07.10.2011 05:50 AM

In today’s Sun: how Harper wins

But voter suppression, sadly, isn’t just found in the Third World. Sometimes, we get to experience it right at home.

So, on Super Bowl Sunday in 2007, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives launched an expensive ad campaign carefully designed to depict the then-Liberal leader as a weakling who couldn’t speak English. “Stephane Dion is not a leader,” the Super Bowl ad proclaimed.

The spot featured a clip of Dion and his leadership opponent, Michael Ignatieff, verbally sparring at a debate. Ignatieff tells Dion the previous Liberal government “didn’t get the job done” on the environment.

Dion, outraged, sputters: “This is unfair. Do you think it’s easy to set priorities?” Nowhere in the ad does Harper’s campaign team declare they were hoping to persuade one million Liberal voters to stay home.

But that in fact was their objective and they achieved it. Extensive focus group and polling research had told the Tories that while many Grits despised Harper, they also had serious misgivings about Dion’s “image” as a leader and his ability to communicate.


  1. JStanton says:

    Mr. Harper couldn’t win an egg and spoon race, without cheating in some way. He deceives, he misrepresents, he makes simple folk fearful. But that’s the only way he can win. Talentless, poorly informed, a charmless odd-ball with a chip on his shoulder, he is incapable of sincerity, and, were he to be authentic, it would drive people away. All he has left are underhanded tactics.

    And it worked. He has so few natural supporters – I would estimate less than 20% – that, in order to win, he had to deceive some Liberals into thinking that Mr. Layton’s social democratic agenda was somehow worse than his own reactionary tax-and-spend, slash -and-shrink attempts at managing the economy.

    His victory is a testament to the regrettable utility of bought political fixers for the purposes of undermining the democratic process, the fundamental weakness of the Canadian democratic system so that it permits this, and the dim-wittedness – or self-absorbed nature – of those Liberals who betrayed us.

    Clearly, the system is broken, when the only chance to re-instate social justice in this country is by bettering ones unconscionable adversaries in a race to the ethical bottom.

    God help us all.


    • nic coivert says:

      Good one. You should write a book.

      Harper may be a corporate bum boy but its the Canadian middle class is taking up the chute.

      Going forward I see the role of government as that of an ethical and environmental regulatory body. One with teeth. The powers of corporations must be curbed. This is what will engage youth.

      • Al in Cranbrook says:

        Harper a “corporate bum boy”…??? Seriously??? You’ve got to be kidding!!!

        IMHO, he’s one of the least beholding to, obviously least connected with, and certainly least intimidated by, Bay Street et al in Canadian history.

        Hell, he’s not even a lawyer! You know?

        On the other hand…

        The LPC’s deep connections to corporate Canada, certainly during the Chretien/Martin…and now Rae?…years, are a matter of record.

        Which, as I clearly recall, didn’t seem to bother anyone in the slightest within the party.

        • nic coivert says:

          Union buster too.

          He’s beholden to big oil big time.

          Bay Street slipped into Calgary by the grease of its skin.

          He’s a retrograde not a renogade.

  2. Wes says:

    What’s the difference between so-called “voter suppression” and attack ads?

    • Warren says:

      Voter suppression is about motive. And it isn’t always illegal (like attack ads).

      The motive is what counts – that is, not motivate someone, but to discourage them from participating in democracy. The Harper guys are masters at it.

      • dcardno says:

        So when support for your leader within the party is so weak that a couple of TV ads can snuff it out, it’s the Tories’ fault?

  3. Middleclassfamily says:

    Why haven’t you “defined” Hudak yet?

    • Tiger says:

      “Reckless Rookie”! “Something just ain’t right.”

      • Warren says:

        More to come. Stay tuned. Those were just the warm-up rounds!

        • PAC MAN says:

          Ow. I feel my vote being suppressed by the Liberals. This post undermines your whole sanctimonious column. Look int he mirror Liberals.

