11.10.2015 01:04 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: three reasons Justin Trudeau won

Why did Justin Trudeau win?

Well, because the other two guys lost, obviously. The New Democrats lost nearly one million of the votes they received in 2011 — a drop of about 28 percentage points. That’s a big, big loss, and Justin Trudeau was the principal beneficiary.

And the Conservatives? Well, they lost, true. But the party of Stephen Harper lost only 54,268 of the votes they won in 2011 — a drop of less than one percentage point. However much Canadians were tired of the Tories and however much they professed to detest the departed Conservative leader — Stephen Harper held onto his core vote, almost exactly one-third of the electorate.

Regime fatigue, serial scandals, a narrative gone missing: all the things that typically beset an incumbent government hurt the Harper Conservatives, without a doubt. But, for the most part, the Conservatives lost because they couldn’t grow their base. Not because — as with the New Democrats — their base had shifted to the Liberals.

So how did Justin Trudeau’s Liberals pull it off? Three reasons, all of which relate to the three pillars of the Liberal Party of Canada, going back more than a century: women, new Canadians, young Canadians. To win, Grits always need the support of those three constituencies.

And, in 2015, Justin Trudeau brought them home.

Female Canadian Voters: Before, during and after the election, Trudeau has maintained a laser-like focus on recapturing and maintaining the support of women.

Long before the campaign was underway, Trudeau said this about a woman’s right to choose: “Canadians of all views are welcome within the Liberal Party of Canada. But under my leadership, incoming Liberal MPs will always vote in favour of a woman’s fundamental rights. When it comes to actively supporting women’s rights, our party must speak with one voice.”

That position was controversial within the party. It led to no shortage of debate, and it resulted in some aspiring candidates being barred from running.

But Trudeau’s instincts were right. Canadian women took note, and they approved. While the CPC generally always maintains its hold on male voters, the LPC never truly lost female voters: even following the party’s worst-ever finish in 2011, women continued to prefer the Liberal Party.

Following the 2015 campaign, too, Trudeau hasn’t wavered: he made good on his campaign promise, and crafted a Cabinet that was one-half female. That was a truly historic achievement, and one that attracted the attention of the world. When asked by a (female) reporter about his insistence on Cabinet gender parity, Trudeau sounded like his trail-blazing father: “Because it’s 2015.”

Liberals need to be vigilant, however. A shadow was cast over the early “sunny days” of the new government, when iPolitics revealed one-third of the women named to Trudeau’s Cabinet are mere ministers of state — and that they could end up earning substantially less than their male counterparts, for doing the same sort of job. Without the support of a majority of Canadian women, the Liberal Party of Canada cannot win. The ministerial income gap needs to be fixed (and, given Trudeau’s record — and the ascension of Rona Ambrose to the Tory interim leader post — it was).

New Canadian Voters: For a decade, Jason Kenney and Stephen Harper devoted themselves to one demographic crusade above all others: breaking the Liberal Party’s grip on so-called minority communities (so-called because, in many urban centres, “minorities” are now “majorities”). So obsessed was Kenney with this effort — so faithful was he in attending every ethnic community banquet and celebration — that he was famously dubbed “Minister of Curry in a Hurry.”

A few years ago, I gave a presentation to Marketing Magazine about the Conservatives’ much-trumpeted Constituent Information Management System (CIMS). Since at least 2005, the Conservatives had been using their CIMS database for targeted appeals, donations, and getting-out-the vote. Unlike their opponents, they weren’t simply relying on focus groups and polling — Conservatives were actively recruiting in minority communities with phone calls, direct mail, and at the doorstep. Their twin strategic objectives were always the same: increase the Conservative Party’s ability to deliver targeted messages more effectively in-campaign and figure out where supporters (and potential) supporters could be found.

Kenney and Harper boosted family reunifications, and they increased immigration to the highest levels they’d been since the 1950s. Using narrowcasting, they blanketed ethnic media with the word about their immigration-friendly policies: pro-Israel rhetoric for the Jewish vote; immigration reform for the Filipino community; relaxed visa restrictions for Poles and Croats; Korean free trade talks; Chinese head tax apologies; and on and on. And, over and over, Conservatives made frequent visits to countries of origin, and—as noted— always showed up at cultural and community events organized by new Canadians.

