The untold story of the 2011 election: Introduction and Chapter 1

Behind the scenes of an epic campaign that turned Canadian politics on its head, and finally gave Harper his majority.

by Paul Wells

Politics turned over

Photograph by Chris Bolin

Introduction: Politics turned over
How Harper got what he’s always wanted, Layton took centre stage, and Ignatieff and Duceppe were done in

Chapter 1: The first mistake
The seeds of Michael Ignatieff’s troubles were planted last fall, and by the Liberals themselves

Chapter 2: Not feeling the love
Harper was tightly controlled, Ignatieff loose and freewheeling. Layton? Just a guy most Canadians would rather have a beer with

Chapter 3: The velocity of indignation
The PM had problems: the auditor general kerfuffle, Bruce Carson, the folks kicked out of rallies. The Liberals railed, but the NDP stepped up.

Chapter 4: Turning up the heat
The leaders clashed predictably in the TV debates, but the election would soon turn unexpectedly on two key speeches: one by Ignatieff, one by Duceppe

Chapter 5: The orange wave rises
Years of quiet preparation in Quebec begin paying off for the NDP—Layton’s rivals wake up to a new reality

Chapter 6: The morning after, the years ahead
What do Harper and Layton have in common? An understanding of what works in Canadian politics in the Twitter age­—patience and determination.

To read the entire article now, pick up the latest issue of Maclean’s at your favourite newsstand.

*****

Introduction: Politics turned over

“What a great night! Quelle belle soirée!”

By now Stephen Harper is getting used to making these speeches on the floor of the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary. This was his fourth since 2004, his third as Prime Minister-elect since 2006. Canadians have been watching this man for nearly a decade: his cadences, his body language, his preferred topics and the terms he uses to discuss them are familiar.

It’s just everything else that has changed.

“Friends, I have to say it,” the modern architect of Conservatism as a durable governing force in Canada said. “A strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government.”

It was what he had asked for, in those words, on every day of this astonishing campaign. By now it was an inside joke. But it was also a totem of victory, because for the first time Stephen Harper had won clear command of a Parliament within which no coalition could block or replace him. He is the first party leader in the history of the country to fall short of that goal three times and then succeed. By now the victims of his resilience are stacked outside like cordwood, and it may at last be getting hard for them to hang onto their easy dismissive smirks.

He thanked the voters of Calgary Southwest for returning him—and “for giving me the honour of following in the footsteps of Preston Manning,” a bit of family detail that has been true since he first represented the riding in 2002, but which he had not mentioned in front of a national audience until this night. He spoke of his love for his children, Ben and Rachel, and for his tearful wife, Laureen. He thanked the voters, who “chose hope, unity of purpose and a strong Canada.”

Hang on. Unity of purpose? Six voters in 10 did not vote for his party. Those who voted against him were so desperate for an alternative that more than a million of them abandoned once-sturdy vessels, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party of Canada, in favour of a bicyclists’ party led by a former city councillor with a bum hip.

Jack Layton is the evening’s second great story, in some ways fresher: a career politician with a Ph.D. whose opponents, and some of his allies, wrote him off for years as a naïf or a citified bumpkin. Harper himself would say in private that he had urged Layton to take a chance from time to time, but then the Conservative leader would always shrug: “You can’t teach an elephant to dance.” That’s okay. Elephants don’t have to dance. They just walk right over things.

Every election comes down to a choice between “change” and “more of the same.” But in a parliamentary system we get to have both. Harper set the terms for this election two years ago. His agenda was never secret. He would propose stability and warn against risk. He knew the choice would split the electorate, and hoped only for the larger part.

In the end, those Canadians who wanted stability have it. Only seven incumbent Conservatives were defeated on Monday night, compared to 82 incumbents from other parties. The Conservative vote keeps growing, but most of the voters who supported one of Harper’s candidates were doing so for the fourth time. As they head back to the drawing board, Harper’s opponents should start by admitting to themselves the extraordinary buyer satisfaction Harper provides his supporters. He is becoming what he has hoped Conservatism could become in this country: a familiar habit.

But even the voters who rejected Harper’s stability proved him right by preferring risk—and taking a big one. A vote for the Bloc Québécois has, for 20 years, been a respectable way to wave the home flag and choose, in other important ways, not to play with others. A vote for the Bloc combined pride and safety, and why would anyone ever give up a blanket like that? Unless they started hoping for more. Quebecers did. Monday’s awesome swing in that province is many things, but among them it is an expression of hope. So Jack Layton became the first anglophone leader of a national party to win in Quebec when a francophone was on offer. Half of his caucus will now come from Quebec, so he will need to put more French into his speeches than he did in accepting the people’s verdict on election night. He’ll adjust.

Sixty-four per cent of the NDP vote on Monday came from outside Quebec. Layton has MPs from eight provinces. In Saskatchewan, where a trick of the electoral system locked him out, his party won nearly a third of the vote. He is a truly national Opposition leader, facing a truly national Prime Minister, and that alone is good for the country. So it was not mawkish but accurate of the Prime Minister to say Canadians “chose hope” on Monday, even if they chose such starkly different kinds of hope. Even if the results throw some into despair. But we’ll get to the Liberals in a minute.

“Because Canadians chose hope, we can now begin to come together again,” Harper said. “For our part, we are intensely aware that we are, and we must be, the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us.”

