Why John Horgan is marketed as macho and Justin Trudeau rides roughshod over anti-abortionists
When political parties lose badly, there's a tendency to try harder the next time.
This was on display over the past week as the B.C. NDP and the federal Liberals both attempted to distance themselves from their past.
The new B.C. NDP leader, John Horgan, was portrayed as a tough guy under the new NDP branding of "strong leadership".
A photo made the rounds of Horgan dressed for football with his friends in 2007, reinforcing this image.
It's not a coincidence that the B.C. NDP has gone this route.
That's because the B.C. Liberals enjoyed great success after including the word "strong" in their slogans in the last two election campaigns.
Christy Clark rode the "Strong Economy, Secure Future" message to an unexpected victory in 2013. The slogan's value came in its implication that the alternative to the B.C. Liberals was a weak economy and an insecure future. This was reinforced by the famous weathervane ad, which characterized then-NDP leader Adrian Dix as indecisive.
In 2009, the B.C. Liberals campaigned on the slogan "Keep B.C. strong."
The B.C. NDP isn't going to yield this ground so easily in the next election.
Meanwhile, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced that any new candidates in his party will have to vote pro-choice on any abortion bills that come before Parliament.
This is a direct response to the federal New Democrats ability to cast doubts on the Liberals' progressive credentials in recent elections.
Former Jack Layton adviser Brad Lavigne revealed in his 2013 book, Building the Orange Wave: The Inside Story Behind the HIstoric Rise of Jack Layton and the NDP, that his party "built a firewall" against strategic voting by reminding voters of the similarities between federal Liberals and federal Conservatives.
One tactic was to constantly remind the media and the public about the number of anti-abortion MPs in the Liberal caucus.
Trudeau's move this week is an attempt to minimize the damage in the next election. But that didn't stop federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair from pointing out that there are still anti-abortion MPs in the Liberal caucus. (Trudeau's dictate only applies to those who will be nominated in the future.)
In the meantime, B.C. premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are still trying to drive home the point that they're the best economic stewards, notwithstanding some dismal employment numbers released by Statistics Canada.
The federal agency reported that the country lost nearly 28,900 jobs in April. B.C.'s employment fell by 3,700.
The advantage of Clark's slogan, "Strong Economy, Secure Future", is that it can camouflage the real story about what's going on in B.C.
Natural-gas revenues have fallen sharply in recent years, but that's not apparent in the hype over liquefied natural gas.
The employment picture isn't great, either, particularly for young people.
The political scene reminds me of a 2010 article in Scientific American about how looks can deceive, and why perception and reality don't always match up.
"We are incapable of being fully objective, even in our most mundane observations and impressions," the author, Christof Koch, wisely noted.
In this era of sophisticated political marketing, image often trumps reality, as Harper and Clark have repeatedly demonstrated.
So it shouldn't come as any surprise that Horgan is being peddled as a strongman and Trudeau wants to stop anti-abortionists from becoming candidates.
They have to do something dramatic to alter voters' perceptions. Otherwise, nothing will change for their parties in the future.