It worked, big time. The Conservatives attracted hundreds of thousands of new Canadians with conservative social and economic policies, but always took care not to alienate their core “old stock” vote base.

So what happened in 2015? How did the Conservatives lose the new Canadian demographic to Justin Trudeau?

With the ugliness of the anti-niqab rhetoric, that’s how. With the insane “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. With a campaign — and a campaign manager, in the form of Jenni Byrne — that believed a Nixonian Southern Strategy could work in 2015.

But it couldn’t and it didn’t. Euphemistic ethnic communities are not monolithic. Like all other voters, they move around. They looked at the divisive, dislikable Conservative campaign messaging, and they were repelled by it.

In droves, new Canadians — the “ethnics” Kenney and Harper had so assiduously courted — voted Liberal. And, with a Cabinet that is the most ethnically-diverse in Canadian history, Justin Trudeau clearly intends to hold onto them.

Oh, and former Minister of Curry in a Hurry? You should worry.

Young Canadian Voters: Young people don’t vote. They just don’t. But in 2015, Justin Trudeau — like Barack Obama in 2008—figured out how to change that.

As most campaigners know, young people represent the largest block of unclaimed voters in the United States, Canada, and in most modern democratic states. Generally, out of all of the young people entitled to vote, as few as one in five regularly do so. In the United States, people from ages 18 to 30 represent 25 per cent of the total American voting population, but according to Yale University’s department of political science, few of them vote anymore, if at all.

In Canada, the story isn’t the same, it’s worse: in the 2000 federal general election, within the younger 18-to 24-year-old group, only a depressing 22 per cent even bothered to cast a ballot. And had more of them voted in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 general elections, conservative political parties would not have been as successful as they were.

It’s a vicious cycle: political candidates routinely ignore young people because of their poor voter turnout, while young people cite the establishment’s political indifference as one of the principal reasons why they don’t vote.

As they studied the problem — a problem that, everyone should agree, has the potential to raze democracy itself — the experts at Yale discovered a number of things about young people and how they regard politics. For example, younger potential voters are much more interested in a candidate’s position on the issues, and much less interested in his or her partisan affiliation.

They like candidates who have been involved in issues at a community level, in a hands-on way, as Obama and Trudeau had been. Young people care very little about a politician’s appearance or style or manner, and are instead preoccupied with his or her record and experience and effectiveness. They are focused on authenticity, in particular.

Young voters want a candidate’s attention and respect, because they feel (rightly) that they have been left out of the political process. They feel the system does not take them seriously, or their issues, and they know when they are being patronized.

They like candidates who are authentic; who listen; who show some kind of commitment. The Yale studies have found that when a candidate actually spends time with young people, face-to-face; when he or she is honestly and truly more preoccupied by community activism than politics; when a campaign reminds a young person about the importance of voting, and helps them to do so—then youth turnout can be boosted dramatically.

When you cast your mind back over the just-finished campaign, you know that only one leader did all of those things: Justin Trudeau. Trudeau devoted more time to youthful-looking rallies, and face-to-face encounters with young people, than any prime ministerial candidate who went before him. He showed disdain for partisan labels, and he aggressively promoted the critical importance of democratic participation.

It paid off. Turnout went up, and young people turned out. Overwhelmingly, they voted Liberal. As Obama had done, Trudeau persuaded young voters to rally behind the Liberal option.

Women. New Canadians. Youth. Those aren’t just demographic categories — they’re the very foundation of the Liberal Party of Canada. By bringing them back, Justin Trudeau won in 2015.

By holding onto them, he will win again in 2019.


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    Cory says:

    Getting out the youth vote was a surprising and impressive accomplishment. The political game has changed in Canada and the CPC had better learn quickly.

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    Scotian says:

    I agree with points one and three without much to say to them, but on point two I think you missed one element, and I believe it may have been the most significant and crucial of the lot too. Namely the way citizen stripping became an issue thanks to the Harper government not only trying to do so to a dual citizen convicted of terrorism but then going one step beyond and trying to do so to a born Canadian whose parents were qualified to be dual citizens if they now so chose (at the time of their immigration they wee not as their home nation did not permit it, that only changed two decades after they had become Canadians). This opened up a whole new can of worms for not just 1st generation immigrants but also their children and possibly even grandchildren who were born here, and if it could be done for one serious criminal offence by the government of the day and solely at unchecked Ministerial discretion instead of through proper court processes, what would prevent a different government with different ideological, and say more radically racial/ethnically intolerant beliefs from using it for lesser criminal and even civil offences so as to get rid of such citizens?