        • Tiger says:

          I watch this stuff like a professional sports event.

          This particular campaign is interesting because on the one hand, we’ve got the old Liberal pros who have won elections in the past against, on the other, a Hudak campaign that has clearly learned a lot from how Ford and Harper swept the outer-416.

          So it’s really a championship match between the political pros — this is the Super Bowl.

          • RN200 says:

            Unfortunately Libs are going into the Super Bowl with the washed-up version of Drew Bledsoe at QB….
            (If you want to retort with Hudak = Tony Romo I’m good with that!)

          • CQ says:

            Hey! Bledsoe was a true champion. Signed a 10-year deal in the ’01 off-season, got injured during the 2nd game of his final Patriots season, lost his starting role, AND returned to bring that team through its Conference final – then watched Brady accept the Super Bowl MVP for a 145 yard performance.

          • Tiger says:

            Oh, my sympathies are clear: I bleed blue.

            I think, now, that Team Hudak has hit the sweet spot for Ontario voters such that even Team McGuinty’s best won’t be enough to save them. (I was of the opposite view in April.)

            But it’s sure interesting to watch them try.

            I see this as a bit of a social science experiment. Given a certain state of the provincial economy (and budget!), a competent opposition leader, and a party that has held government for eight years (with the voter fatigue that comes with it), can the veteran premier and his team — people who knew how to win — pull off one last victory?

            Take it to hockey analogies:

            If they do pull it out, it’ll be like the Oilers’ 1990 cup victory — a demonstration, one last time, of the old team’s prowess. If they can’t — Flyers in the ’76 cup finals, or the Islanders in the 1984 finals — one season too far.

  4. Windsurfer says:

    Huh !

  5. Tiger says:

    There’s a certain amount of revisionism here, no?

    Let’s look at 2000 and 2011 as base-lines. The last decade was a move from one to the other — from Chretien’s most impressive victory to Harper’s.


    2000: Liberals 5.25 million votes, As-yet Un-united Right 4.84 million, Bloc Quebecois 1.78 million, NDP 1.09 million.

    2011: Conservatives 5.83 million votes, NDP 4.51 million, Liberals 2.87 million, Bloc 0.89 million, Greens 0.58 million.

    So Conservatives gained about a million votes, the NDP gained 3.5 million, and the Greens gained half a million, while the Liberals lost 2.5 million votes and the Bloc lost a little less than a million — as the voting population grew from 12.85 million to 14.72 million.

    Voter turnout in 2000 was initially reported at 61.2%, later adjusted upwards to 64% (once double-entries were purged from the list).
    Voter turnout in 2011 was initially reported at 61.4% — we’ll see whether it gets adjusted.

    That’s not vote-suppression.

    • Wes says:

      Excellent points. The only reason I can think of for the “voter suppression” myth to be perpetuated is that some Liberals desperately want to believe that Harper kicked their ass using illegitimate tactics.

      In fact, Harper’s negative ads were perfectly legitimate, calling attention to the weakness of his opponents. In this respect they aren’t much different from those infamous Liberal “Barney the Dinosaur” ads a decade ago, except that the Conservatives never stooped so low as to attack a leader’s religion.

      In the last election, half as many Canadians voted for the Liberals as in 2000. This stunning decline happened for many reasons, including Liberal infighting, complacency, incompetent leadership, bad policy decisions and the fact that Harper beat them at their own game. The millions of voters who rejected the Liberal party didn’t just sit on their hands at home, they switched their votes to one of the other parties.

      The historic and crushing defeat of the Liberals wasn’t caused by “undemocratic” voter suppression – quite the contrary. It was democracy at its finest, as voters rose up and rejected a stale old party that had become lazy, arrogant, and sclerotic.

    • Warren says:

      Tiger, just wanted to say – belatedly – I’m delighted you are posting here. Always thoughtful and helpful, even if we sometimes disagree.

    • Attack! says:

      Okay, Tiger, good point: given the roughly constant voter turnout, it appears this doesn’t strictly meet the definition of voter suppression.

