Under Steven Harper the Conservatives have made a major shift in election strategy. Campaigning is no longer reserved for elections. Controlling their branding with aggressive marketing has insured they are well defined in the eyes of the public. This strategy minimizes the risk of political fallout from a mistake on the short campaign trail. Kim Campbell, Stephane Dion and John Tory have all learned the hard way that campaigns are not the time to discuss major policy shifts. This startegy also allowed the Conservatives to attack Dion at his weakest. The strategy was extra effective as the Liberals did not have the financial resources to proeperly respond to the attacks.
The Conservatives have been using a strategy called ten percenters. This allows an MP to send flyers to other ridings under certain conditions. This Junk Mail strategy has annoyed many but the Conservatives seem to believe they work. The most recent controversy was 10 percenters sent to 5 Jewish ridings outlining the holes in the Liberals Israel foreign policy. The facts in the flyer were technically accurate but did not reflect the complete Liberal policy. There has been debate as to how much the Conservatives meant to imply in their criticism.
A committee is now reviewing the rules regarding the use of the ten percenters. The approach being taken by the opposition parties is that the Conservatives are abusing the system therefore the rules need to be changed. While the Government has spent $6 million on the flyers the opposition parties have spent $4 million. The wrong approach is being taken for meaningful change.
Originally the 10 percenters were designed to inform specific groups of government programs that applied to them that they not be aware of. There is also a secondary consequence. During an election the advantage always goes to the incumbent. They have a track record in government. Government accomplishments are their accomplishments. Plus people don't vote for change unless there is a major reason to. MP send notices to their own riding letting them know the job they as individuals and the government is doing. 10 percenters allows mailings to go out to deliver a similar message even if the riding is currently controlled by another party. They can help balance the playing field already tipped in favour of the incumbent.
The questions that should be asked are in an today's age of communication are mailings really an effective way to MPs to communicate with constituents? What is the balance between communicating with constituents for effective governing versus building on the incumbent advantage? What limitations can be put in place to limit partisan nature of communication with the riding without damaging the ability to represent a riding effectively? Addressing these issues will produce a new set of guidelines to improve the MP to voter relationship. Taking an approach with the intent to simply stop Conservative Party propaganda will simply replace the current system with a different partisan based system.