“Why Harper could have won — and how he blew it” (iPolitics)

Geoff Norquay (iPolitics):

The arc of election 2015 is easy enough to describe. In the first phase, from the start of the campaign to the Labour Day weekend, Tom Mulcair and the NDP looked like a good bet to win. In the second month, the three parties were in a dead heat within two to three percentage points of each other, with the “lead” changing every other day. And then, in the final three weeks, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals claimed the mantle of change and — slowly at first, then very quickly — pulled away with a smashing and impressive victory.


For Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, election 2015 was always going to be a big challenge. Any three-term prime minister seeking a fourth mandate is asking for a lot; no PM since Wilfrid Laurier in 1908 had pulled off that feat. When that government is led by a prime minister with a persona that is polarizing, partisan and seen by many as just plain mean, the odds become very difficult indeed.

The roots of the Conservative demise were put in place long before the dropping of the writ. The war with the national media, the constant playing to the Conservative “base”, the abolition of the long-form census, the removal of health care benefits from failed refugee claimants, the denigration of caucus by the “kids in short pants”, the insults to the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the Duffy fiasco, the muzzling and bullying of federal scientists, the unrestrained partisanship, the Robocalls, and a remote and surly prime minister who refused on principle to communicate with the public except on his own terms — to name just a few — had all combined to reduce the possible Conservative vote to well under 40 per cent.

Despite all that, the Conservatives actually did begin the campaign with a shot at victory. It was by no means clear that Trudeau would perform as well as he ultimately did.


With their room for growth so limited, the Conservatives really had only one faint hope of keeping government — that neither of the two opposition parties would run away with the change vote, and that the resulting stalemate would enable the Tories to sneak up the middle and eke out a victory on the riding-by-riding splits. But then, they completely departed from their ballot question and blew themselves up.

When they deployed the niqab wedge, the Conservatives’ strategic objective was limited — to knock the two opposition parties back by about five per cent. But in response to the wedge, the NDP began to slide in Quebec, and then kept sliding, and the Conservatives suddenly realized to their horror that they had been far too successful. And when they doubled down by announcing the Barbaric Cultural Practices snitch line, and began musing about banning the niqab in the federal public service, (yet another cure for which there was no known disease) the Conservatives’ wedge circled back with a vengeance to put the final nail in their coffin.

The final few days of the campaign were painful to watch: a prime minister who had run a one-man campaign with no evidence of a team, plaintively pleading that the election was “not about me,” when just about every Canadian voter had long since decided that was exactly what it was about. And then there was the final weekend’s Doug and Rob Ford rally in Toronto — demeaning, desperate, execrable and hugely damaging, driving several hundred thousand potential votes away. Well done, campaign team: coup de grace … on yourselves.


Sadly for the Conservatives, the same clique who reduced the party’s potential support to just above a third of Canadians were the true architects of this defeat.

Theirs was a suspicious Canada and a Canada without dreams; they always preferred short-term tactics over a long-term vision. They never understood governing, so they saw no use for government. They ran a closed circle, they humiliated staff, they berated candidates, they pushed every reasonable argument far beyond its logical limit, they shut out others with a different view, and they crafted a campaign based much more on anger and fear than hope. And they weren’t even competent enough to prevent guys caught peeing in cups from becoming candidates.

Within the Conservative Party, great will be the celebration at their well-deserved and permanent departure.


In the final analysis, the “royal jelly” of the campaign was provided by Trudeau himself. Despite the odd gaffe — his strange comments on small business owners being in business to scam the system — he proved himself to be a natural and highly effective retail politician over the 78 days of the campaign. He grew in stature as a leader and as a communicator who obviously loved what he was doing. Clearly at ease with both individuals and large crowds, he fed off their energy and got even better, contrasting much better against the “two old stodgy guys” leading the other two parties.

Most importantly, Trudeau decisively bested Mulcair on the strategic voting for change question and he won the election over Harper by convincing Canadians that they indeed wanted to try “sunny ways” for a change.

In the final analysis, the Liberal victory was all about having a flawless plan, both the time and the leader to implement it, and presenting the right answer to the ballot question. Change trumped stability. The special alchemy of a youthful and vigorous leader came together with a substantive and winning narrative to put another Trudeau in 24 Sussex.


See also: “Former Tory adviser criticizes Harper campaign for ‘desperate, damaging’ tactics” (The Ottawa Citizen)