      But surely it was still ATTEMPTED voter suppression, or at least an integral part of a two-pronged approach…

      i.e., the INTENT was first and foremost to dissuade potential Liberal voters FROM voting for the weakly or dubiously led party; and,

      …secondly, to vote FOR the CPC, rather than some other party, if they didn’t succeed in turning them off voting altogether.

      The numbers you’ve cited are consistent with WK’s thesis that the CPC did attempt and fully succeed on the first score,

      and that it also had partial success on the second score…

      picking up and keeping some of the former LPC voters, esp. in ’08 (arguably, through the use of their boutique tax credits, which appealed to the boomers, who are all well north of 40, now), while others went to the NDP, in ’11.

      • The Doctor says:

        Trying to persuade the other party’s supporters not to vote for their party, and trying to persuade your supporters to vote for your party. Wow, that sounds really insidious and anti-democratic to me.

    • Pete says:

      Voter suppression is not about total vote count. If the Tories can succeed in their slur ads by making lib voters stay away or voting for another party that’s the suppression WK is talking about.

  6. VH says:

    Warren, Harper ads notwithstanding, Dion wasn’t a leader. At least not in 2006-2008.

    I don’t know if you agree with that but I *do* know that Liberal party as a whole agreed with that….that’s what capturing 856 votes out of a possible 4,815 in a leadership convention means. That’s 82% of Liberal delegates who, when given a choice, didn’t think he should be the leader.

    I don’t know how a political party convinces itself that a majority of Canadians will vote for someone after the party just told the entire country, on live TV, that even party insiders, by a stunningly large majority, didn’t do the same and vote for him when presented with alternatives. But there you go.

    In this specific case, the only voter suppression tactics being done were done by the Liberal party. Perhaps the process for picking leaders should be altered somewhat and everybody under 25% who’s also not in the top two should be dropped after the first ballot.

  7. Bill M. says:

    LPC should be pushing mandatory voting.

    Charter of rights.

    How about a charter of responsibility?

    • RN200 says:

      Have you been watching “Starship Troopers” Gord?!

    • frmr disgruntled Con, now Happy Lib says:

      Youre only opposed to mandatory voting Mr. Tulk because you know it would mean the end of your govt. Australia doesnt have mandatory military service, and the last time I checked, it was a thriving democracy….

    • Bill M. says:

      As usual, your post makes no sense.

      What possible linkage is there between voting and military service?

      Do the disabled not get to vote in your world because they couldn’t serve?

      • frmr disgruntled Con, now Happy Lib says:

        Spoken like a true American wannabe, Mr. Tulk. At the rate we are going, we are going to lose democracy because as rocker Ted Nugent put it, “todays youth are permanantly stoned on apathy”. I wouldnt single out youth alone either. This is a local example, but twenty percent of eligible voters voted in my towns last municipal election……if there had been a fine in place to be added to ones tax assessment if you hadnt voted, I think the turnout would have been much higher…..some times the electorate simply needs a kick in the ass. I am sorry Mr. Tulk, but in my book, the common good trumps individual freedom every time…..that is why I support the gun registry, and the removal of incandescent bulbs from the marketplace. Complete deregulation of the banks in the United States, to act as they saw fit, caused the world financial meltdown of 2008. A prime example of why some govt intervention is good. But of course there are those in your party, including yourself I presume, who would like nothing than for us to model ourselves after the good ol’ USA, if not become the 51st state.

    • Sean says:

      Three thoughts:

      1. Big fan of mandatory voting… Tax Cuts for everyone who casts a ballot!

      2. “Charter of Responsibility” has a great ring to it.

      3. National Service doesn’t have to be military… How about Katimavik? Parks Service? Food Bank?

  8. W.B. says:

    I thought the robo calls on election day which impersonated Elections Canada and sent voters to non existent polling stations went beyond normal dirty tricks and into the realm of fraud. I guess Elections Canada and the media thought the whole thing was kind of funny to see people duped like that. As far as i know, there has been no investigative work done on this. Who was behind these calls? Where did they come from? Who produced them?

