'Bubble politics' standard practice, experts Say
TORONTO - On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced backlash from opposition leaders over an incident that occurred during a Conservative campaign rally in London, Ont. on Monday.
Two women were ejected from the Tory event by campaign staffers. Awish Aslam, 19, speculated she was removed because of a photo of her with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff that appeared on her Facebook page.
Ignatieff slammed the PM for running a “bubble campaign,” calling the removal of the University of Western Ontario students “un-Canadian.”
“I think we’re in a very bad place when you got a prime minister who does a background check on his audience at a democratic crowd, and doesn’t seem to do a background check on the people he hires in the Prime Minister’s Office, like Mr. Carson.”
Bruce Carson, a former advisor to Harper, was hired to work in the Prime Minister’s Office despite five fraud convictions.
Harper vaguely responded to questions about the incident. “Staff runs our campaigns and I can’t comment on individual matters like that,” he said during a campaign stop in Quebec.
Tory advisor Dimitri Soudas offered an apology to one of the expelled women, and said he’s willing to invite her to meet the prime minister in future.
The tightly controlled campaign strategy is standard practice for front-runners, according to several political science experts and election pundits.
The belief is that Harper is in a good position to “play it safe,” opting to run a low-risk campaign on his terms. That means limiting the number of questions he’s willing to answer and, in some cases, limiting access to campaign events.
We spoke to Renan Levin, an assistant professor in the department of political science at the University of Toronto.
Levin believes the decision to remove the teens was a deliberate maneuver, allowing the Conservatives to maintain their carefully crafted political message.
“As the front-runner, Harper is trying to minimize mistakes with the belief that if he plays it safe and stays on message, he will maintain his plurality, if not win a majority,” he says.
Dr. Christopher Waddell, Director of Carelton University’s School of Journalism and Communication, says its standard practice to restrict public access to campaign events, but that doesn’t explain why the Conservative staffer was compelled to remove the students in the first place.
“It’s hard to understand why anyone would take action against people if they’re not disrupting the event, and there’s no evidence that was happening here,” he says.
“It’s more than a little sinister, if it’s true, that the Conservatives are patrolling Facebook and making decisions about people’s political points of view based on pictures on their Facebook page.”
Goldy Hyder, a Conservative party strategist, regrets what he called an overzealous action taken by the staffer.
“There’s a genuine recognition here that people did overreact and didn’t need to do so, and it’s unfortunate. (The Conservative party) wants people to participate in the political process, particularly young people,” he says.
Hyder reiterated that participant registration at local campaign events is a standard procedure to ensure security, especially when the prime minister is present.
Brooke Jeffrey, Associate Professor at Concordia University’s Department of Political Science, warns that Harper’s apparent inaccessibility during his campaign tours impedes healthy democratic debate.
“This [incident] will harm Mr. Haper’s personal image and reinforce with many Canadians that he is a bully,” she says.
“It’s standard practice for people from other political parties to attend the rallies of their political opponents, and everyone expects it. It’s amazing to me that [the Conservatives] would take such amazing steps to avoid it.”
Rupinder Kaur, press secretary for the NDP, quickly emphasized the NDP’s “open door” campaign policy.
“Running an open campaign means you are not scared of making yourself available to the public. And Layton, through his years in public life, has become very comfortable handling the tough questions, and the sometimes colourful folks who come to our events,” Kaur said in a news release distributed Tuesday afternoon.
The Liberals pounced on the opportunity to emphasize what they perceive as a stark contrast between their campaign strategy and the Conservatives’ tactics.
According to Liberal strategist Penny Collenette, all Liberal rallies and town halls are open to the public and most events are un-ticketed.
“Connecting with people and taking your chances is part and parcel of political democracy,” she said.
Read it on Global News: ‘Bubble politics’ standard practice, experts say
Penny is a frequent public policy commentator on national television. During the 2011 federal election, Penny was a commentator for Global TV. Penny tweets @penottawa.
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