    This devalued the meaning of Canadian citizenship in profound ways indeed, and was a clear threat to all those citizens and their families. Then we heard Justin Trudeau say simply yet forcefully in response when he argued so passionately against it directly to and at Harper’s face in the debates that “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian!” This had to have massive resonance and comfort to those new Canadians and of course appeal, and as much as the CPC could appeal to some targeted new immigrant citizen groupings on social conservative values like on abortion and same sex issues, those pale in comparison to the more basic issue of the worth of their citizenship itself. By doing this the Harper government undid all its most powerful outreach work of the past decade, and even more so than the Niqab and Barbaric Practices Hotline combined I believe this was the issue that really galvanized the new Canadian vote back to the Liberal fold.

    It revealed the true nature of the CPC perspective on immigrants to these people, that for all their claims of valuing them when push came to shove they were still second class people and not “real” citizens in the minds of the CPC leadership. When I saw the Harperites coming out with the citizenship stripping in the election, and then expanding it beyond that one dual citizen convicted of terrorism (something risky enough) I knew this was going to cost them big time wit new Canadians.

    They also needed to understand that the argument that there was no difference in assuming that new citizens were lying when they swore allegiance that later committed acts of terrorism instead of becoming later radicalized was inherently flawed and presumed guilty until proven innocent, not a standard our justice is supposed to use. After all it is impossible to prove short of telepathic examination and/or a prior to contemporaneous declaration of such radicalization at the time of citizenship taking, and comparing that with lying on your citizen application as was the sole grounds for revocation prior to C24 (I think I got the bill right there) about detail already true and of record in your life was not only not apples and oranges, it was apples and mustard seeds in terms of comparability. We stripped Nazi war criminals of their citizenship because they lied on their applications knowingly and provably at the time, this standard could not be equated to the logic the Harper CPC was using despite all their efforts to equate the two. It showed a level of assumed malice/intent for all immigrants that they must harbour secret hatreds for Canada when they enter and that it was of course impossible for any such radicalization to occur after becoming citizens and living in Canada, when sadly factual reality shows that is of course all too possible.

    This is why I believe this element was the real driver of the new Canadian vote in such force to the Liberals, both as a rejection of the CPC for bringing such in, and a faith/belief in Trudeau’s opposition to such because of how nakedly and forcefully he made his opposition to the very concepts clear for all Canadians to hear.

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      Matt says:

      I think Canadians were with the CPC on the niqab with regards to the citizenship ceremony. If that’s where they left it, they would probably been ok, but, they continued.

      They went over the line talking about following Quebec in banning public service workers.

      Then they completely shit the bed with the announcement of the snitch line.

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        Maps Onburt says:

        As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a died in the wool Conservative voter but I agree with you how stupid those two actions were. I actually think they picked up votes with their original stance on the Niquab. Harper was measured and rational on the last debate on this issue. They then seemed to triple down on this by going over board needlessly.

        At the end of the day, it might have swayed a few immigrant voters because frankly I doubt most people even knew about the snitch line beyond the rabid partisans from all sides (I followed things very closely and even I didn’t hear anything about it except for noticing a few comments on these blogs). The real damage was a lost opportunity to have a positive message. I really feel the Conservative campaign failed because it was almost an entirely negative one – if you don’t vote for us, things will get worse. PM Trudeau (Jr) picked up as many votes as he did because he projected a sense of Optimism and that things could get better. People (Women, Young People, Immigrants and even dogs respond best to optimism). I don’t think it’s fatal, and I definitely don’t think it necessarily means that PM Trudeau (Jr) will win a second majority but it sure as hell means that the Conservatives need a better campaign team for 2019 than what they got this time out. The last time they called me looking for money, I told them they weren’t getting another nickle until they changed their messaging from what was wrong with the other guys to what good they were/and had done. I know I’m not the only Conservative that was upset with this.

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          Jon Adams says:

          “(Women, Young People, Immigrants and even dogs respond best to optimism).”

          I hope, for your sake, that what you’re inferring here is purely accidental on your part.