This will be the test of the next three or four years in this country. Will Canadians judge that Harper has listened to them? Will he take his majority mandate, as his opponents always warned he would, and take such radical action that Canadians feel betrayed? Or do his opponents now have something worse to fear: the possibility that more Harper will mean more support for Harper, as has been the case now for four elections in a row?

The Prime Minister offered a few hints. “Friends, hear me on this. All those lessons of the past few years—holding to our principles, but also of listening, of caring, of adapting—those lessons that have come with a minority government, we must continue to practise as a majority government.”

So he plans, or says he plans, to stay the course. “Our first job will be to implement what we set out in our budget.” The budget the other parties, including Layton’s, said they would oppose, a budget they cannot now block. The months ahead will show both the extent and the limits of Layton’s new clout.

So the Harpers move back to 24 Sussex, but little of what lies ahead is familiar. The story of how we got here is one of the most amazing stories in the annals of Canadian politics. Once again, Maclean’s has deployed all the resources at our disposal to tell that story. A team of Maclean’s reporters, led by myself, John Geddes and Aaron Wherry, travelled the country to cover the 2011 campaign. We interviewed key members of every leader’s campaign staff, often on the understanding that nothing we were told would be revealed until after Canadians had voted.

Here is that story. In part it is the tale of an election strategy decided by Harper himself in the days after the 2008 coalition crisis nearly took his job away. He announced his plan as soon as he concocted it—a clear choice between a majority and a reincarnated coalition—in the first week of 2009, in an interview with the publisher of this magazine. Michael Ignatieff had two years to prepare but he never found a persuasive answer.

This is also the story of a party, the NDP, that has courted French-speaking voters in Quebec for literally half a century, through good days and bad, and of a leader who has been written off as an also-ran for every one of the four elections in which he improved his party’s standing.

But the story has to begin with Michael Ignatieff. To understand anything else in this election, we have to understand how he became the leader of a once-great party, and how Stephen Harper took him apart, piece by piece.

Chapter 1: The first mistake

The first mistake

Photograph by Christopher Pike

Michael Ignatieff’s gaze drifted upward, past the ceiling of the foyer of the House of Commons and, as it seemed, toward heaven.

It was Friday, March 25. The House of Commons had just voted, by 165 votes to 145, in support of this Liberal motion: “That the House agrees with the finding of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.” Tomorrow, an election campaign would begin. Now, the Liberal leader had come out of the Commons chamber into the grandly decorated foyer, backed by a handful of his most telegenic MPs and faced by a pack of reporters and cameras.

The press wanted to know whether he would conspire with the other opposition parties to take power from Stephen Harper after an election, just as Stéphane Dion had tried to do in 2008. Ignatieff was trying to explain that if he had his wish, there wouldn’t even be any other opposition parties. He just wanted a fair fight between his Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. His attempts to make this argument were not going well.

“Let me make it more clear: if you vote for the NDP, if you vote for the Greens, if you vote for the Bloc, you’ll get more of this,” he said, tilting his head back toward the Commons chamber, where the Harper government had so vexed him for two years now. “And Canadians are saying, ‘Enough.’ I can’t be clearer than that.”

Tonda MacCharles, who writes for the Toronto Star and does not like vague answers, cut in. “No, you’re not clear at all. You’re not clear at all, sir, actually. Do you believe that a coalition is a legitimate parliamentary option that you will pursue?”

Ignatieff smiled wanly. Go talk to the Governor General if you want to debate “abstract constitutional principles,” he said. His formidable eyebrows arched up, then pressed downward and together, like twin dolphins at yoga class. He rambled on a bit more.

There is a 2004 novel by the Toronto journalist and author Patricia Pearson called Playing House. Its main character runs into the dashing Harvard academic and essayist Michael Ignatieff at an Italian restaurant in New York City. She’s briefly smitten. “He was, I mused, everything that I’d ever dreamed suitable,” Pearson’s narrator says. “Accomplished, bold, socially gracious, a touch mischievous, emotionally pent-up in a wonderfully provocative way. One could sense real excitement within that crumpet. I was half in love with him by the time he’d analyzed the Middle East and the tartufo had arrived.”

But that was seven years ago, in the pages of a novel. This was right now under TV lights. The leader of the oldest political party in Canada looked as though he might turn to salt.

Finally, Terry Milewski from the CBC put Ignatieff out of his misery and into some deeper misery. “Surely this coalition monkey is going to stay on your back every day of the campaign,” the veteran broadcaster scolded him. “Because people will assume that if you don’t rule it out, that’s because you’ve got something to hide.”

Ignatieff’s forehead was shiny as he started to perspire. “You’re buying the Conservative line here. There’s nothing to hide. I am saying as clearly as I can to the Canadian people, looking them straight in the eye”—here he focused his gaze into the TV camera directly in front of him, so it would seem to a television viewer that Ignatieff really was looking him in the eye—“if you want to replace the Harper government, you’ve got to vote Liberal. It can’t be clearer than that.”

With that, Ignatieff wheeled 90 degrees and fled to the safety of a nearby corridor, his telegenic MPs marching briskly in his wake. The beginning of the election was still a day away. The Liberal leader was already fighting ghosts. He couldn’t get a clear shot at Harper because he had to wrestle with something he might someday do, or not do, depending. It was like struggling in molasses.

