Avalanche of detail overwhelms Kathleen Wynne's message
'If I'm found wanting because I don't have a clear enough bumper sticker, so be it,' says Liberal leader
For the past two days, the Liberals have thrown consecutive avalanches of information at reporters during their morning campaign announcements, the prime time for political messaging. Statements by Wynne and two of her candidates lasted 20 minutes on Monday; on Tuesday, they went on for 25 minutes.
Tuesday's focus was high-speed rail, an important issue for the Waterloo region, but the message that Wynne must have intended to get across (that only the Liberals will deliver on high-speed rail) got overwhelmed in the volume of detail.
After Wynne provided heaps of detail on Monday aiming to prove the NDP made a multi-billion-dollar error in its platform, Queen's Park journalist Randy Rath of CHCH-TV suggested that voters are basing their decisions on emotion.
"How do you combat that?' he asked. "When you talk about Chart 3.22 on page 217 of the budget, is anybody listening to you?"
"It is also really important, that as this campaign unfolds, that we look at what we are actually saying we will do, and we can do. So when you talk about competence, and you talk what's doable, and what's actually practical, that's what we're saying here today. I get that there's lots of churn and people have lots of questions about our government and I understand that. I probably more than anybody in the province get that. But I am also not willing to stand back and say, 'Look, the NDP shares somewhat of a value system with us, so we're not going to ask questions about whether what they're saying they can do, they can actually do.' That's irresponsible. This is an election campaign and people are going to be making very important choices. And they need to know if the plans that are being put forward are realistic. And they can like them or not like them. And they will make that choice. But they have to know what's doable and what's not doable."
Here's the thing: winning an election is not just about developing the best policies, it's also about how you communicate them.
During the first debate on May 7, Wynne frequently lapsed into technocratic language. It peaked with a reference to "inclusionary zoning," which is a perfectly valid policy to encourage more housing, but it's a phrase that simply doesn't mean a thing to voters.
Although Kinsella was a key figure on campaigns for Jean Chretien and Dalton McGuinty, he worked against Wynne in her leadership bid and has been outspokenly critical of her chief strategist David Herle.
Contrast Wynne's communication style with what comes from Ford's mouth. His messaging is simple, some would argue simplistic. Yes, he reads from a teleprompter, and his staff are quick to end questions from reporters when they fear Ford is getting out of his depth. But he speaks in easily digestible morsels of information, serving up the clips that get on the newscasts.
This is not to say details are unimportant. Party leaders need to show enough command of details to prove they`re competent enough to run a government with a $150 billion budget. That's why journalists keep pressing Ford and the PC campaign for details of how he would turn his promises into reality, and why the NDP platform is getting increased scrutiny as the party seems to be rising in the polls.
But in an election campaign, the leader's main job is to communicate clearly the essence of their vision, the compelling reasons to vote for their party, and preferably do it with passion, emotion, and an appeal to the voter's gut.
Cluttering up that core message with details simply interferes. Leave that for the platform and the news releases.
"He's just not exactly a details kind of guy," Wynne said of her PC rival. "He will say he can do everything, that it will be the biggest and the best that everyone has ever seen. But there isn't a plan.He does not even attempt to have a plan. Slogans are not a plan."
At a campaign stop in London later on Tuesday, I asked Wynne whether communicating more like Ford might work for her.
Wynne said she is not going to "become" Doug Ford.
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