Conservative misalignment of message

It seems to me the Federal Conservatives have got their messaging all wrong in this election. It seems to me that the heady backroom boys/gals in Toryland believe that they lost the last election because they did not offer enough goodies to the electorate. So the strategy this time seems to be to match the Liberals dollar for dollar in their spending largess.

Childcare, health care, GST tax cuts, small business tax cuts – sounds almost Liberal.

And the Tories are shrinking in the polls.

I would proffer a slightly different reason why the Tories can’t make up ground – particularly in southern Ontario.

You see, the Tories have always believed that definitionally they are better managers of the public purse. Remember the ‘tax and spend’ Liberals? They don’t even spend much time talking about it because they believe it to be axiomatic. The problem, so they say, is that people are worried that the Conservatives will cut too deeply into the social safety net. So, the strategy is to get Stephen Harper out there announcing new spending programs on a daily basis.

To the contrary, I think Canadians and particularly southern Ontarioians believe that the Conservatives are bad fiscal managers. They look at Mulroney and his ballooning deficits and particularly in Ontario they look at Mike Harris. Now, I am not going to get into a long argument about Harris’ policies. Suffice it to say that he miraculously ran up huge deficits and underfunded social programs simultaneously. Not even the NDP could do that.

It’s an acute thing in Ontario as many think tanks haved tied Harris’ underfunding of post-secondary education to a longer term competitiveness issue for that province. And for some, at least, that is unforgiveable.

So, if I were advising the Tories, I would suggest they immediately cut the advertisments with Stephen Harper doling out goodies and talking about corruption and simply tell Canadians that a Conservative government would make prudent fiscal management the top priority. After four years of Tories, we promise no deficits. We promise no Bush-style tax cuts unless we can afford them. We promise to shed the legacy of Harris and Mulroney.

We pinky swear.

And we might even throw in a few goodies for ‘good’ measure.

Some voters might forgive deficit spending on social programs. Some voters might forgive cutting social spending to rein in deficits. But no voters will support cutting social programs and running up big deficits.

Am I wrong on this?