsfeed scrolls. 

"In Canada, the idea of media bias has taken way longer to catch on."

The next Conservative campaign needs to be run radically different from the last three. The 2011 Harper lesson of attempting to manipulate the media messages by controlling how much content they receive, via questions asked, isn’t going to work anymore. Harper ran a clenched campaign with tight messaging, but it didn’t overcome the fresh approach that Trudeau brought in 2015. Andrew Scheer ran a clenched and guarded campaign in 2019 and it looked flat and weak and fake and cringe. Erin O’Toole needs to do the opposite and if mistakes are made with the risks taken, so be it! Just brush them off and keep moving forward. The MSM is going to talk non-stop about abortion and racism and fascist conservatives anyway, so why not push back and try some new approaches. Endless somber denials look weak and it is a proven dead-end.

If we see the “morning announcement, afternoon coffee shop, evening rally with regurgitated speech to one-hundred supporters” campaign cliché again, then Erin will be the next former leader of the CPC and we’ll be looking at Trudeau for yet another cycle. In the meantime, all the party cheques will be cashed by the “professional” consultants and “solutions” companies and the next clenched, defensive campaign will be planned for the next round. Conservative donors must be getting tired of this… I know I am. 

It’s time to get creative, get fresh, get risky, or take another principled and honourable loss doing what has always been done.

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