    Anyone who would be a part of this scheme is not a believer in democracy. The people who did this are totalitarian and dictatorial in outlook. Why haven’t they been exposed?

    If we see more of the same and new better schemes in future elections can we say we have a democratic society?

    • Wes says:

      Just curious… how do we know these phantom “robo-calls” even existed? Was one of these calls ever recorded or picked up by voicemail? Why is there zero evidence? Sounds like an urban legend to me.

      • Attack! says:

        So the dozen complaint calls to the downtown Guelph police station and the 100+ to Elections Canada from Guelph alone on election day were some form of spontaneous mass hysteria / delusion, then?


        and, since you asked,

        “CBC News has obtained a copy of a fraudulent automated telephone message reported in Guelph, Ottawa and Kitchener-Waterloo telling people their polling locations had moved.

        “This is an automated message from Elections Canada. Due to a projected increase in voter turnout your poll location has been changed,” says one message retrieved from a resident?s telephone voicemail system in Guelph. “Your new voting location is at the old Quebec Street mall at 55 Wyndham Street North,” the message states.”


      • Philip says:

        Let us not forget those complaints in Mississauga East-Cooksville and Haldeman-Norfolk to name just two more. All from the same 701 Montana area code as well. Elections Canada is still investigating these and many other allegations of abusive or harassing telephone calls in ridings where low voter could be a deciding factor. I do look forward to the results of those investigations.

  9. Attack! says:

    “A hit, a very palpable hit!”

    Aw, whassa matter, Gord, something finally penetrated your Alberta firewall maintaining your stupendous cognitive dissonance and idolatry of Harper and the CPC?

    Sorry, but protesting too much by condemning WK and accusing him of hypocrisy for making these observations only reinforces his points further.

    Who’s better positioned to analyze the underlying intent of a political comm’s strategy than someone who’s in that business and has been studying and employing similar devices for decades, himself?

    it’s like a disaffected journalist — or, um, insurance broker — spilling trade secrets about how THEY use various methods of largely unconscious persuasion to manipulate people’s opinions and voting or purchasing decisions… it’s really not much of a rebuttal to sputter that it’s ‘beyond the pale’ to place it on the same continuum as outright fraud, or to try to suppress THEIR speech by tacitly threatening to expose instances where they did such things themselves — that was their whole point.

    • Pat Heron says:

      Right – an insurance salesman in Alberta? No Wikipedia entry! Anyway, it was a kinda snotty reply Gord. I was interested to read your columns and/or blog.

  10. Al in Cranbrook says:

    Some interesting and relevant stats from Elections Canada, re: voter turnout…

    1993 – 69.6%
    1997 – 67%
    2000 – 61.2%
    2004 – 60.9%
    2006 – 64.7%

    During the Libs 13 reign, voter turnout dropped 9%, bouncing back somewhat in 2006 when they finally were turfed out of office.

    One might deduce that over the years from ’93 to 2000, convinced they lacked a clear alternative, increasing numbers of voters opted to stay home on Election Day.

    Begs the question, certainly in light of this topic, why?

    I have a fairly good memory, in good part because the party and leader I was backing was on the receiving end of some significant character assassination.

    Manning, probably one of the most honorable, intelligent and well intentioned men in federal politics within living memory, nevertheless was ruthlessly hammered as some sort of western redneck that all easterners should fear.

    In turn, Day’s character literally was brutalized, even to the extent of shameless fear mongering regarding his chosen religion…something few even thought remotely possible in a supposedly “liberal” society like Canada’s.

    And likewise was Harper’s character attacked, and in 2004 turnout dropped even further.

    It took the combination of a) Adscam, b) a bumbling Prime Minister, and c) Harper’s acute political savvy to finally reverse the trend in 2006…and even for all that, he still could only manage a minority victory.

