By Adrian Nieoczym
The news that 1998 Olympic gold medalist Ross Rebagliati will carry the Liberal banner in the next federal election and take on Stockwell Day in the riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla certainly made a splash last week.
Media outlets from across the country picked up the item, gleefully previewing the battle as the Sea-Dooer vs. the Snowboarder. Over here at Kelowna.com, Marshall Jones drew loads of hits, not to mention comments, with his column about how the riding is so conservative its voters would elect Rebagliati’s snowboard over Rebagliati himself, provided the snowboard was the one running for Stephen Harper’s party.
And I’m sure I’m not the only person who, when they first heard the news, joked that instead of an all-candidates debate Day and Rebagliati should have a joint rolling contest instead. I’d put my money on Stock, ’cause you know anyone who openly talks about dinosaurs and humans walking the earth at the same time knows a thing or two about reaching an altered state of reality.
But no matter what anyone thought of Rebagliati’s first baby-step into politics, it certainly gave the Liberals a much needed jolt of pizazz. As it turned out, for all the buzz surrounding his nomination, the actual nomination meeting itself was held in a small basement room and attended by no more than two dozen party members. It lasted all of five minutes.
Approaching Rebagliati to run for the Liberals was a smart move by the party and makes for good politics that can help its fortunes, even if he ends up getting handily beaten by Day.
The Liberals right now are getting pounded in the polls. The Conservatives’ numbers put them in majority government territory, which is why Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff is trying to back away from his pledge to take down the government at the earliest opportunity.
If the Liberals are going to reverse this trend, they have to make inroads with younger voters. While Canadians under 40 by and large avoid voting altogether, they do have lots of potential voting years ahead of them. If they can be convinced to go to the polls and vote Liberal, then they can put the party back into power and keep it there for a while, though of course they could also decide to vote in a way that keeps the Liberals out of office.
Which is why having a candidate like Rebagliati makes good political sense. For the brief moment that he was in the national spotlight last week he gave the Liberals a flash of cool and even a dash of sexiness.
In his acceptance speech, Rebagliati said he has gotten a steady stream of Facebook messages and tweets from young people all over Canada who were excited about his jump into politics. Even though he will only be running in Okanagan-Coquihalla, Rebagliati can be turned into part of the party’s national campaign and use his prowess with social networking to draw new voters to Liberals running in every province and territory.
Expect to see lots of pics and videos of Rebagliati standing next to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff at campaign events. If things get really desperate, maybe Rebagliati will pull out his medal and let the boss touch it.
And if the next federal election is called within a few months of the Winter Games in Vancouver, at a time when the country is caught up in Olympic hoopla, Rebagliati and his medal will become even bigger PR assets.
He’s also a reminder that the Liberals are the party of celebrity and people love celebrities. The Liberals already boast former astronaut Marc Garneau, Montreal Canadiens legend Ken Dryden and another young stud in Justin Trudeau, though admittedly his appeal is probably somewhat less here in the West than it is out East.
The Liberals can put together a star-studded gala from just within its own ranks. The Conservatives?
Well, they used to have Belinda Stronach. But it didn’t take long for her to dump boyfriend Peter McKay and the rest of the party so she could hook up with the Libs instead.
I’m actually surprised that the hockey-mad Harper hasn’t recruited a few ex-NHLers for his backbench. Surely there are a number of them who are Conservatives. After all, millionaires tend to like the idea that the answer to all our problems is to cut taxes.
But I digress.
Choosing to run Rebagliati in Day’s riding, rather than in a place that’s more Liberal-friendly, also makes political sense. While Rebagliati still faces quite the uphill battle to beat Day, he is someone the Conservatives will have to take seriously, unlike previous Liberal candidates, who even their own riding association president admits were “not very good.”
And that means Day will actually have to campaign in his own riding and the Conservatives will have to pay attention to it and use resources to retain it. They won’t be able to just check it off as a safe seat and then forget about it for the rest of the election.
Fighting every battle was one of the strategies used by Barack Obama to great success in the last U.S. presidential election. He campaigned in every state, even the ones he had no chance in hell of winning. It forced the Republicans to use resources in “safe” districts that otherwise would have been used in swing ones. It also helped massage the minds of voters for the future, especially those of young voters, so they start to see voting Democrat as just a little less outlandish of an idea,
That kind of strategy in Canada means instead of running sacrificial lambs in areas dominated by the other side, a party finds a viable candidate for every riding and refuses to concede a single race.
Of course, it also helps a party when their leader is able to articulate an inspiring vision for where the country should go and convince people they can be trusted.
Now I’m not saying that’s totally necessary to ensure victory, but getting people who would otherwise stay away out to vote for you is probably going to require multiple tactics.