Election 2015: A Halfassed Postmortem


cdnelxncircleIt’s day two of Trudeau 2.0 and I’m still hungover. Holy crap: epic election bender. Considering how surprising and epochal Monday night’s results were I wanted to craft a comprehensive think piece for the blog covering all I’ve learned from this marathon campaign. But I suspect all I’ll be able to squeeze from my inflamed and throbbing brain box are a few opinion turds.

Here goes…

In theory, we now have a bighearted government leading Canada. At least that’s what Team Liberal were claiming they’d be during the election campaign. And at his first post-win pressers, Trudeau reassured us that Canada will once again be a compassionate and constructive voice in the world.

If that’s true, I’d argue, the place to start is by immediately airlifting Syrian refugees to Canada. Fifty thousand by Christmas. We can put former general Rick Hillier in charge of the project. He’s already demonstrated that he has a plan and that he’s eager to get the job done. I can’t think of a prouder undertaking for our armed forces. And I think this is a worthy and probably historic contribution for Canada to make to the world right now. Winter is coming. The people fleeing Syria need a home. It’s past time that we opened our doors for them.

Seems the last few polls of the election got the share of the popular vote pretty much right for each party. On that metric, they were a success.

Seat projections, however, were way off. I guess that shouldn’t be totally surprising. As there isn’t enough local-scale polling done, projections have to be based on interpolating riding results from macro-level trends. That will miss how support is clumping up in certain regions and becoming more effective or how it’s spreading out and becoming less so.

Still, despite their failings, I really enjoyed following all the poll results this election. Sure, at the micro level they become little more than an exercise in numerology but, hey, you guys dig pouring over your football stats and your horoscopes, leave me alone to enjoy this.

I don’t think it should surprise anyone that Prairie Dog tends to run with an NDP-friendly/NDP-curious crowd — heck, one of the paper’s founders ran for the party in this election after all. So yeah, we were surrounded by Dippers on Monday night and even ended up briefly at a hotel downtown where the city’s combined NDP forces were waiting for results to come in.

And wow, it was pretty stunning to hear all the whinging from NDP supporters about how “strategic voting fucked us.” Apparently, the complaint is national and annoying everywhere…

Seriously, NDP? Strategic voting? That’s a problem now?

Look, I get that the collapse of NDP support this election must be pretty disheartening. But did everybody up and forget the 2006 election when then-leader, Jack Layton, said to Liberals, “lend me your votes”? Well, they loaned them out in 2011. Seems they wanted them back.

Surprising also to hear complaints about strategic voting from supporters of the NDP candidate for Regina–Lewvan, Erin Weir.

Weir’s campaign endgame was built around the idea of strategic voting. He opened and closed his candidate-forum appearances with lengthy screeds about demographics, voting patterns, poll results and lines about how, “If you want to beat Stephen Harper in Lewvan, you have to vote NDP.”

At the best of times, an appeal to strategic voting sounds a bit like electoral blackmail. I mean, I get the sense behind voters discussing it among themselves. But for candidates to campaign on that? Seems crass.

And the logic becomes self-defeating in a riding like Lewvan in an election like this one where the NDP were doing fine locally but polling behind the Liberals nationally. If beating Harper is, by Weir’s own reasoning, sufficient motiviation to shift your voting inclination from Liberal to NDP, then, by extension of that logic, the only reasonable course of action forward would be for Weir to drop out and throw his support behind Browne. That would be the best way to ensure that there were a sufficient number of non-Conservative seats to keep Harper from trying to hold office. By staying in the race, Weir was risking splitting the national seat count between the NDP and Liberals and giving Harper a shot at gaining a plurality in the House of Commons. It didn’t come to that on October 19 but I suspect many voters intuited the contradiction in Weir’s plea for votes and felt it as being more self-serving than sound strategy.

And clearly, all Weir’s talk of strategic voting was sufficiently off-putting that 27 per cent of Lewvan voters threw their support behind the Liberal’s Louis Browne and damn the polls.

For the record, I like Erin Weir. I interviewed him back when he was just an economist and not a federal candidate and he seemed to know his stuff. Assuming he survives the upcoming recount, I’m sure he’ll be a fine representative for Regina–Lewvan. I’m just saying that next election, he might not want to campaign on strategic voting if he wants to hang on to this seat with more than his fingertips.

I was heart broken when I heard that NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie lost her seat in Halifax. I interviewed her in her capacity as environment critic and she was awesome. In the fantasy NDP I was building in my imagination, I’d planned for Leslie to win the party leadership two elections from now, hire Brian Topp as her campaign manager, and usher in the first NDP majority government in history.