A week later, with the campaign under way, a senior Liberal campaign strategist sat in a leather chair in a Toronto office tower and looked back on that scrum as the first sign of trouble in the Liberal campaign. “I thought it was a terrible day,” the strategist said.

“I thought he didn’t answer the question right on the coalition thing—a total Ottawa issue which I hadn’t heard a single person outside of Ottawa talk about. But anyway, I understand why it is what it is.

“But I thought he looked bad; he looked evasive answering the question. He was sweaty. I don’t think he was dressed properly. Other than that, I thought it was a terrific day.” The strategist paused to consider whether he had laid on the sarcasm so thickly that his meaning might be obscured. He decided clarity would be best: “I thought it was just a shitty day.”

Oh, well. The campaign hadn’t even started yet. Five weeks of rallies and speeches lay ahead. Ignatieff had trained for this for a year. No opposition party leader could choose, alone, the moment a campaign began. But right now, hard on the heels of a deeply unimpressive Conservative budget, was the moment the Liberals had used for months as the basis of their election planning. Ignatieff had the best staff, the best equipment, the most up-to-date software, the most motivated troops any Liberal leader had brought to a fight in at least a decade.

But there was something big he did not know, or maybe he knew it in his heart but still hoped it wasn’t true. The something big was this: this campaign had started long ago. Its central target was Ignatieff himself. He and his party had already taken hits so severe that he could not now recover.

Not a politician

Most stories about Michael Ignatieff’s return to Canada after many years abroad begin with three Liberal activists—Ian Davey, Alf Apps and Dan Brock—visiting him at Harvard University in early 2005. But the story really begins a little earlier, in December 2004, when Ignatieff was in Toronto to deliver a dinner lecture. Apps invited him to the boardroom at his law firm, Fasken Martineau, with Brock, another Fasken lawyer, and a few other Liberals. Ignatieff showed up with his wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar. Ignatieff said he felt his roots were with the Liberals. His hosts said the party, after only a year of Paul Martin, needed fresh leadership. The meeting ended with Ignatieff saying he was flattered and he had been thinking about Canadian politics for years—especially since the close call of the 1995 referendum.

What was the selling proposition for a guy like this? “Not a politician,” Brock said this spring. “Not part of the internal struggles in the party in the previous decade. In a curious way, a liability of being away, we thought, could be converted to a positive: somebody coming in with a different perspective. Fluently bilingual. Notwithstanding having been away, had a good understanding of the country. And was a risk-taker. Bold and provocative.”

His admirers wrangled an invitation for Ignatieff to deliver a keynote speech at the national Liberal convention in early 2005. Peter C. Newman, the patriarch of Canadian political journalism, wrote a week earlier in the National Post to explain what it all meant. Here was a leader born and bred, Newman wrote, for a party that has often preferred to “pluck from obscurity an untried but inspiring outsider.” King! Pearson! Trudeau! All had come from outside to shake up the party. And now this crumpet. “Even those untutored Liberal apparatchiks who think charisma is a brand of French perfume will recognize his magnetism,” Newman wrote.

At the convention, Ignatieff fumbled for a bit on the podium after realizing he had lost a page of his prepared text, then delivered a very loose-fitting vision of Liberalism built on national unity, Canadian sovereignty and social justice. Less than a year later, he was a candidate for the party’s leadership after Paul Martin managed to lose to Stephen Harper. The timing wasn’t ideal. “None of us thought it was a good idea for him to be in the leadership race after his first election,” Brock told Maclean’s.

But you play the hand you’re dealt. Ignatieff’s CV made him the 2006 leadership campaign’s front-runner. His fondness for freewheeling conversation made him an easy target. He said he wasn’t losing sleep over the war that erupted that summer between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, then overcompensated by calling the Israeli bombing of Qana “a war crime.” “In the high relief of media reporting and then the dynamic of a leadership race, it was incendiary,” Brock said. “So did it need fixing? Listen, you can’t succeed in politics if you have a propensity to light yourself on fire.”

Ignatieff set about learning how to douse flames, and then to avoid igniting them. After he lost the December 2006 leadership vote to Stéphane Dion, he worked methodically on rehabilitating his image. He wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine recanting his support for the Iraq war. He visited Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto to try to correct the impression he was anti-Israel. He muzzled his earlier support for constitutional reform as a remedy to Quebec nationalism.

His admirers worried he might become too bland. “So many people in the party said, after the first leadership race, ‘He needs to become a better politician. He needs to be better at politics,’ ” Brock said. “And our sense was, that’s a mistake. The moment he becomes a good politician, he loses the sense of being kind of over politics.”

Late in 2008, Dion lost the next federal election badly. Ignatieff announced again for the Liberal leadership. But then, weeks after the election, the Harper government delivered a fall economic update that threatened to end public funding for political parties; the great coalition crisis of 2008 was on. Dion and Jack Layton organized an alternative government with Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe’s support. Ignatieff was a reluctant conscript—the last to sign the letter to the governor general that every opposition MP signed, as if his place on the document made any difference.

The coalition effort collapsed. Dion resigned. Ignatieff’s opponents in the leadership race threw in the towel. The dejected Liberals handed him the leadership months before any formal mechanism could ratify the coronation. Still a rookie in federal politics, Ignatieff had become the third Liberal leader, after Bill Graham and Dion, in three years.