    Tell me how all that is somehow different from “voter suppression” theoretically employed to lift Harper to a majority in 2011???

    How many Progressive Conservatives, primarily in eastern Canada, during this time did the Libs go out of their way to “suppress”?

    If you ask me, it all comes down to three main factors: a) Neither Dion nor Ignatief, in dramatic contrast to previous Liberal leaders, were capable of leading even the proverbial duck to water. b) Harper definitely is a highly capable leader. And c) He beat the Libs at their own game.

    This ain’t rocket science, eh?

    • Steve T says:

      I find the case of Preston Manning especially interesting. Nearly everyone agrees, as you point out, that he was honorable and intelligent. He is often referenced in the same breath as Pierre Trudeau, as the type of principled politician we don’t seem to have anymore. Yet… in the early days of the Reform Party, with Manning at the helm, he was portrayed as a bumpkin redneck who wouldn’t stop until he destroyed everything that was “Canadian” (a lovely meaningless term thrown about by the left when it suits them).

      Seems that we are willing to betray our own principles to mangle the reputation of an opponent, and then praise them after we’ve finished with them. The same could be said of the CPC’s attacks on Dion and Ignatieff. And we wonder why no one of any consequence wants to go into politics anymore.

      • nic coivert says:

        No one betrayed Manning more than Harper himself.

        • Michael says:

          I don’t know, but on election night when the cameras panned the crowd as Harper spoke, Manning sure did look awkward. His smile looked rather forced.

        • Tiger says:

          Manning feels so betrayed, he writes a column in each election telling us to vote for Harper.


          Incidentally, fellow commenters — Gord was a star at the convention. We all listened to “Gord from Red Deer”. (Media included — check the twitter archives.) Next CPC convention I go to (2013/4?), I aim to be a delegate like Gord.

      • The Doctor says:

        You’re correct that the current sunny, revisionist view of Manning, especially among Liberals and the PPG, is astounding, given how thoroghly they slagged him back when he was Reform/Alliance leader.

  11. Cath says:

    Aren’t we forgetting about another reason for voter suppression WK?
    How about the voter who if given a multiple choice question on which leader they’d like to see in power would pick “none of the above”?
    Perhaps the quality of the politician deserves to play a role?

  12. Robbie says:

    A blog post from retired BC political columnist Brian Kieran, dated Wednesday, April 13th 2011, that is an interesting read for all Canadian voters, regardless of partisan affiliation.


  13. Bil Huk says:

    Good posts by Al and Tiger.

    Not my favorite WK column. More focus on the ads spun another way.

    The Liberal party benefited from (right of centre vote splitting and) fear of Conservatives for 13 years. Change the references from Dion to Stockwell Day and and this column could have been written in 2000/2001.

    As they said in Shawshank Redemption: ” Get busy livin’, or get buy dyin’ “.

    even as a conservative supporter, i hope the liberal party gets busy livin’…………..

  14. Paul R Martin says:

    I was out of town and just saw this entry. I must say that Dion reinforced the image that the Conservatives were painting of him with his botched video. The screw up on the video was the final straw.

  15. Mark in Ontario says:

    The obvious fact is that more and more voters who actually vote are voting Conservative, and fewer and fewer voters who actually vote are voting Liberal. There is no compelling reason to vote Liberal anymore. It would be a wise Liberal who would accept this obvious fact and deal with it now, instead of trying to find excuses or blame others for Liberals’ failures.

  16. Pete says:

    Harper can make all the arrogant statemenst he wants now. Most likely he will step down well before the next election and let Jim Prentice lead the party going forward.

  17. RN200 says:

    Based on the numbers our friends have “dug up” above it’s looking like the original article is kinda bogus, and the link to it here is just an attempt to reinforce a myth that serves the losing Liberals. “Boo hoo big bad mean Harper tricked our voters into staying home” (and perhaps as a corollary “…so it’s OK if we do it back to Hudak” – WK are your Libs about to undertake a massive voter suppression campaign, ahem?). What the numbers likely are showing is the effectiveness of orgs like LeadNow and votemobs, social media, etc. to actually encourage more youth voting – hence the NDP growth at the Liberals’ expense.

