By Ira Basen
You can learn a lot about what messages the various parties are trying to communicate to voters by examining their platforms. And yes, you can pore over the hundreds of promises that the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP have included in their documents, and try to figure out if they make any sense and are adequately costed, but you can also learn some valuable lessons just by looking at what, or whom, the parties tend to emphasize, and what, or whom, gets ignored.
The Conservative platform
If there is any doubt that the Conservative party in 2008 is all about Stephen Harper, those doubts would be quickly dispelled by a quick browse through their platform, entitled "The True North Strong and Free: Stephen Harper's Plan for Canada."
The document is 42 pages long and there are a total of 24 pictures. All but two of the pictures include Harper. There are eight pictures of the prime minister surrounded by unidentified Canadians, three with him and various members of his family, and three of him speaking. In one picture he is being kissed by a young child, and in another he is hugging a senior.
Of the two pictures that Harper is not in, one is of the Canadian flag, and the other shows a group of mostly older Canadians. They are holding up Harper signs, and one man has a sign that reads "Promise Made, Promise Kept," which curiously was a slogan used by Paul Martin during the 2006 campaign.
In introducing the various sections of the platform, there are 76 references to "A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper" …, compared to just 18 references to "a re-elected Conservative government …"
It is a striking contrast to the Conservative platform of 2006, called "Stand Up for Canada." It was 47 pages long, and featured an introductory message by Harper and an accompanying photo on Page 1. But apart from that, the document makes no mention of the leader, and has no pictures.
The Liberal platform
If the Conservative platform is all about the leader, the 2008 Liberal platform projects a party that is selling a brand, and not a man. The platform is more than 70 pages long. You will find references to Stéphane Dion on Page 1, Page 64 and Page 69.
There are about a dozen pictures scattered throughout the document, but they tend towards generic nature shots and pictures of Canadians at work. There is one photo of Dion on the last page. There are hundreds of promises, most of them introduced by "a new Liberal government will …."
By contrast, the 2006 Liberal platform had 83 pages, and included an introduction by leader Paul Martin. It made frequent references to the accomplishments of "Paul Martin's government," but most promises were introduced by "a Liberal government will …" There were about 20 small pictures scattered throughout the document, but only five featured Martin.
The NDP platform
The 2008 NDP platform is clearly centred on leader Jack Layton. The cover identifies Layton as "a Prime Minister on your family's side, for a change." The platform begins with a "personal message" from the leader. All of the promises are introduced by "Jack Layton and the New Democrats will … There are about a half dozen pictures included in the 45 pages. All but one feature Layton; the other depicts enthusiastic kids wearing Layton T-shirts.