POLITICS

Political Traction: Shooting puts focus on justice policy

06/12/2012 12:07 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Jaime Watt joins Power & Politics host Evan Solomon each week to look at how issues making waves in Ottawa resonate with Canadians.

Monitoring the House of Commons' question period, mainstream media and the conversation on social media, Watt and his team at Navigator Ltd. determine which issues gained the most attention in official Ottawa, and then measure how much traction those issues managed to find with Canadians outside the nation's capital.

This week, Ottawa has been focussed on the prime minister's response to the European debt crisis and on the government's omnibus budget bill, while Canadians were reflecting on a brazen shooting at a Toronto shopping and tourism magnet.

Stephen Harper's tough stance on fiscal discipline for Europe caught the attention of Ottawa's pundits, but the numbers suggest Canadians aren't really tuned in to this issue, and there's no indication they are concerned with Harper's position.

The opposition must see some gain in attacking the government for economic issues across the Atlantic because it has remained a leading issue in question period, but Harper seems to have correctly identified Canadians' mood in his interview with CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge last week when he argued that it is Europe's issue to focus on.

If the opposition can't make a connection between Europe's troubles and Canadians' pocket book, they need to move on.

Eaton Centre shooting

Both Ottawa and Canadians generally were reflecting on the Eaton Centre shooting and what it means for Canada's justice system and crime policies. Across Canada, the conversation focussed at first on the news of the shooting but has turned into a substantive discussion about Canadian policy and the effectiveness of Ontario's system of bail.

This is the first time on the Traction radar we've seen this substantive of a conversation related to justice, including during discussion of recent justice legislation, a dynamic driven by how close the incident was to Canadians' everyday life.

But politicians should be wary of overly politicizing the tragedy for ideological gain. The prime minister's response to the shooting was a textbook example of how to respond: he made it about the safety of Canadians rather than a legislative or ideological win.

On the week's third issue, the budget, the conversation in Ottawa ranged from environmental cuts to wages and pensions to fisheries. But overall, those Canadians who are still tuning in are the political junkies eagerly anticipating the procedural games to come.

In the Canadian conversation, there was good news for Green Party leader Elizabeth May — for a party with less than 1 per cent representation in the House of Commons, she had national traction of 15 per cent, a substantive and thoughtful conversation driven by her argument about why the bill is inappropriate and should be revised.

But the Canadian traction for the issue has fallen from its high last month. We're already starting to see the government and opposition framing; the government has an advantageous message that the bill is needed to protect jobs, growth and the economy, while the opposition is making its message too much about Ottawa and procedural games. The opposition needs to focus on Canadians and their economic concerns.

Next week: look for the budget procedural tactics to drive traction in Ottawa — who will be able to frame the issue and win the message war?

Here are the numbers for the week of June 2 to 8: