David Alward's communications strategy gamble
It was no surprise that Premier Alward focused on energy development in his State of the Province speech the other night as he’s been doing that with increasing frequency and conviction for months. But what was telling about the speech is the degree to which he doubled down. Strategically it was his party’s effort to define the ballot question for next fall’s election, but to what extent will it work?
He framed it perfectly when he said “The decision before us is simple: do we listen to those who say no to the very same opportunities that have created the strongest economies in North America, or do we finally say yes?”
It was a passionate speech where he hit what has become the government mantra of bringing the jobs home and turning around our economy.
He had specific shots for two groups. One was the protestors, saying specifically “we will not let the personal agendas of the minority be a roadblock to developing our province’s bright future.”
Leaving aside that economically the government may not see any alternatives to going this route, in going there the Tories are betting that those opposed are indeed a minority. The government could very well have polling on that, but the last numbers I heard about, which are now about two years outdated, suggested the province is split right down the middle on it.
The other shot was at the Opposition, and this is even more interesting. Catch this quote “To not take advantage of this opportunity would be one of the most irresponsible things a government could do.” Related to that, and other decisions like pension reform, Alward allowed it may not be the most politically prudent approach, but “I didn't sign up for this job to stand still and press pause.”
Press pause – remember that phrase. You heard the Premier and others in his government use it before to characterize the Liberal Opposition and specifically leader Brian Gallant, and no doubt we will be hearing it a lot more.
That’s the strategy – to position the government as action oriented, specifically on shale gas, against the opposition, who they will try to position as reluctant to make decisions.
Will it work? It may. Strategically speaking, the Opposition’s current tactic of keeping Gallant somewhat hidden actually has merit. Why take a definitive stand on anything and risk alienating voters if he doesn’t have to? So I expect they will continue having him criticizing government but without offering alternatives. The government will continue to paint him as indecisive for this, but the Liberals are probably OK with that, knowing there is time later to take whatever stands they feel might serve them well.
But on fracking, the Liberals may have walked themselves into a corner. They are on record saying they want to wait for some further studies before saying yes or no to shale gas development. In other words, they might or might not go with fracking but, and this is a big BUT, voters probably won’t know before the election is held.
The communications challenge for the Conservatives is whether they can convince voters they should reelect them and be sure shale gas development will proceed, than take a risk on a party that might decide against it. All of this of course, assuming the majority of New Brunswickers are in favour.
It’s as good a strategy as any on the Tories’ part, given the current polling that shows them in trouble.
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