How the Liberals and NDP are positioning themselves – and why both need to change their style.

With the election at day six, clear markers have emerged that will differentiate the campaign styles and strategy of the NDP and Liberal parties. To the same electorate, the NDP continues to claim that a vote for the Liberals is a vote for Stephen Harper, while the Liberals state that a vote for the NDP is a waste. Both parties need to shift their messaging and start focusing on what a vote for their respective parties will ultimately mean on E-day and afterwards.

Liberal Campaign

The Liberal campaign is focused on a team approach. For the majority of Mr. Ignatieff’s events to date, he has been flanked by high profile members of his caucus.  Leadership polling numbers to date have not been complimentary to Mr. Ignatieff – the recent Nanos poll had him trailing behind the veteran NDP leader. Perhaps this is the reason for the strategy this far.

The front bench will not produce the win – to be successful Mr. Ignatieff will need to be profiled as the party leader who is a man of the people. The grassroots/mainstreeting approach that they have adopted will be a good opportunity for this exposure.

Campaign rallies and town halls will be open to the public and advertised well in advance as Mr. Ignatieff’s commitment to run a transparent campaign with an open door policy to media and the general public.

NDP Campaign

The NDP on the other hand are taking a more leader-centric approach putting Mr. Layton up front and centre. The NDP campaign buses, swag and plane include a picture of Mr. Layton and many of local riding signs include both the local candidate and the leader.

The party is putting a lot of effort into showing the public that his recent health challenges will not hold Mr. Layton back and that it’s campaigning as usual. This could be difficult with one less event a day in comparison to the Conservatives and the Liberals.

The NDP will need to ensure that Mr. Layton is not seen as a one man show or they will have bigger problems in the months and years to come. Incidentally their approach to media outreach has differed as well. Although Mr. Layton is profiled everywhere on the campaign, the media have reported that he has not been available to them.

Ridings and Regions

Liberals are likely to fly over Alberta on their way to British Columbia, and perhaps re-fuel if needed.  The NDP will attempt to secure their support in rural Canada, while the Liberals focus on urban city centers.

There are ridings that will be key battlegrounds for both parties, such as Outremont in Quebec where former Liberal Cabinet Minister Martin Cauchon will try to take back the riding from high profile NDP candidate Thomas Mulcair.  Cuts to the Public Service will make Ottawa area ridings interesting ones to watch. Employees hold a significant number of votes in ridings that are currently held by the Conservatives.

A Shared Perspective

Both the Liberals and the NDP will have similar messaging. They have to convince Canadians that they did not bring the Harper government down on the budget, but rather, for the first time in history, the government was in contempt of Parliament.

Regarding their policy platforms, each of the parties is represented as the best alternative to the current government and could do a better job at further stabilizing the economy, providing assistance to families, students and seniors and improving the health care system.

As the Conservatives move closer to the centre the Liberals and the NDP are fighting for some of the same electorate and must successfully differentiate themselves.  It will be interesting to watch what they do next.

Joanne Dobson is an account director in Hill & Knowlton’s public affairs group in Ottawa. Joanne provides strategic government relations advice to clients from a variety of sectors including food, agriculture, trade, and consumer products.