Seriously, she’s the only person in the NDP right now who stands a shot at beating Trudeau. Sadly, though,  I imagine what will happen now is she’ll go out, get a real job, and leave the NDP behind. Tragedy.

I’m not at all saddened by Andrew Thomson’s third place finish in Eglinton–Lawrence. He was a star NDP candidate by virtue of being a former Saskatchewan finance minister who was able to keep the province’s finances balanced. He frequently represented the party nationally on television and seemed to personify the NDP’s shift to the right on fiscal policy. Every time Mulcair talked about how he’d balance the budget right out of the gate, he could point to Thomson as the guy to do the balancing.

Well, it seems that that balanced budget pledge didn’t resonate so well with voters in Ontario and Quebec who found Trudeau’s promised deficits to deal with the nation’s infrastructure crisis more impressive. I doubt recruiting Thomson won the party many fans. And in Saskatchewan, where so many people still haven’t forgiven the provincial NDP for… things, he probably drove some potential votes away.

As for me, I was pretty much neutral on Thomson right up until election day when he went on CPAC and volunteered that the NDP was willing to work with the Conservatives in a minority situation. Show host, Peter Van Dusen, challenged him saying that Mulcair had ruled out ever working with Stephen Harper. But Thomson replied,

“What we have said is we will make the Parliament work. And what we need to do is make sure it will be a progressive set of policies that are put forward in this Parliament, whether it is lead by an NDP government or others. And I think that’s really what Canadians are looking for.”

Thomson contacted the HuffPo’s Althia Raj later in the day to walk back from the comments. He claimed that he was talking about working with other parties in a minority parliament led by the NDP and that his party would never consider propping up a Harper minority.

But I don’t know. I’ve watched the clip four times now. It seems very clear to me that Thomson was saying that the NDP was willing to make the parliament work, whichever of the three parties had the most seats. You can watch it here and tell me if you think I’m out to lunch.

And, to me, that was a betrayal. To my ears, he was saying, not only are the NDP touting the economic platform of Paul Martin and Joe Oliver, they’re also political opportunists more interested in jockeying for advantage in the House than in taking a principled stand against a prime minister they’d hitherto characterized as nigh unto a devil.

And at that point I was like, “A plague on all your houses. And make it something really nasty and scabrous.”

Mulcair, what were you thinking? There’s a media pile-on going on right now so there’s not much I can add. But holy crap, that was an utter failure of a campaign.

And you know, even three months ago when the NDP were climbing up the polls I was so nervous. It was clear Mulcair had done nothing to deserve that surge in popularity beyond voting against Bill C-51. All the media talking heads said it was a dumb move. But he took a principled stand and struck a blow against Harper’s regime.

And voters ate it up.

After that… next to nothing. Until the niqab issue came to the fore in the latter half of the campaign, the NDP just kind of squished around and didn’t make much impact. Mulcair seemed determined to win the election on the question of economic stewardship — but the economy is the preferred battleground of the Conservatives. And the Liberals. The NDP won’t ever win a victory there. Ethics, the environment, healthcare, social spending, anything would have been a stronger issue to make the centrepiece of his platform.

And I get that he tried to put childcare and pharmacare forward as the core of his sales pitch to voters. But then he yoked those programs to his and Thomson’s idiot balanced budget scheme and that just made them look inept. The house of cards tumbled.

Related: Months back, the media correctly identified this as a change election. The bulk of voters were sick of Stephen Harper and wanted somebody new in charge.

Bizarrely, somebody in the NDP looked at that and said, “Okay, let’s make Mulcair as much like Stephen Harper as possible.”

So Mulcair ran on the CPC’s numbers — overestimated oil prices and all — along with a budget proposal that’d make Milton Friedman happy. In debates, Mulcair acted measured and Prime Ministerial. Angry Tom was in a closet somewhere and Mulcair’s handlers trained him up to smile and respond cool and collected in any situation. And it was clearly an unnatural mode for Mulcair to be operating in as his mannerisms provoked an uncanny valley effect — he acted human-like but not quite human.

It was reminiscent of Harper’s most robotic performances.

This Stodgy Tom made all the fussy media pedants swoon. They clucked their tongues at Trudeau the excitable boy; his rakish appearance and lusty debate performances were unbecoming the office to which aspired, they told us.