The party had never known such frequent turnover at the top. Pierre Trudeau led it right through the ’70s, Jean Chrétien for all of the ’90s. You used to be able to build your life and career around that party. Now the whole organization was buffeted and exhausted by wave after wave of defeat and failed renewal. A few hawks around Ignatieff, including Ian Davey, wanted to provoke an election immediately and take the idea for a coalition into an election in early 2009. It would split the country, but Ignatieff and Layton might take the upper hand. Party veterans, including the aging Sen. David Smith, told Ignatieff the party was in no shape for such a fight.

Ignatieff, unready for the top job and unsure of himself, decided he needed a pause. He extricated himself from the coalition with Layton by supporting Harper’s January 2009 budget. But he tried to look tough by demanding updates every four months on the budget’s progress. “We’re putting Stephen Harper on probation,” he told the cameras. What he had done was give Harper an excuse to spend millions bragging that he was spending billions.

“You make a deal that says every three months they’re going to issue a report on how they’re doing on the recovery plan,” Brock said. “And every three months they do a major media show to talk about all the great things they’re doing. So I don’t know where that idea came from, but it was a colossally stupid one. We had let the PM off the hook.”

Stephen Harper on the rebound was a dangerous character. On May 13, 2009, the Conservatives launched a multi-million-dollar ad campaign against the new Liberal leader. The long-time expat bon vivant was “just visiting,” the ads warned. “He didn’t come back for you.”

The architect of the campaign was Patrick Muttart, a soft-spoken political consultant whose fastidious market research and flair for communication made much of the difference between Harper’s 2004 defeat and his 2006 victory. Muttart had the party register a website in Montenegro so its URL could be www.ignatieff.me, reinforcing the notion that the Liberal was “just in it for me.” They stuffed it full of embarrassing old quotes. Ads ran for weeks on television and radio.

“I don’t think we really understood how effective it would be if done over a sustained period of time between writ periods,” Brock said. “We thought, ‘Canadians are going to reject this, because this is just over the top. Canadians are going to say, “You shouldn’t be doing this.” ’ And that’s exactly wrong. Canadians aren’t going to say that. They’re too busy living their lives. They pay a little bit of attention to [politics], and if that little bit of attention is dominated by a particular message, effectively delivered and repeated over and over again, it’s going to sink in. And it did.”

The ad barrage must have felt like a carpet bombing, but in many ways it was more like a surgical strike. Halfway through the 2011 campaign, a Conservative war room operative sat down in an Ottawa pub to discuss the party’s entire strategy against Ignatieff.

“They say that we try to portray Ignatieff in our ads and so on as a weak and flailing professor,” the war room staffer said. “No, that’s how we portrayed Dion. Dion was weak, you know, Dion was ‘not a leader.’ We’ve never said Michael Ignatieff isn’t a leader. We’ve never called him weak. And we’ve never called him a flip-flopper. Even when he changes his mind, we don’t say he’s a flip-flopper. Michael Ignatieff, in our narrative, is a political opportunist who is calculating, who will do and say anything to get elected.

“He’s a schemer. When he says one thing and then he changes his mind the next week, it’s not because he’s indecisive and a flip-flopper. It’s because he’s an opportunist who will say different things to different people. I don’t think we’ve even used the phrase, even internally, ‘He’s a malicious human being.’ But that’s kind of the sentiment we’re getting at. With Dion, we were trying to portray him as weak. You can’t trust him to lead us out of the economic recovery because he’s a weak man. With Ignatieff, it’s ‘He’s a bad man,’ right? He’s someone you don’t want your daughter to marry, right?”

The Conservative staffer’s laudable effort to specify the precise nature of this sustained assault on the character of a national party leader brought to mind a passage from former British prime minister Tony Blair’s 2010 memoir, A Journey. Blair explains how he did away with a succession of Tory opponents.

“So I defined [John] Major as weak; [William] Hague as better at jokes than judgment; [Michael] Howard as an opportunist; [David] Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go,” Blair writes.

“Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain, or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground-floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that’s that. Because in each case, it means they’re not a good leader. So game over.”

‘It was Bob Rae’s idea’

In September 2009, Ignatieff arrived in Sudbury for the annual Liberal end-of-summer caucus retreat. He was in a fix. He had spent the spring demanding changes to Employment Insurance to make it easier for jobless victims of the recession to get benefits. This was worth fighting an election over, he said. Harper sent emissaries to discuss the notion, but negotiations had come to nothing, and now Ignatieff had to decide what to do about it.

At this sort of event, the leader always gives an opening speech to his assembled MPs and senators. “In June, we set out four tests for Stephen Harper,” Ignatieff said. “Mr. Harper, you’ve failed all four. After four years of drift, four years of denial, four years of division, four years of discord”—here he stared right into the camera facing him—“Mr. Harper, your time is up.” The caucus applauded. “Give ’im the boot!” a voice from the crowd said. Ignatieff did a nervous little fist-pump thing to demonstrate a simulacrum of enthusiasm.

Ignatieff’s staff was quietly appalled. “None of us thought that was a good idea. We didn’t have the tools to bring the government down on our own,” Brock said. Then whose idea was this? “Bob Rae’s.”

