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Gaffe it up

Editorial by Bruce Wark


Rodney MacDonald spent the first week of the election campaign stumping the province in a recreational vehicle sporting an Alberta licence plate. Sharp-eyed Dave Rodenhiser of the Daily News unearthed “plate-gate” the day Rodney called the election. “Why do you have an Albertan RV?” Rodenhiser asked. He reports that the Tory leader tried to dodge the question, but when pressed, Rodney “smiled an unfriendly smile,” said, “We’ll see you later,” and hastened aboard his campaign motor home. It fell to a PR person to explain that the Tories rented the RV from the local office of a Calgary-based company. Late last week, another Tory aide told me that the company, called CanaDream, employs seven people here. She added that the plate from wild rose country was being replaced with one from Canada’s ocean playground.

OK, plate-gate was hardly a major scandal. But as more Nova Scotians head down the road to toil in oil-rich Alberta, voters here may not warm to a premier riding around in a Klein-mobile. What were the Tory campaign people thinking? Plate-gate also illustrates journalists’ fascination with the nuts and bolts of election campaigns. That fascination flourished last week as Nova Scotia’s finest newshounds assessed the three main party leaders’ campaign performances. They were especially critical of the 34-year-old Cape Breton fiddler no one expected to win the Tory leadership in the first place.

Poor Rodney. His tour was just getting underway when the CBC’s Paul Withers informed viewers that MacDonald’s campaign had already gone “astray.” Withers pointed out that Rodney had promised a positive campaign, but then warned that his Liberal opponents would raise taxes and an NDP government would be “the death of our economy.”

“Rodney MacDonald says he wants to take the high road, but today he went somewhere else,” Withers declared. He illustrated how the premier’s “positive message went astray” with a shot of MacDonald chasing an errant volleyball into the bushes during a campaign photo-op in Lower Sackville. Then, over a shot of Rodney chasing the volleyball into the bushes a second time, Withers announced that the premier’s campaign “went off track again” when he said that if re-elected, he would bring in a budget “very similar” to the one the Tories have already introduced. Oops! Later, the intrepid newshounds forced Rodney to recant. OK, he’ll reintroduce the very same budget! And no more volleyball on the campaign trail! Promise!

The Herald’s political columnist, Marilla Stephenson, accused the premier of campaigning “with a tire iron in his fist,” indulging himself in “that dirty little business of stereotyping the NDP as a socialist tax-and-spend threat to Nova Scotians.” She added that MacDonald had committed a “gaffe” and had “stumbled off message” in his comments on the budget. Later, on the CBC’s political panel, she opined that “it wasn’t a great start for Rodney.” And this was before MacDonald’s ill-fated visit to a King’s County cow farm!

“With a herd of black and white dairy cattle grazing in the pasture behind him, premier Rodney MacDonald stepped into a political cow patty Friday morning,” wrote Herald scribe Amy Smith. She went on to report that the farmers wanted more interest-rate relief and thought the government should force big grocery stores to carry more local produce. Smith quoted the farmer who played host to premier Rodney as saying he’s not sure how he’ll vote in the June 13 election. Oh what were the Tory campaign people thinking? Couldn’t they have found at least one rock-ribbed Tory farmer in all of King’s County?

Journalists’ fascination with campaign glitches may not be shared by most voters. But as a newbie Tory leader trying to get his campaign messages across, Rodney has to prove himself to the baying provincial newshounds. They’ll likely stop nipping at his heels if campaign opinion polls show him well ahead. Otherwise, there may be more uncomfortable days to come as fiddler MacDonald tours Canada’s ocean playground.

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