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A summer of going round in circles

In an effort to reach “the Canadian Tire voter”, the Conservative Party has decided to sponsor a car on the Canadian NASCAR circuit.

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 summer.

“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 newspapers.

“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 Street crowd.”

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 excitement.

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 Gray’s car.

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.