A couple of days before the speech, Ignatieff convened senior members of caucus to discuss the meeting. “Bob’s exact line was, ‘You can’t be half-pregnant. Either we’re taking these guys on or we’re not. And if we’re taking them on, say so.’ Seems sensible, except it completely ruins your room to manoeuvre.”

As a reward for acting bold, Ignatieff failed to defeat Harper in the Commons. Jack Layton and the NDP supported the Conservatives. For trying to force an election, the Liberals sank in the polls while the Conservatives soared. “People were getting disheartened. The poll numbers were discouraging,” Brock said. “And Ignatieff personally just completely lost his confidence. Completely lost his confidence.”

Four days before Halloween 2009, minutes before 5 p.m., rumours started flying around Ottawa that Ignatieff had fired his chief of staff, Ian Davey, his communications director, Jill Fairbrother, and Brock, his principal secretary. Peter Donolo, who had served as Jean Chrétien’s spokesman through most of the 1990s, was the new chief of staff. It was a desperation move. According to one rumour, the party of Chrétien and Trudeau had sunk to 18 per cent in internal overnight polls.

Patricia Sorbara, a long-time Ontario Liberal organizer, was reading about Donolo’s appointment online when her phone rang. It was Donolo. “Are you calling to talk about how crazy you are?” she asked him.

“No,” Donolo said, “to talk about how crazy you’d be to come with me.” The two had dinner at Terroni, an Italian restaurant in downtown Toronto. Neither knew Ignatieff well. Neither had worked hard for the national party for more than a decade. But lifelong partisans hear calls of duty where others might hear only cries of despair. Donolo would be the ideas man. Sorbara would bring discipline and order. Most of the bright young staffers Davey had hired would stay.

The party they were going to help Ignatieff run was in lousy shape. It needed fresh policy and a campaign-ready leader, but most of all it needed an organization on the ground. Donolo and Sorbara visited meetings of the party’s provincial wings, where they spotted riding presidents who’d held the same jobs 30 years earlier. They’d stepped back into their old roles because there was nobody else around to do them. It was hardly a sign of strength.

A thinkers’ conference in Montreal helped refresh the party’s storehouse of ideas. A summer-long bus tour by Ignatieff was obviously designed to get him used to the rigours of campaigning. The tour’s less obvious purpose was to give Liberals on the ground a reason to pick up their game. “So where we had a candidate, for example, in London West, we would call the candidate and call that person’s team and say: ‘Okay, you’ve got to build us a 400-person summer event,’” a senior Liberal organizer said. “And if they could do it, you could get a sense that they were ready.”

For every stop on Ignatieff’s bus tour, teams of local Liberals had to have a venue and a crowd waiting. They were practising for a campaign, along with Ignatieff. The goal: “Get the leader ready, but at the same time get the ground realizing that we’re in a fight,” the organizer said. At one stop on the endless and encouraging Ignatieff bus tour, Sorbara turned to Donolo and said, “The Liberal party is not dead. The Liberal party was just having a little nap, and we’ve managed to wake it up.”

When Ignatieff hired them, Donolo and Sorbara had asked for a year to get ready for the next election. By the fall of 2010, the year was up. Liberals started to tell one another it would soon be time for an election, and then, being Liberals, they began to tell reporters. Late last fall, La Presse ran a column by Vincent Marissal in which he quoted senior Liberals who said they didn’t intend to let the next Harper budget pass a confidence vote if they could help it.

The Conservatives took Marissal’s column as gospel, and pounced. “If the Conservative party wins again, I think the single biggest strategic mistake the Liberal party made was telegraphing their intentions to bring down the government in the fall of 2010,” a senior Harper strategist said. “This basically gave the Conservative party and the operatives and the people who control the money licence to do two things: one, delay the budget as long as possible; and two, start an attack-ad campaign as early as possible and run it as long as possible.”

Jim Flaherty had delivered the 2009 budget on Jan. 27, a not unusual time. This year he waited and waited before finally admitting he would deliver one on March 23. The Conservatives filled the space with by far the longest and heaviest anti-Ignatieff advertising barrage they had ever run. Earlier campaigns had run a few weeks. “This one went on for part of January, all of February and almost all of March,” the Harper strategist said. “And the Grits actually did that to themselves.”

Of course, whenever the Conservatives started a new ad barrage, the Liberals debated about how to respond. Bob Richardson, a Toronto lobbyist who would be in charge of campaign advertising, figured the campaign was on as soon as the Conservatives fired a shot, and was eager to fight back. Donolo had the same instinct.

Gordon Ashworth was Ignatieff’s campaign manager, a role he had played every time Jean Chrétien ran for prime minister. He was more worried than his younger colleagues about the cost of an ad war before an election. Down in the polls and saddled with a leader still learning the craft, the Liberals were not an effective fundraising organization. Ashworth also insisted the Conservative ads wouldn’t do lasting damage, although that attitude may have been influenced by the cost of a real fight back, even if Ashworth had wanted one. “It was a fight that we simply could not win,” a participant in those debates said, “because [the Conservatives] had more resources than we did.”

In the end, the Liberals and NDP finally produced some ads to counter the Conservative barrage. But only the Conservatives had the resources, thanks to effective fundraising, to fund more than a token display. In the weeks before the budget, a Liberal strategist said, the Conservatives bought airtime to run 1,600 ads. “We had 131, and the NDP had, like, 25 or something,” the Liberal said. “It was a massacre.”




