Saturday, September 02, 2006

Keep It Simple, Stupid

The Polls: Love 'em or loathe 'em, they're the best indication we have of how things are going with the fickle Canadian electorate. And there is (to me) cause for concern with the latest numbers, especially in Quebec.

Ontario's numbers are not great either, but then Ontario is Ontario, and the love affair with the Liberals in my home province is so completely and utterly baffling that I'm not sure what could ever be done about it. It defies reason.

However, I think the drop in support we're seeing is reflective of a loss of focus and a lack of clarity in the government's communications over the summer. The five priorities were all well understood and the government had excellent focus on those for the first 100 days in office. The second 100 days have largely been defined by foreign policy, and hence by the dreaded word 'complexity'.

Now, as one of my fellow BT's pointed out the other day (and my apologies, I've forgotten who it was) 'complexity' is beloved of the left-wing. They love to tell us that we're 'simplistic' in dealing with 'complexity'. In point of fact, of course, it's the left-wing who come up with simple solutions in the face of complexity, because any complex situation they encounter is always handled using the path of least resistance: Withdraw from Afghanistan; Lay down all weapons in Lebanon instantly; Give the Caledonia protestors what they're asking for.

Where 'complexity' does serve a purpose, however is with the electorate. It seems to me that if the opposition can convince the public that an issue is 'complex' then the public will in large part turn off the thinking part of their brain on the basis that it's too complex for them to really get to grips with. In turn then, they naturally think any solution must also be 'complex' and if the government is being too simplistic, well then the opposition must have better answers.

I think this phenomenon is observable with the Afghan mission; most Canadians don't understand it, but they are convinced it's 'complex'. Therefore, they're not quite sure what should be done, but they are somehow worried that what should be done is different in some unknown way from what is being done.

However, after 13 years of 'complex files' being dealt with by means of woolly thinking, focus groups and least resistance paths, simplicity in government was welcome. I think that's where we did so well those first 100 days. The Conservatives own simplicity; the other parties are not equipped to deal with it. We need to make the next 100 days about simple, clear, focused issues again - and we need to show Canadians that things needn't be complex. Sometimes a simple solution really is just that, a real, honest to goodness simple solution. We need to convince the public that such a thing is possible.

As an engineer, I know that simplicity is to be preferred to all else. Simplicity leads to almost everything else that is desirable; elegance, efficiency, reliability, predictability, manageability, and so on.

We need simple goals with simple messages to the electorate and we need to show that 'complex' is often just an opposition smokescreen against doing the right thing.

Keep It Simple and we will see those polling numbers change direction.