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Outside the Charmed Circle 

Did you know that the first week of Stephane Dion’s federal election campaign went so “poorly… several senior Liberals have expressed serious concern that (it) could be the sign of an electoral disaster to come?”

You’d certainly know that if you’d read the front page of Monday morning’s Globe and Mail. Or its strange-bedfellow matching story in Tuesday’s Toronto Star headlined Stumbling Campaign Angers Liberal Insiders.

“Behind the scenes, Liberals worry about a ‘loosey-goosey’ operation that staggered out of the gate, minus an airplane, to sell a complicated Green Shift plan that bears the heavy stamp of Stephane Dion, professor,” reported the Star, quoting unnamed, unhappy Liberal backroom boys who almost certainly included many of the same anonymous sources who’d popped up in the Globe.

Those same sources-who-cannot-be named-but-who-have-much-to-say also featured prominently in the all-knowing comments from the politicial punditi class who paraded in lockstep across our TV screens last week.

Are they right? Was the real highlight of Dion’s first week what the National Post gleefully referred to as his “hilariously garbled syntax” in pronouncing the Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam as “Cockitland.”

I’m certainly no Stephane Dion supporter—perish the thought—but, looked at from outside the Charmed Circle that is the national news media, Dion’s first week did not seem to go all that badly.

I watched his response to Stephen Harper’s election announcement live on television, for example. To me, Dion sounded measured, sincere and self-deprecating, not to mentioned knowledgeable and thoughtful. By the time the talking heads were done chewing over the bones of his statement, however, I was no longer certain even of what I had seen.

It’s true Dion’s campaign plane wasn’t ready to take off on day one, forcing him to start his electoral bid by bus and train instead. But party leader’s tours are inevitably less about the real people they encounter on their travels and more about the endless search for the perfect TV backdrop for their issue du jour (see Smiling Jack Layton at the Dalhousie Med School on Monday; see Serious Stephane Dion at the same spot a day later…). Does the great campaign-plane issue really have wings with anyone outside the frequent-flyer-points Charmed Circle?

Certainly Dion’s week seemed no worse than Stephen Harper’s calamitous start in Atlantic Canada (not that anyone in the Charmed Circle notices anything that happens here). And Dion wasn’t part of the out-of-the-gate PR balls-up Harper and NDP leader Jack Layton made of the Elizabeth May affair.

But the national media live inside their campaign bubble with the politicians, the pollsters and the paid, paying and unpaid spinmeisters. They create their own reality, swallowing the same Kool Aid and spitting back the same received wisdom.

That the pre-written narrative often has little to do with reality became obvious early in Week 2 when the results of two national polls conducted during the first week of the campaign were published. The Harris-Decoma poll showed the Liberals had actually gained three points from its survey the week before, while the latest EKOS survey—one of the largest; it polled 2,364 Canadians and had a margin of error of just 2.1 per cent—had the Conservatives hovering at just 35 per cent support among decided voters, “below what they probably need to win a majority government.”

Not that the pre-written narrative allowed for the Charmed Circle to give Dion credit. Frank Graves of EKOS would only concede that the Liberals “have not dropped through the floor nationally in the first week of the campaign the Tories have lost the powerful momentum they had in the period right before the writ was dropped.”

Welcome to the world according to the Charmed Circle.


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