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The untold story of the 2011 election: Introduction and Chapter 1

  1. Excellent. I'll definitely be buying a copy of Macleans on Friday.

  2. I haven't read a word yet – but I know where my day has disappeared to already. Grabbing a bowl of popcorn and settling in…well, during my coffee breaks anyway.

  3. At some point in the discussion of the aftermath of the election due respect should be given to the passing of Well's Rule Number 1 of Canadian Politics. For many years, Rule Number 1 provided an important guidepost to political junkies besieged by unending clutter and bluster. So now as the sun sets on R1's summer take a moment to pause and remember all it has done for us.

    • I invoke the notwithstanding clause.

      It is still a good rule despite this one instance.

    • Also, doesn't this election strengthen rule #2?

    • For those looking for the list, here it is:

      1: For any given situation, Canadian politics will tend toward the least exciting possible outcome.

      2: If everyone in Ottawa knows something, it's not true.

      3. The candidate in the best mood wins.

      4. The guy who auditions for the role of opposition leader will get the job.

      I think rules #1, 3 and 4 took a big hit this election. And even #2: everyone knew that the NDP were out and that the Bloc was a fact of life in Canada.

      • And I would submit, despite Yanni's suggestion that this is an isolated case, it is virtually impossible to imagine Quebec politics being uninteresting (in the Chinese curse sense) over the next 5 years.

        • If Quebec turns into a carnival, I'll concede.

          It has a good start. MP Vegas has forged signatures on her nomination. I can totally see why an NDP Quebec candidate who wasn't actually planning to run would do that.

      • Definately #3 is out. But really, Harper has always been the candidate in the worst mood.

        I think #4 still holds up, unless you think Micheal Ignatieff campaigned harder for the job of opposition than Layton did. Harper never campaigned for the opposition. It was majority or nothing from the get go.

        But I was thinking #2 was correct, because no one in Ottawa thought the Conservatives would win a majority, or that the NDP's triumph was so complete over the Liberals and the Bloc.

      • Rule #1- took a bit of a hit, but not much. The election seemed exciting, but was it? The only party with a chance at majority was the Conservatives, and they got it. The Layton surge was real, but really only produced results in Quebec. The polls completely overestimated the NDP's chances at forming a government. The only nail-biting was majority or minority for Harper.

        Rule #2 – is bang on. Everyone knew that Harper did not have enough support for a majority. Everyone. All the experts. All the pundits. Including "senior Tories" leaking to the Toronto Star. Everyone save for Colby Cosh and Chet. We'll call them outliers.

        Rule #3 – Layton was in the best spirits, and he made the biggest gains. Harper seemed fairly buoyant and confident throughout – as buoyant as he is capable of anyway – and he also fared well.

        Rule #4 – nailed it. Layton gunned for Ignatieff's throat. He gunned for Stornaway. Now he's moving in. Sure he mused about getting a minority government, but really, the aim was to displace, to replace, the Liberals. He did it.

    • Isn't a Harper majority the least exciting outcome? I think Rule #1 still holds.

      Lot's of exciting stuff happened on the way to the least exciiing outcome, with the promise of more exciting stuff to happen on the opposition benches.

      But it was the least exciting outcome.

    • Isn't it the exception that proves the rule? I don't really get what that could possibly mean, but I think it has something to do with the fact that if there were never exceptions to the rule, then it would be a mere axiom or truism.

  4. This is a fantastic read. I'm really looking forward to Wells's Right Side Up sequel.

  5. Great play by play Paul. Must say that Warren Kinsella gave the Conservatives food for thought back in 2006.

    "It is not very often that one gets to witness a "leadership frontrunner" immolate his own candidacy so blithely, so recklessly, but if you click here and you peer inside, you will see the corpse of Michael Ignatieff's vaulting ambition. He is done – and if he isn't, he should be. I objected to the manner in which his supporters trampled on democracy in a Toronto riding – literally locking out opponents. I objected to what I perceived to be breathtaking arrogance – calling Canada a "herbivorian boy scout" one day, then jetting up here to run it the next. His Kool Aid drinkers – and he has many already, rest assured – will bombard me with emails, braying and screeching that I quoted him out of context. But the fact is that they are his words …" http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomm

    • this is true, no doubt

  6. Bravo!

    Well done…a compelling read.

  7. Sweet, pumped to buy a copy tomorrow…

  8. "Party veterans, including the aging Sen. David Smith, told Ignatieff the party was in no shape for such a fight.

    Ignatieff, unready for the top job and unsure of himself, decided he needed a pause."

    I don't know if there is any truth to this, or if it's just Well's interpretation. But if true it is utterly damming. It is like a general claiming they didn't take advantage of a one-time tactical advantage because the general wanted to spend more time studying. And what's this about not being ready to fight? It's not like they were waiting on reinforcement MPs to suddenly join parliament. I've never forgiven the Liberals for failing to take a stand in that fight.

    Either they are more pro-conservative than pro-NDP or they are cowards. Probably both.

    • I'm not exactly sure what it is that you think they should have done. Force an election in early 2009? But over what?

      • They should have kept the coalition. It's an old debate now, but I maintain the Liberal party not taking a stand was cowardly.

