View from the Hill by Keith Beardsley MULCAIR Publicity Twitter PR Stunt Boring September 17, 2013

Dr. EvilYawn, I see the NDP held a virtual Question Period on Twitter in an attempt to hold the Harper government to account. That effort was even less interesting than watching them try to do that live in the House of Commons.

Fortunately for the NDP, I doubt that other than a few journalists and those that didn’t have anything better to do, no one was paying attention. It was boring and repetitious and it wasn’t helped by people retweeting the same question over and over. I give them points for trying something different to attract attention away from the Trudeau Liberals, but this time it wasn’t that impressive.

The problem for the NDP remains how do you counter the Trudeau media machine? Try as they might, at this point in time the public and media don’t hang on Tom Mulcair’s every word. It is a tough position to be in.

The NDP does have a major advantage when it comes to research initiatives. As the Official Opposition they have a bigger budget than the Liberals and more staff. They have the ability to do a lot more opposition research than the third place Liberals. At the very least this should provide them with more opportunity to dig up scandals, spending mistakes and other miscues by the Conservatives. That in turn should raise their profile in Question Period which they dominate as they have more MPs and they ask more questions than the Liberals. The NDP has the ability to introduce and control much of the Question Period agenda with the subsequent media coverage that flows from it.

Governments always do better when the House isn’t sitting. They can pick and choose what media release goes out on any given day and they know that it will make headlines simply because there isn’t very much for reporters to write about. The opposition parties can only play catch up when that happens.

The NDP has to realize that when the House isn’t sitting, other than their leader, most Canadians couldn’t identify one of their critics by name. I dare say the same is true of the Liberals. They are going to have to keep Mulcair out there in the public eye. He is an able politician, a good speaker and fast on his feet when handling difficult questions. Not as much flash as Trudeau, but a lot more depth and experience. Why not put it to use?

If the NDP is so keen on Question Period, perhaps Mulcair (as he isn’t on the road or in front of the media every day) can find time to revamp his critic line-up. He also needs to review how they conduct Question Period.

Let’s face it, the time for playing nice with supporters of former leadership opponents is over. Mulcair needs to put in place his toughest line-up of critics if he wants to out muscle the Liberals in the media wars. Why on earth have three Deputy Leaders? Name one, stick with that person, raise their profile and have a solid substitute when he can’t be in the House. Megan Leslie would be my choice. Very smart, articulate, knows her files and she has a very good style of questioning which clearly can get under the skin of Conservative ministers.

Other critics have also performed well and deserve a higher profile and a higher slot in the Question Period line-up. Alexandre Boulerice, Andrew Cash, Ryan Creary and Matthew Kellway come to mind, but there are others as well. Mulcair should also identify an MP to fill the clean-up position every day in Question Period, someone who doesn’t need a pre-written question. Jason Kenney was in that role for us and he set the bar at a pretty high level for future opposition MPs trying to fill that role.

The NDP will have lots of opportunity to ask questions when the House comes back. It won’t take long to remind the public of the recent Conservative scandals or for new issues to arise in the media. The Official Opposition has a serious role to play in our democratic process, it’s time for Mulcair to do his homework and improve his existing team and forget about using gimmicks to attract the attention of Canadians.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails. To sponsor this column please  email!

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