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            Maps Onburt says:

            Women, Young Kids and Immigrants were the folks Warren was crediting for the election win… I added the dogs to say that ALL humans plus dogs respond to optimism better too. I certainly was not trying to equate the first three with the later – but I can see how you might have got that from what I wrote. Let me change it from dogs to Old Tory hacks like me…

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    Matt says:

    “By holding onto them, he will win again in 2019.”

    IF he can hold onto them Warren, IF.

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      The Doctor says:

      Barring some unforeseen disaster, I suspect the next election is going to be a gimme for the Liberals. This honeymoon is going to be deep and long. Plus the Liberals will invoke Harper’s name and legacy constantly every chance they get, to great effect.

      Plus I suspect the CPC will probably do the wrong thing IMO, and pick a leader who is from the Reform wing of the party and is not terribly attractive or politically skilled compared to JT (e.g., Jason Kenney). Federal conservative parties have a long and sorry tradition of picking leaders who lack charisma and/or political smarts — e.g., Stanfield, Clark, Campbell, Day. Mulroney was somewhat of an exception, but even he was no Trudeau.

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        Jack D says:


        The effect of Harper’s government is and will be so profound on the Canadian psyche that the Conservatives aren’t going to be able to escape his shadows for at least a decade.

        This is the gamble that Conservatives took by opting to keep Stephen Harper after 2013 and allowing him to lead their party into election 42; they failed and now the consequences must be realized going forward.

        The amount of political capital Trudeau and his Liberals have to expend is unprecedented. Conservatives broke the bank on their capital and its going to take more than a smiling Jason Kenney to compete with Justin Trudeau.

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    Alex says:

    Quick point of clarification: Didn’t the conservatives lose almost 250,000 votes since the last election, rather than the 54,000 figure that you quote? From what I can gather, the Cons won 5,832,401 votes in 2011 and 5,600,496 in 2015. That is a difference of 232,000 votes and change. Now, I am basing these figures on Wikipedia so they could be wrong. I am just curious where you got your 54,000 figure from.

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    Bill Templeman says:

    What about strategic voting? Doesn’t Warren’s 2nd line above include the fact that almost 1 million NDP voters came over to the Libs? Aren’t most of these voters the strategic voters that no one wanted to talk about during the election? As long as our FPTP electoral system is in place, strategic voting will be a factor, no?

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      Tim Sullivan says:

      Strategic voting is over-rated and an excuse for losers. Why would someone strategically vote Liberal with an NDP incumbent to rid us of the scourge of the CPC?

      Strategic voting is a tool by tools to fool the fools.

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    Jack D says:

    Reason why Liberals won? Because they realize that women, new Canadians and youth aren’t just demographic categories and are JUST the very foundation of the Liberal Party, but the foundation of Canada.

    LPC understood that Canadians don’t all look and think like Earl Cowan.

    This is why they won, and the Conservatives lost.

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    Marc-André Chiasson says:

    According to Elections Canada, CPC votes in 2011 (5,835,270) versus 2015 (5,600,496). This is a drop of 234,774, or a bit more than 4%

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      Warren says:


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        Alex says:

        Thank you for the clarification Warren. After looking at the CBC article, I think the confusion is caused by an adjustment that the CBC did. To quote the CBC site: “(The table compares the preliminary result for 2015 to the total vote in 2011, adjusted for the 15 byelections since then).”

        I am not an expert in comparing election results, but I think this adjustment by the CBC is misleading. In effect, they removed roughly 180,000 votes from the Conservative total in 2011 due to their subsequent by-election results.

        Perhaps I am missing something here, but this does not appear like an apples-to-apples comparison to me. That being said, I do not fault you for using the CBC figure, for their analysis may end up being the correct one.

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          Warren says:

          If you have a beef with CBC, take it up with CBC.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I didn’t take it for granted that Harper would win. I will be equally cautious and not take it for granted that Trudeau will win again. Imponderables — that’s the name of the game.

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    A. Voter says:

    The Liberals under JT will be unbeatable. As the Liberals under Paul Martin were unbeatable. Remember the projected 200 seats for the Martin Liberals?

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      Maps Onburt says:

      Or the folks who that that the old PC’s moving to Kim Campbell was a master stroke against the old has been Jean Chretien. They were talking a third majority for the PC’s. Didn’t she end up with 2 seats? The one thing this election taught us was the collective wisdom plus $4 will buy you a Starbuck’s Coffee.

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