Voters though… They wanted new and passionate. Mulcair wasn’t doing it for them.

Then word got out that Mulcair was an iron-fisted party leader. That, I’d argue, was the nail in his coffin. The picture of the NDP leader was complete and it looked just too damn much like the guy everybody wanted to get rid of.

The last thing voters wanted was another dictator.

I can’t remember where I read this line — I thought I had a note on it but I’ve lost it — anyway, I read somewhere that, “The Liberals always break your heart after an election. The NDP break it before.”

Seems appropriate. The NDP campaign was disappointing in the extreme and that’s stuck them back in third place.

Now, it’s all about waiting for the other shoe to drop — that moment when we realize Trudeau pulled an Obama and isn’t the change candidate we were hoping for.

Setting that aside, I’m pretty happy with the outcome. Getting rid of Harper — decisively — was a good thing. Not only is he gone now, the Liberals have a strong enough majority that the Conservatives won’t be able to get up to much mischief. I imagine their project for the next four years will be remaking the party in the wake of Harper’s departure. Here’s hoping they’ll try to get back to their Progressive Conservative roots and reject the Calgary consensus that, I’d argue, has led them so far astray.

As for the Liberal government, man, this takes me back. It’s like it’s 1999 all over again. Railing against the notionally progressive but functionally conservative Grits is right in my comfort zone.

I’m predicting a good four years. Not awesome. But not more suck.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

7 thoughts on “Election 2015: A Halfassed Postmortem”

  1. Yes, but in Weir’s defense, and thru the frame of a potential Harper minority, he was actually running in a riding that would’ve make sense for Liberals to support him in. It is, historically, not an area where the Liberals have been competitive for decades. This wasn’t just some grand, vague ‘notion’ to Beat Harper in Lewvan. Normally, the Liberal vote here is so marginal it would be a pretty inoffensive request. However…

    (Dropping out does not make sense, in that “strategic voting” supposes some type of reciprocity nationwide.) What the naive NDP left NEEDS to UNDERSTAND is that Liberals DO NOT PLAY with the NDP. There is NO sympathy there FROM Liberals. Liberals identify with Kennedy, Camelot, and they want a two-party state. They want the NDP vanished. I think some of them still think of NDP as “dirty Bolsheviks”. Therefore, the vast number of Liberals will never reciprocate. (In 2011, NDP took Bloc votes, not Liberal votes). NDP voters – the mild-mannered ones – WILL give away their votes, when they think it’s the right thing to do. Liberals just try to win, even against laughable odds, because they are the natural-governors of this great land.

    Now, was Weir appealing to actual Liberals or just new voters, non-voters, Greens, and maybe-Liberals? Frankly, I think his pitch may have worked. He did win by 143 votes. (Hopefully.) It’s very hard to tell. NDP and Con support each dropped from roughly 45% to 35% while Brown took Lib support from 8% to around 28%. Overall, while I originally perceived Brown as hurting Weir, I am now tending to view Brown’s influence as neutral. Square Weir off against Fraser in a 2-party race and you may have ended up with the exact same ~ 0.003% margin of victory for Weir.

    Lewvan was one specific riding where pitching for ‘help’ made sense; plastering the entire country with some innocent but urgent appeal to “defeat Harper” by sharing votes was just unrealistic, unfortunately. Cuz like I said, NDP will always vote Liberal but Liberal will hardly ever-to-never-ever vote NDP. (Sticking their tongue out at you.)

    But sadly you know what? You know who did seem to heed the call? I;m thinking those Conservatives in Atlantic Canada who wiped out the NDP, including Leslie. Check the Conservative vote totals: 9, 10% Conservatives voted strategically to oust the NDP. Also in Ottawa, Winnipeg, although Pat Martin’s riding was such a massive anomaly, I have no idea what happened there. I actually think there may have been a coordinated effort to wipe out the NDP’s future leadership in this election, at least out east.

    But a lot of things about this election didn’t make sense – Why did Mulcair’s defense of the Supreme Court’s decision supporting the niqab kill him in Quebec while Trudeau’s full-on boner of support leave him unscathed?

