POLITICS

3 lessons from a season of Political Traction

06/26/2012 12:23 EDT | Updated 08/25/2012 05:12 EDT
Jaime Watt joins CBC News Network's Power & Politics and 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, the conversation in Ottawa was seized with confirmation out of the G20 Summit in Mexico that Canada would be invited to join the multi-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks. That conversation was within the context of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's increasingly ambitious trade agenda and what it means for the domestic issues such as copyright and Canada's supply management of dairy, eggs and poultry.

But outside of Ottawa, Canadians barely noticed. That isn't totally unexpected — as seen previously with the federal budget and changes to Old Age Security, we shouldn't expect Canadians to pay attention until they have more details on how the trade talks will make a difference to their lives.

By contrast, changes to Canada's mortgage rules announced by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tracked with very similar numbers in Ottawa and across Canada. Pundits in Ottawa gave kudos to Flaherty for taking action to address what some see as a housing bubble, as did Canadians in general as long as you weren't one of those facing the rising tide of debt that Flaherty is concerned about.

The Luka Magnotta case also registered on the radar, as the man accused of killing a Montreal university student and mailing body parts to politicians returned to Canada. Ottawa mainly ignored the story, but Canadians remained engaged by the drama of his return and by his not-guilty plea. It was the top story across Canada for the week.

'Year-end' review

The end to the spring sitting of Parliament marks eight months since the start of Political Traction, and an occasion to look at some of the lessons that have emerged over that time:

1. Question period is the opposition's best friend. The opposition in a majority government can't control the parliamentary calendar, but it can control daily question period. A good example: the F-35s issue. When the House was in session the opposition used question period to drive the issue to the top of Political Traction; when the House was in recess it fell off — but as soon as question period resumed, it rose again to the top of the Ottawa conversation and gained traction in Canada. Question period matters.

2. Ottawa and Canada react differently to issues such as Attawapiskat. Ottawa and the politicians get caught up in process, on politics — the band leaders versus the government. Canadians on the other hand were focused on how it affected average people — the income disparities, the living conditions. Politicians need to think about how an issue affects Canadians in their everyday lives.

3. International issues don't get traction in Canada. With rare exceptions, such as the massacre in Syria, international stories don't get traction in the national conversation. The prime minister has skillfully handled the European crisis by attempting to connect it to Canadians' pocketbooks. Canadians really want politicians focusing on things that are meaningful to their lives — to their jobs, their families, their pensions. As former U.S. politician Tip O'Neill said, "all politics is local."

Here's a look at the numbers for the week of June 16 to 22: