In an effort to reach “the Canadian Tire voter”, the
Conservative Party has decided to sponsor a car on the Canadian NASCAR circuit.
Car number 29, driven by Pierre Bourque, will sport the big
blue Conservative C on its hood and side panels at races across Canada this
“It’s getting harder and harder to reach people through the
regular media,” Immigration Minister Diane Finley told the Globe and Mail.
“Fewer people are watching the network news… fewer people are reading the
“So we have to find new advertising outlets to reach them, to
get our message through. And the people who follow NASCAR are our kind of
people. They’re hard-working families, they’re taxpayers who play by the rules.
And those are the people we’re targeting.”
Our kind of people?
“…middle-income house owners in suburban areas, regional
centres and rural communities with a do-it-yourself mentality,” according to an
unnamed Conservative source. Voters who shop at Canadian Tire and buy their
coffee at Tim Hortons rather than Starbucks, the Globe suggested.
Exactly what message the Conservatives are trying to get across
is less clear. It’s obviously not about global warming or reducing green house
gas emissions. The car gets about five miles to the gallon.
Part of the effort, Finley told the Globe and Mail, was to
exorcise the misconception that the Conservatives are after an “elitist, Bay
In the words of George Bush, mission accomplished.
NASCAR is considered by many to be the most exciting type of
car racing, largely because of the way drivers “swap paint” and use their cars
to nudge one another at 200 mph. This leads to crashes, which is part of the
The Conservatives’ foray into NASCAR may appeal to Canadian
Tire voters but it also seems destined to lead to the kind of knee-capping
moment in the media spotlight that did in former leader Robert Stanfield.
Historians and people over 40 may remember that during one election campaign
against the much more media-savvy Pierre Trudeau, Stanfield was tossing a
football back and forth with a partner. He was probably trying to appeal to
middle-income voters. Stanfield reportedly caught the ball numerous times, but
on one occasion he fumbled and dropped the ball. Of course that moment was
captured by photographers, and newspapers across the land printed that photo.
Now imagine what disasters a NASCAR vehicle could get into. The
evening news might not cover NASCAR races but if a video clip of the
Conservative car crashing into a wall, spinning out or running out of gas
became available it would be shown far and wide, and become an instant metaphor
for the party.
Even if driver Bourque avoids accidents, a Canadian Tire voter
tuned into TSN could get tired of watching the Conservative car go round in
circles for hours on end.
But in some ways the marriage of NASCAR and the Conservatives
is not so unusual. NASCAR’s roots, if you didn’t know, are in the southern
U.S., where good ol’ boys run the show. NASCAR officials have made efforts to
broaden the sport’s appeal, bringing in a new generation of sponsors and
expanding the circuit to the west, Mexico and Canada. They’ve also taken steps
to try and tone down NASCAR’s redneck image. Some racing fans have embraced
this; some revel in their redneckedness.
In sponsoring a car the Conservatives have joined the likes of
beer companies, big box stores and producers of chewing tobacco and laundry
detergent who have found NASCAR speaks to their people. NASCAR also allowed
Bobby Labonte to have “The Passion of the Christ” painted on his car and Morgan
Shepherd drove with “Racing with Jesus” painted on his hood.
And last year a publisher of books on Scientology sponsored a
driver in NASCAR’s late-model weekly circuit in California. Bridge Publications
promoted its book Dianetics, written by the late L. Ron Hubbard, on Kenton
Perhaps the Canadian NASCAR circuit is a little more
discriminating. But the sum total of NASCAR racing has been described as “step
on the gas and turn left” — which is just the opposite of the
Conservatives’ efforts to date, which have been to turn right and in some cases
put things in reverse.
With the four parties in the House of Commons apparently
reaching a deal this week to close the House for the summer, the Conservatives’
minority government is in no danger of being defeated until at least the fall.
But “Canada’s new government” has already been in power longer than most
expected, and it’s showing signs that it is running out of ideas. (The fact
that the other major parties are also searching for direction has helped to
keep the Conservatives in office.)
Will Pierre Bourque keep the Conservative car on track over the summer or will he hit the wall? Canadians, including Canadian Tire voters, need an answer in September.