On the surface, the federal Conservative Party, the Manitoba New Democratic Party and the Liberal parties in Ontario and Prince Edward Island don’t have very much in common.
The federal Tories are a bunch of angry white guys led by an angry white guy.
The Ontario and P.E.I. Liberal leaders are inoffensive fellows who Conservatives hate with startling intensity.
The Manitoba NDP are led by a guy who 99% of Canadians couldn’t name, let alone pick out in a police lineup.
All four parties are populated by people who couldn’t be more different, and with approaches that are as dissimilar as you can get.
But they all have something in common.
After a brutal, grinding recession — and after their share of unhelpful headlines — all were thought to be goners.
Or, at the very least, in big political trouble.
And all went on to win big victories against their opponents.
All won re-election, or majorities, when few thought such a thing was possible.
Well, after a big election victory, the pundits can always be counted on to say that the losing parties ran lousy campaigns and had lousy leaders and lousy platforms.
But let me let you in on a little secret: In Ontario, where I had the privilege to work in Dalton McGuinty’s war room, none of us thought our Conservative and NDP opponents were “lousy.”
In fact, we thought they were well-funded, well-organized and very capable opponents.
We regarded them with deadly seriousness.
At the federal level, it was the same thing.
My federal Conservative friends (yes, I have a few) weren’t the least bit dismissive about Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton.
In fact, they will privately confess that Messrs. Ignatieff and Layton ran impressive campaigns, and their own effort had many more missteps than they would have liked.
So why did we — and the Harper Conservatives and the Ghiz Liberals and the Selinger New Democrats — win, in difficult circumstances and against able opponents?
Because no one wanted change, that’s why.
All of the losing parties campaigned for “change,” in one way or another.
In Ontario, in fact, both the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats had nearly identical slogans calling for “change.”
But that’s not what people wanted. Not out west, not out east.
People, you see, read newspapers. People watch TV news. They’ve been reading and watching as all of Europe teeters on the brink of economic cataclysm.
They’ve been taking note, with no small amount of apprehension, as the once-great American economy became no longer great — saddled by high unemployment and ever-higher debt.
One of my smartest pals is John Wright, a senior vice-president with the global Ipsos polling firm. Unlike many polling outfits in Canada, John’s Ipsos surveys opinions internationally. They know their stuff.
“Do you know what economic confidence levels are in the United States?” John asked me, right after telling me that Ontario Liberals were going to win an historic third mandate. Not a clue, said I.
“Fourteen percent,” he said, and then he asked me what the economic confidence level was in Canada. Didn’t know that, either.
“Around 75%,” John said. “Seventy-five percent. We’re second-highest in the world. Only Saudi Arabia is higher. Harper won, and you guys will win, because people know we have a good thing going, and they don’t want to mess with it.”
“Change,” said John, “is exactly what they don’t want.”
That, to me, is a pretty good explanation for what has happened in recent weeks in federal and provincial election campaigns.
In uncertain times, voters have an affinity for incumbents — particularly if the incumbent is doing a not-bad job of steering the ship through choppy waters.
See? Canadians aren’t all that different from each other. Among other things, we all share one political philosophy.
Namely, if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.