When You Talk About Insiders, You Only Talk to Insiders

When You Talk About Insiders, You Only Talk to Insiders

Ah yes, just as pumpkin-spiced lattes signal the arrival of fall, the endless bombardment of television and social media ads from our provincial politicians signal the arrival of another election campaign in Ontario.

Unlike many Ontarians, I actually enjoy watching these ads, but then again, I am a bit of anomaly. I have been involved in a significant number of election campaigns across Canada and even in the UK and learned something new and fascinating from every one of them, win or lose.

However, the most important thing that I ever learned in politics came to me in the very first campaign I was ever heavily involved in. It was the Federal election of 1993. The sitting Member of Parliament for the riding of Guelph-Wellington, Dr. Bill Winegard, was retiring after having served two terms in office, including as the Minister of State (Science and Technology) from 1989 to 1990, and the Minister for Science from 1990 to 1993. At a campaign kick-off event, Dr. Winegard gave a rousing speech I have never forgotten. In fact, it serves as the foundation for my involvement in politics.

The significant wisdom of the speech was that in elections, 1% of voters are decision-makers (the party hierarchy, the power brokers), 10% of voters are activists (usually members of a political party), 25% of voters are aware of the major campaign issues and the other 64% of voters consider politics for only a few minutes a week. But, guess what? Their votes count too.

This message resonated with me throughout my time in politics and government, including working as an aide to cabinet ministers at both the federal and provincial level. I referred to this as following the “64% rule”.

You see, if you only spend your time talking to the “insiders” you are missing out on talking to the vast majority of voters – the real power brokers in any election.

Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown recently put out a series of TV ads that go after the “Liberal insiders”. He implies that everyone in Ontario is closely following the Sudbury by-election trial and the “gas plant cancellation cover-up” trial with breathless anticipation of the verdicts. I haven’t done any polling on these issues, but my gut tells me that only the activists are paying attention.

So, to follow the 64 % rule, if you place your hopes on issues that only a minority of voters care about, then you will inevitably miss the opportunity to connect with the majority.

To further stoke the activists fire, the PC Party is aghast that the Liberals used, wait for it, the same actor in different roles in two different commercials. How dare they? I mean I am sure this must be one of the most pressing issues facing Ontarians today?

Focussing on frivolous issues that solely appeal to “the base” is one of many roads to ruin. Sure, there may be a throng of people enthusiastically cheering Mr. Brown as he follows this path. But the road he has not taken, the high road, is the one where he addresses the issues most voters are personally concerned with. Such things as outrageous hydro rates, increasing debt, and uncertain job prospects for their children.

Patrick Brown and the PC Party needs to stop obsessing over old-news scandals and to start addressing the issues Ontarians actually care about. Failing to do so will result in yet another lonely election night in a half-filled hotel ballroom talking amongst themselves, the insiders.

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