Musings —10.19.2015 12:00 AM—
This week’s Hill times column, below. Now go vote!
And so it ends, with a whimper and not a bang.
Well, sort of. The whimpers are emanating from us, the electorate, having been forced to endure nearly 80 days of electioneering. If there is a bang, however, it will come a bit later, in the form of leadership changes. Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair are almost certainly going to move on (because neither met expectations). And Justin Trudeau is sticking around for the foreseeable future, however (because he greatly exceeded everyone’s expectations – mine included).
It all began, a long time ago and in a galaxy far away, with Harper’s flawless launch, in which he looked “relaxed, forceful and confident,” as one media report put it. The guy had done a few of these things, and it showed.
Justin Trudeau, however, had a Day One that was a bit of a debacle – instead of being where the media were, Trudeau was in a plane four miles up, eating pretzels. Being AWOL for the first part of the news cycle on the campaign’s most important day was ill-advised – and going all the way out for Pride was not particularly strategic, either, given that Hedy Fry had owned Vancouver Centre for two decades, and was in no danger of losing it, ever.
Portentously, Angry Tom had the worst start of all. No questions from the media? No debate after agreeing to debate? No events for five days straight, and “conspicuous by his absence,” as CTV put it? At first, Dipper partisans defended the no-questions idiocy – and then, when they realized they were in trouble, they fibbed, and claimed Mulcair had to rush out to attend Flora MacDonald’s funeral (the funeral was hours later, and within walking distance of the NDP campaign launch event).
At first, the Dips defended the no-events-for-five days thing, too – until it dawned on them that it looked arrogant, and suggested that NDP senior staff were worried about Angry Tom getting Angry, and making a mistake. So they hurriedly threw a Montreal event on the sked.
All told, it foretold what was to come: it suggested that the NDP leader, after arrogantly declaring that he would “wipe the floor” with his opponents, wouldn’t. And he didn’t. His opponents – Trudeau in particular – would end up wiping the floor with him.
In the days that followed, there was plenty in Election 42 about which the electorate could be unenthusiastic – the niqab ugliness, the Duffy trial, the resignation of the Liberal co-chair, the length of the thing, the truly pathetic effort all the parties put into vetting their candidates.
Ah, yes, the candidates: so many were so nutty. Nuttier than a fruit cake. Nuttier than a Tim’s Maple Log. Nuttier than a port-a-potty at a peanut festival. Nuttier than a Trump-Palin ticket. NUTTY. That’s how nutty Election 42 was.
It wasn’t the fault of social media. Social media simply provides a platform for crazy people to say crazy things – and for campaign war rooms, or the media, to thereafter publicize the craziness. (It’s been nutty in past campaigns, believe me.) But the sheer volume of insanity and inanity in this year’s model simply dwarfs everything that has gone before it: truthers. Hitler comparisons. Racists. Anti-Semites. Threats. Stalkers. And even a guy who peed in a cup when he thought no one was looking. It was appalling.
The Mike Duffy trial, as some of us predicted, was a great big deal to those who live and toil North of the Queensway – but not out in the Real World. Headlines suggesting that politicians abuse expense accounts may still be news in the Nation’s Capital, but not anywhere else in Canuckistan. No one really cared. It didn’t matter.
What did matter, however, was that Conservative Party “just not ready” ad. It was brilliant, it was deadly. And it proved to be effective – too effective.
Let us explain. That ad – which the Tories paid untold millions to place everywhere (including even this Liberal’s web site, presumably because it attracts 3.5 million politically-inclined visitors a year!) – was endlessly analyzed and repeatedly seen. And it worked: it helped drag Justin Trudeau from the lofty polling heights he’d been occupying for two years. It hurt him.
But, paradoxically, it also helped him. As a certain former Prime Minister told me: “It lowered expectations too far. When Justin showed up the debates, he had nowhere to go but up.”
And go up he did. Expertly assisted by his personal pocket computer, Gerald Butts, Trudeau started to win. He didn’t win every debate in which he participated, mind you. But “Just Not Ready” had persuaded everyone that he would certainly lose every debate, that he would be an unmitigated disaster. And he didn’t lose every debate – and he wasn’t a disaster.
The hijacking of the campaign with a piece of fabric – the niqab – was, as noted, ugly. It had the desired effect, too: it changed the channel to a “values” proposition, and conservatives always do better talking about values than we progressives. Case in point: the now-lifeless form of Tom Mulcair. He courageously voiced his support for the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, even when he knew it would cost him dearly in his base, his home province.
When it did, Trudeau was the beneficiary, not Harper. The niqab precipitated Mulcair plummeting in the polls. In a cruel twist of fate, the niqab rendered Justin Trudeau the Anybody But Harper candidate, not Mulcair. Moral of the story: be careful, conservatives, when you let an ugly dog loose in the yard. It may bite your opponent, sure. But it may end up biting you, too.
And that’s what Election 42 was, in the end: too long, too nutty, too ugly. Here’s hoping Election 43 will be better.
Because Election 43 – I am sad to report – is likely coming our way in months, not years!