  18. Warren,

    I’m a little confused. Are you saying the criticisms directed at Dion (“not a leader”) and Ignatieff (“left Canada for 30 years and only returned to try and be PM”) are illegitimate?

    • Warren says:

      Nope. I’m saying they were aimed at motivating non-Libs to stay home – not motivating Cons to vote Con.

      My point is that no political party should be doing anything to discourage participation in democracy, in an era when fewer folks are voting.

      • Cath says:

        that’s an interesting statement because when I think of the goal of politicians and/or their party the one thing I don’t think of is that they’re in it to encourage participation in democracy. Not at all.

        In order to encourage democracy candidates need to give us something solid and relevant to support. Whether it be their ideas, their leadership style, a refreshing twist on an old problem etc.

        One thing that I’ve come to learn about politicians from all parties is that many lack the endurance it takes to capture the interest and tap into the heartbeat of the public.

        Tapping into that is a slow process. One that some have mastered, some haven’t and some like Bob Rae (according to the headlines today) are starting a reconnecting-with-Canadians tour in PEI shortly.

        Provincially in Ontario I can’t say with any certainty that any of the leaders so far have managed hit that one key note that’s going to signal they really, really understand the mood of the people of the province. The polls IMO opinion are reflective of something but I’m not sure it’s got anything to do with any campaign promises or programs unveiled so far.

        Gerry Nicholls has an interesting piece in the Hill Times “Sadly, Voters Tuning Out of Politics” where he writes:

        “Voters may not be into politics, they may not follow the political news, but they do have concerns.

        To succeed, find out what truly matters to voters and craft a simple message that resonates.

        Otherwise, your potential supporters might too “busy to vote.”

        He’s right.

        One other point to consider is the flip side of a populace being very encouraged by the choices and thereby being motivated to vote that way. That flip-side is that if people are pissed off enough they’ll either turn out to vote or say screw it. How much of the “screw-it” mood might the Ontario Liberals be working towards?

  19. Sean says:

    anyone seen any quantitative research that Libs actually stayed home? I keep hearing / reading that… However, any data I’ve seen shows that all parties stayed home (Tories retained the most loyalty however) and lots of Libs moved to Tory / NDP.

  20. Sean says:

    anyone seen any quantitative research that Libs actually stayed home? I keep hearing / reading that… However, any data I’ve seen shows that all parties stayed home (Tories retained the most loyalty however) and lots of Libs moved to Tory / NDP…

  21. Lipman says:

    I have a friend who did a statistical analysis after the 2008 election. His findings proved the opposite, in that many former Liberals did not “stay home” as has been popularly suggested, and instead voted Conservative (with some going to the NDP). I haven’t read the study, and cannot comment on the methodology, but it would be interesting to analyze it….

    • The Doctor says:

      I think certain LPC supporters have adopted, as an article of faith, this belief that there is this massive chunk of LPC voters that mysteriously didn’t show up the last couple of elections, but is just waiting to come out of the woods, where they’ve been hiding, and vote the LPC back into power.

      Personally, I question whether it’s really useful or productive to believe this.

    • Cath says:

      Speaking of staying in touch with the grass roots I have to give the CPC a whole lot of credit. I just rec’d a really nice thank-you letter from my MP (for volunteering and contributions). The neat surprise was that included in the letter was an attached poll-by-poll breakdown of the election results so that I could learn to appreciate the historic win in my riding….the most votes ever for my riding.

      That kind of an effort at the local level has been consistent for this particular MP who, even when not in campaign mode is working at keeping my community connected and informed.

  22. Joe says:

    Believing that a massive chunk of LPC voters that didn’t show up is really productive from a Conservative point of view!

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