Lorne Calvert rolls out the “hidden agenda” fallacy for an encore
With a provincial election looming on the horizon, one had to expect the Saskatchewan political scene to heat up.
With the leak of some of the governing NDP’s campaign material, the political winds have begun to shift, and it spells trouble for Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan party.
"We're saying to Saskatchewan voters, what lies behind this friendly new image, beware of," says Saskatchewan deputy Premier Clay Serby.
The pamphlet accuses the Saskatchewan party of being “inexperienced and reckless”, and insinuates that the party is obfuscating its policies on health care and Saskatchewan’s many crown corporations.
"This is about saying to Mr. Wall and the Saskatchewan Party, come clean with your polices. Make your policies available to Saskatchewan people today so that we can debate them," Serby announced.
Yet Serby’s claims aren’t consistent with the Saskatchewan party’s legislative record.
For example, Wall explained, "We have voted for the NDP legislation to keep public ownership of the Crowns.”
Unfortunately, Brad Wall doesn’t seem to realize the futility in branding these claims as “a pack of lies.” The federal Liberal party found, much to its apparent delight, that the real beauty of a “hidden agenda” claim is that you don’t have to prove it. The invisibility of such an agenda almost becomes proof that it exists.
The hidden agenda tactic also exploits weaknesses in the party it’s directed against by exploiting a not-well-rounded image. Poorly-defined policy stances can suddenly take on shades of “calculated ambiguity”, and fuel the “hidden agenda” fire all of their own.
When the target rushes to put out the fire, their arsonist antagonists simply continue to fan the flames. The efforts of the target eventually become a sort of evidence in and of itself. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and in this sense the hidden agenda tactic actually works best when it monopolizes the target’s time and effort.
Does the NDP believe the Saskatchewan party really has a hidden agenda? Probably not. But they know the tactic works, and even if the “hidden agenda” isn’t the most honest tactic, it’s politically effective.
The pamphlet also predictably targets the federal Conservative party, describing Wall and the Saskatchewan party as “Stephen Harper apologists”.
When a party is investing so much effort in campaigning against a proxy opponent, it only makes sense to utilize tactics that have been effective against that proxy. When Lorne Calvert appeared before a Senate committee crusading for “fairness for Saskatchewan”, it sounded a good deal like election rhetoric for a reason. In all odds, it was intentional.
Dragging out the hidden agenda fallacy -- and it is a fallacy, based entirely on a refusal to debate actual policy in favour of hypothetical policy – the Saskatchewan NDP has found a way to force the Saskatchewan electorate to equate Wall with Prime Minister Harper as closely as possible, if not treat him as second fiddle altogether.
From this point out, Brad Wall and the Saskatchewan party need to avoid any sparks. Lorne Calvert, Clay Serby and the NDP have doused the pile with gasoline, and the Saskatchewan party’s own ill-defined policy package has provided the kindling.
What ensues could prove to be a fire that will burn Brad Wall alive before he manages to put it out.