[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]
Dear Dr. Steve,
I paid $700 for a Thanksgiving turkey and as a result am now living in my car with a toothbrush, a can opener and a family of squirrels. Isn’t this Trudeau's fault?
As Thanksgiving approached there was indeed a lot of turkey talk, and your namesake, the leader of the Opposition, was the one talking turkey. In an Oct. 4 tweet, Poilievre claimed that a turkey can cost up to $120 this fall. He later posted two ads which, he claimed, showed how the price of a 2015 turkey under the Conservatives had increased under the Liberals.
There were some issues with all this. It was quickly pointed out the ads Poilievre posted did not exactly make his point. The modern Liberal turkey was advertised as $2.49 a pound, while the Conservative-era turkey, advertised at $1.49 a pound, was described as a saving of at least $1.80 from the regular price. That suggests the regular price of the 2015 turkey was actually higher. Not to mention that, at $2.49 a pound, the cursed Liberal turkey would have to be a 50-pound monster to reach Poilievre’s epic $120 price tag. (Dr. Steve saw more than one local outlet advertising frozen birds at $1.95 per pound, but they were probably made of straw or paper maché.)
As for the fabled $120 turkey, it loomed like a quest equal to any embarked upon by King Arthur and his knights. But like the Grail, it was indeed found, at a Toronto store called Longo's, for $119.99. This was not quite your standard gobbler though. Outrageous though the price was, it was not for a frozen turkey but a pre-roasted bird. If you have seen enough videos of people trying to deep fry a turkey and burning their houses down, you might be able to convince yourself that $120 for a pre-cooked turkey is a bargain. You might even qualify for a discount on your home insurance. Otherwise it is unlikely that John and Jane Q. Canadian are going to spring for one.
There is a legitimate point of discussion here about premium grocery prices and even some regular ones. Crispix, for example. It's a type of Kellogg's cereal popular in snack mixes, partly because it has a relatively low sugar content. In the past Dr. Steve has mixed it with much more sugary cereals to create a breakfast bowl less teeth-rottingly sweet.
But those halcyon mornings are long gone. Lately Crispix has joined gold jewelry and detached single-family dwellings on the list of items far beyond his means. Dr. Steve recently saw a 350-gram box of Crispix selling at Safeway for north of $10. He stood gazing in wonderment, imagining what sort of income he might require to blithely put a $10 box of Crispix into his basket. At that price, Crispix is more expensive pound-for-pound than the $120 pre-cooked turkey. Mr. Poilievre should hire Dr. Steve for his next ad. He will describe in heartbreaking terms how he currently reduces his morning sugar content with generous helpings of shredded cardboard.
The thing is, Poilievre can never seem to get it right. As Dr. Steve argued last week, he always has to overdo it. Put aside for a moment the fact that Poilievre’s suggestion he could somehow put a cheaper turkey in every pan is akin to claiming he will take three inches off your waist, give you six-pack abs and make you a better dancer. It’s dishonest nonsense. But the larger point is that Poilievre appears incapable of sincerity. As raccoons are drawn to compost, he is compelled toward exaggeration and misrepresentation.
It all suggests that Conservatives do not trust their own messaging. They don’t trust themselves to say what they really mean, so they cast about for other plausible messages. And like people speaking Spanish phonetically, they tend to screw it up.
There was a bizarre hint of this in the recent Manitoba provincial election. A last-minute ad from the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives reminded voters they would be “alone” in the voting booth with no one watching and they could “vote how you feel, not how others say you should.”
This was not a Poilievre ad of course, but it was Conservative. And it reflected a familiar message. Sure, it says, we are appealing to your worst instincts, but you know you have them. So let your nasty flag fly!
It turned out that even in the privacy of the voting booth, Manitobans were not inclined to re-elect a Conservative government. Wab Kinew and the NDP won a solid victory.
While it is too early to know what sort of government Kinew will provide, there was an illuminating display after the election, when Kinew released some outtakes from a campaign ad he'd done. The ad had shown him draining a three-point shot on a basketball court and then telling voters to have a three-point plan on election day. Later he tweeted a video with a message: “Many of you have asked: How many takes?” Ten, apparently. Kinew is seen in the video missing shot after shot. One of the crew quotes Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take.”
“Yeah,” Kinew answers, “or just 100 per cent.”
Finally, on the tenth attempt, Kinew gets it. Does Poilievre get it?
Try to imagine Donald Trump displaying ineptitude on the golf course. Anyone filming it would be tackled by security and dragged away, after which Trump would announce that he’d nailed three holes-in-one and incidentally, still weighs 215 pounds.
Poilievre seems much closer to the Trump mould. If the Opposition leader ever shows as much humility and self-deprecating humour as Kinew did, Dr. Steve will be genuinely impressed. It will show a level of perspective and self-awareness that Poilievre does not appear to possess.
However, if Poilievre can promise Crispix at anything close to $3.50 per pound, Dr. Steve will campaign for the federal Conservatives door-to-door. For a healthy campaign, always target the breakfast demographic.