        • I just think it's a lot easier said than done.

        • Do you recall that during the 2009 coalition days that support for the Harper Conservatives soared to around 50%?

          The coalition might have worked for a few months, but would likely have resulted in an even greater Conservative majority today.

          They were sort of between a rock and a hard place.

          I think the overall "take home message" is that Ignatieff proved to be an insecure and indecisive leader.

        • It's pretty tough to do that when you just lost the election 6 weeks before, and public opinion was strongly galvanizing against the whole exercise. True, Harper abused his power when he prorogued. I still think he should have just handed them the keys, then waited for that ridiculous patchwork of competing interests to self-destruct. But it's all water under the bridge now.

          • The fact the coalition couldn't survive the month of prorogation is actually the strongest evidence that it was a good thing for the government of canada. Tempers were hot, rash decisions were made, the canadian public was incensed at the proposal, a month off to let cooler heads prevail was a good thing. This is not to say coalitions are illegitimate. It is to say THAT coalition was a bad idea.

          • It was three months. But your observation is still correct. A 3 month break should have given them time to lock down the details, choose a potential cabinet, then vote down the budget upon their return. They lost their nerve because the polls showed they had no support. The civil service union and various progressive groups were making noise to support the coalition, but regular Canadians weren't buying what they were selling. It would have lead to a crushing Tory majority eventually, and was therefore a non-starter.

      • It doesn't matter what – the depth of the recession would have been enough. After the post- coalition crisis "rally around the flag" effect subsided, Ignatieff consistently led in the polls. He could have made some claim about Harper not meeting the criteria set out in the budget reports – it wouldn't matter what, so long as he got an election. Would Harper have gained some points talking about an unnecessary election? Maybe, but not much – Dion never got much out of Harper calling the 2008 election in violation of his own election laws. Voters tend not to care about things that have no bearing on the future.

        I will grant that in fomenting the coalition crisis, Dion probably destroyed the Liberal party. He ensured that his successors would always wear the coalition millstone, while also indirectly sending the message that people could vote NDP and get the Liberals. And by joining in, Duceppe illustrated to Quebec that the Bloc is so toxic in English Canada that it is a poor vehicle for extracting benefits for the province (except on an ad hoc basis).

        • Let us not forget that Chretien spent a week creeping around the MP's offices agitating for that coalition. He apparently was a major factor in winning over many other reluctant Liberals to the cause. I was just starting to respect the man after a few years of reflecting on his time in office (never much liked him when he was PM) when he decided to pull that stunt and destabilize the country. My respect for him returned to the gutter, where it's been ever since. It shall remain there always.

        • The party wasn't ready to run an election. Reading this section is like reading an obituary. Riding presidents from 30 years ago???? Unbelievable.

          • They weren't ready. They had just had an election. Even the Tories weren't ready. Which is why they capitulated and came up with the stimulus.

  9. Because he has no power and the "news", i.e. what is new, is that Jack knocked off the Bloc when the Conservatives and Liberals couldn't.

    That said, I am surprised with the focus on Jack. It's a great success for the NDP and might be important or meaningful or impactful some day. But it is meaningless right now. Harper won a majority and can and will do whatever he wants for the next 4 years.

  10. Fascinating. Paul's right. This election was as good as it gets. This was/is our time. The past is mostly a blur, the future a dark glass. And it's a lovely spring day up here North of sixty, and i have lots to do.
    No time to read it all. Lots to chew on.
    PWs has mastered a difficult feat. How to be fair and brutally incisive concurrently…it's one of the reasons i keep on coming back to Macleans…that and the fact they don't charge me anything.
    I was going to say that if i ever see Paul out on a sidewalk he should watch out for my newish NDP bike; actually the brakes are wonky, it keeps on veering to the left, wants to go on holiday, it also doesnt appear to speak as much French as i thought it would. But my lib bike was unexpectedly run over by a couple of semis on the second, and may need to be rebuilt.
    Great post/article.

  11. It's true. They really do play checkers. They're the keystone cops. I was truly bewildered by some of the things the Liberals had done, and now to be seeing the inside story, wow.

    Great article.

    • Right Side Up was fantastic. I expect this article will be no different. I've only read the first part so far, but Paul & friends appear to have done it again.

  12. By now the victims of his resilience are stacked outside like cordwood, and it may at last be getting hard for them to hang onto their easy dismissive smirks.

    Heh. That line just put a smirk back on my face. And trust me, I've been smirking a lot these last 48 hours. Heather Mallick's error-riddled, demented scribblings in the Guardian this morning cheered me to no end. Her anguish is palpable. I can taste it. And it tastes gooooood.

    • Wow, there was enough hate in Heather Mallick's column to make me vote conservative for three more elections.

      • I know. She obviously wrote that column in a state of blind rage. The ridiculous personal attacks on Harper's mannerisms aside, she made numerous careless errors. She claimed that Harper grew up in Calgary (actually it was Toronto) though the Guardian editors corrected that one. She also claimed that the Tories want to ban the per-vote subsidy because "no one can compete with the Conservatives in soliciting corporate donations" – even though the Conservatives banned corporate and union donations in the Accountability Act, passed in December 2006. She even got her political alignments mixed up. She said the NDP were equivalent to the UK Liberal-Democrats, and the Liberals were Canada's equivalent to Labour. Of course, it's the reverse. The whole thing was a very typical error-riddled Mallick hate-fest. She really made a fool of herself. I loved it.

