10/16/2015 05:18 EDT | Updated 10/16/2016 05:12 EDT

The Not-So-Different Campaigns of Harper and Mulcair

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Thomas 'Tom' Mulcair, leader of the New Democratic Party, left, shakes hands with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Canada's prime minister, following the second leaders' debate in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015. The debate pits Harper and his Conservative Party's program of tax cuts and spending restraint against the Liberal Party's Justin Trudeau, who is pledging to raise taxes on the highest earners, and Mulcair, who advocates increasing levies on corporations. Photographer: Ben Nelms/Bloomberg via Getty Images

During the federal candidates forum in my riding I noticed that both the NDP and Conservative candidates didn't mention their leader's name. It wasn't surprising. It's been hard differentiating between the campaigns of Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper.

1. Message control is everything.

It's not news that Stephen Harper micromanages both the Conservative Party and the Government of Canada. Very little escapes his fingerprints.

Mulcair emulates Harper's message control in being dismissive, almost arrogant in tone when he doesn't like a question. At his first campaign event, Mulcair refused to take questions from reporters, leaving some wondering about Mulcair's openness and transparency. If evasiveness counts as message control, then Harper and Mulcair are doing well. Harper dodges questions about the Senate scandal. Mulcair, speaking to a Quebec-based magazine, said the NDP were against -- but not completely against -- the Energy East pipeline.

2. Strategic voter calculation.

Stephen Harper is a master of pitting Canadians against each other. He's set urban voters against rural voters, East against West, "old stock" Canadians against "them" Muslims. Depending on the demographic Harper sees as potential Conservative votes, Harper will promise them the moon but with his usual condition attached: vote in a Conservative majority.

Thomas Mulcair also panders to certain groups of people. Strategist Brad Lavigne, who wasn't a fan of Mulcair during the NDP leadership race, is helping target urban voters, young people, new Canadians, francophone Quebecers, and aboriginals.

3. Sharing attack ads.

Couldn't the NDP come up with their own attack ads against Justin Trudeau? The Interview attack ad could have been jointly commissioned by the Conservatives and the NDP. Just change a few details and voila! Now it's a NDP ad. A good idea if your campaign is trying to save money.

Seriously though, if you look at how negative the NDP ads are against Justin Trudeau, you wonder where all that talk about change and a new way of doing things went. Its like looking at the Conservative war machine charging against Trudeau. If Thomas Mulcair really wanted change, his ads would be as positive and hopeful as the ones by Justin Trudeau.

4. Not a 'made in Canada' solution.

The Conservative and NDP campaigns aren't made in Canada. Both Harper and Mulcair use foreign consultants. Jennifer Ditchburn of The Canadian Press reported that the Conservatives were using the services of Australian campaign consultant Lynton Crosby. Crosby helped Australian Prime Minister John Howard get elected. During the robocall scandal, 14 Conservative campaigns hired the U.S. Republican strategy firm Front Porch and Americans to work during the 2011 elections. That's a violation of the Canada Elections Act 331 Non-interference By Foreigners. Then there are the U.S. celebrity endorsements. A Canadian Expat like Donald Sutherland can't vote but Wayne Gretzky can endorse Harper.

Mulcair also has foreign celebrity endorsements. Then there's Jeremy Bird.

"The NDP are using the services of Jeremy Bird. Jeremy Bird was President Obama's national field director in 2012, helping to identify and motivate individual voters at the grassroots level. Bird spoke to NDP party members at a 2013 NDP convention, and in the intervening years his Chicago-based firm 270 Strategies has advised the party on improving their contact with potential voters. His firm has been helping the New Democrats learn how to pinpoint battleground ridings, and then harness the energy of local volunteers and organizers -- including offering them training." (The Globe and Mail, Sept.24, 2015)

5. It's all about Justin.

Harper and Mulcair both spent lots of campaign air attacking Justin Trudeau. Harper has a personal grudge against Trudeau's dad that has nothing to do with Justin Trudeau himself. Mulcair is playing along with "let's beat up on Trudeau because of his name." Instead of focusing on the Conservatives, Mulcair attacks Trudeau. If Mulcair keeps saying we need change from Stephen Harper, then Harper should be the focus.


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