    Whatever, I don’t want to predict doom and gloom or curse Justin Trudeau. Nor, however, do I want to participate in NDP self-loathing. Fuck that old song and dance. I just don;t think giving Justin a huge majority was a healthy thing for our country, or for him (step by step), nor was killing off the NDP’s rising stars. It WAS an infinitely good thing to stop Harper from suffocating the country, though now we’re at risk at seeing some return of ’90s Reform mentality (if it ever left). Albertans under Notley and Trudeau are going to be PISSED. That’s all, enjoy your beers

  2. The NDP sent out little cards to people all over Canada stating that they had “the best chance of beating Stephen Harper’s Conservatives”, because of how many seats they had last time. They tried to appeal to strategic voters in a direct way across the board…. trouble is, by the time they got around to sending those things, they weren’t just poorly advised, they were flat-out wrong.
    Yes, the strategic anti-CPC vote coalesced under the Liberals in many places, once NDP support started to slip. But it didn’t have to end up that way. When they were leading the polls, they should have got the guns blazing and framed themselves as the anti-CPC with high energy and hit hard on the “change’ message. But they didn’t; they thought they needed to convince people that the NDP weren’t communist kooks, and played everything too soft. Then the Liberals ate their lunch by jumping on the opportunities to appear more progressive and more different from the CPC than the NDP. The Liberals won by using messaging that should have been coming from the NDP but wasn’t. This was such a terrible campaign for the NDP that it may be time to consider throwing in the towel, and creating a new, re-branded party. If the Liberals don’t deliver on all their progressive promises, there may be a window of opportunity for a progressive party not named NDP.

  3. A good, thoughtful reflection on the campaign, Paul. If I may add an observation or two?

    All the talk during the campaign about strategic voting struck me as evidence that the Left needed to unite: not form a coalition in a minority-government situation, but unite.The resurgence of the Liberals and the collapse of the NDP has pushed that idea off the table for the forseeable future; we’ll have to wait and see what Mr. Trudeau does in the next few years.

    There are other reasons for the “orange crash” besides the inept campaign. Remember that Quebec wiped out the BQ and brought the NDP into official-opposition status last time around. That was a massive protest vote, and like such votes, carried with it the strong possibility of repenting at leisure. The return of Quebec voters to the Liberals and the Bloq would have happened anyway, niqab issue or not.

    I was interested in seeing how the contest went in Lewvan largely because the new riding brought together such disparate bedfellows, such as the Cathedral area and their despised neighbours, Harbour Landing. It was such an article of faith among NDP supporters that the new urban-only riding would be practically a slam-dunk for the party. The slim margin of votes for Mr. Weir would seem to indicate that that faith was naive at best. Next article: proportional representation. That basket shouldn’t be overloaded with eggs, either.

  4. Probably we overstate how many eligible voters even identify as “Liberal” or “NDP”, so an appeal to strategic voting isn’t necessarily a plea, for example, to Liberals to vote NDP, it’s more like a plea to undecideds and hardly-gives-a-fucks to vote NDP. So let’s not pretend we have a 100% engaged electorate, all holding party memberships, all trying to be strong-armed to changing their vote.

    – The Govt in Waiting thing was nauseating.

    – This was an anti-Harper Trudeaumania election. If Trudeau wasn’t running, Mulcair wouldn’t have faltered so badly (BTW, 2nd highest seat total ever…what a disaster), and we wouldn’t be dumping on him so badly. Fucking Mark Garneau wouldn;t have scored 184 seats. BTW, Canadian voters are often stupid, fickle, vote Liberal out of habit, and suffer buyer’s remorse almost instantly. If Mulcair has the highest approval a year from now, then what’ll you say?

    – Control freak? As if Mulcair exhibited the same tendencies as Harper: Cold, Hateful, Aloof, Dismissive. Mulcair was handling 50 some odd rookies from Quebec, many in their 20s. No wonder he had to be bold.

  5. P.S. If they change the electoral system, the NDP will have brand new life, as will the barely-existent Greens. If they don’t, and we think the NDP should fold, then NO 3rd party should bother, because it’s a permanently f*cked-up mentality that is only ever going to recognize two parties. And ah, if the Liberals did out-fox the NDP, well then, small victory for the left because no way they woulda gone there if they WEREN’T trying to eff-over the NDP again. Anyway, NDP isn;t going anywhere. If we survived that shit leadership in the ’90s we can survive this.

  6. I voted for Erin. He was my 2nd choice. I met all 3 of peeps at the Food solutions meeting at the Core Centre last month.
    Tamala was my 1st choice; but this is Saskatchewan,a big Hate of any Green philosophy is prevalent here.
    Maybe in 3-4 federal elections from now.

  7. You helped make the difference, Ron! Official margin was 132 votes. Otherwise we’d be stuck with some Conservative benchwarmer the next 4 years. At least NDP MPs make headlines when in power (locally).

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