        • Chretien banned corporate and union donations in 2003. Harper just reduced the contribution ceiling.

          • How could Harper reduce the contribution ceiling if they were banned? I believe you have it backwards. Chretien limited the contribution ceiling – Harper outlawed contributions from unions and corporations. Though I'm prepared to be corrected. I've been wrong before.

    • What's even more surprising was having the Guardian gave Mallick's schizophrenic ranting a space. It somehow drag the newspaper down with her.

      • I interpret it a different way – Mallick had to cross half of the world to find somebody willing to punish her dribble.

        • You mean publish her drivel. I'm still waiting for someone to punish her. Though we extracted a fair bit of revenge on Monday night I would think. :)

      • It's pretty tough to drag the Guardian down any lower than they already are. They certainly don't need Canadian help to do it. But she sure does her part to lower it that extra notch. I particularly remember their snide, sneering dismissal of the 2010 games as "the worst Olympics ever." And how they pointed to the warm, slushy weather as "poetic justice" for Canada, in that climate change was ruining our Olympics because we refused to shut down the oil sands. There's not much graffiti Mallick could publish that would make my opinion of that paper any lower. But she came close today.

      • I live in the UK and though I am not of the Guardian's ideological bent, it is increasingly completely unreadable. The downturn in the newspaper industry has hit them as hard as anyone and the quality has suffered. Very little thoughtful stuff from a lefty perspective anymore. Articles like Mallick's are not at all atypical of what you find in there these days

  13. "stabilty" -for who? the Corporate elite tax free ?
    sure, lets do it.

  14. This comment was deleted.

    • Bobby Rae started agitating for merger talks with the NDP before the election results were final. You can tell he's already regretting jumping ship for the Liberals. Watch him cross the floor if he doesn't get his way. He's that kind of guy.

      • That certainly will make some of us second guess the real reason behind Bob Raes defection to the Liberals. As for him crossing the floor, do you think NDP can accommodate two humongous egos without tearing its party inside out?

        • The Progressive Conservatives of the early 1990s and the Liberals of a more recent era both housed more than two humongous egos, and it never hurt th…………….

          Oh wait. OK. I see your point.

  15. Liberals started to tell one another it would soon be time for an election, and then, being Liberals, they began to tell reporters.

    Is there anyone else who can turn a phrase like Paul Wells? He's the only guy who can write a serious article on politics and still make me laugh. He'd make an article on gardening entertaining. (No, this does not mean I'm going to start reading his jazz album reviews.)

  16. Yawn. Since this country has chosen its majority course (very poorly in my opinion) for the next 4 years I, and most Canadians, won't be paying much attention to politics. Politico journalists like Wells/Coyne have had a feast day over the last 5 years with continuous elections or threats of elections but it's over now. The excitement to read these sorts of articles has drained away since it's all just musings about water under the bridge. The news media in Canada is in store for a long drought of interest that might make these corporations start wondering whether recommending Canadians elect a majority government was really in the best interests of their bottom line.

    • You raise an excellent point. When Mulroney and Chrétien had their majorities, there was no politics in Canada. Oh wait: that's not an excellent point. It's the other kind of point.

  17. It's important to note that during the time that Dion was leader the media portrayed Michael Ignatieff (rightly or wrongly) at the best of times as not entirely supportive of his leader and at the worst of times a schemer. I recall seeing footage of Ignatieff smirking while Dion was underperforming during question period. Ignatieff (and Rae for that matter) also kept his leadership campaign team intact so that it seemed like he was just preparing for Dion to fail so he could take over.

  18. Sorry, with respect, I must have misunderstood your comment. You seem to be implying that Warren Kinsella is anything but a crusader for truth, consistency and principle. Please clarify.

    • I'm saying, of course, that he is a pillar of virtue, and represents all that is good and pure in Canadian political life. How could you possibly misunderstand me? :)

  19. Ok, crazy person question: is it possible, as some of us conservative-minded hope, that Harper now having his majority government will no longer strive to be a complete, full-time jackass? That is, having vanquished his opponents, is it possible to regain some semblance of decency and principle, of which many of us think/thought he is capable?

  20. I bought the Macleans issue today and read the entire thing. Best $6.95 + HST I ever spent. Fascinating that the Conservatives insist that they thought the NDP was going to support the budget. I don't know if that is true or if it is just spin, but it seems the insiders from all parties were very candid with journalists regarding everything else that was printed in the article.

  21. Wells' account of that incident seems credible to me. It's consistent with how it all came out in the news cycle at the time.

    And no Paul, I'm not trying to wrangle a set of steak knives from you . . .

  22. I remember after reading Mallick's Guardian article, I thought: if that represents the unbridled id of the Canadian progressive left, then it ain't pretty.

    • It's very pretty from where I sit. They are really baring their fangs now, and they will live to regret it. The "scary" Stephen Harper on his worst day never foamed at the mouth like that.

  23. LOL, for rule #3 Jack Layton was getting happy endings with his massages, so of course he was in the best mood, and he did GREAT!!

  24. We're hoping. Which isn't easy for us. We're a cynical bunch.

  25. Amazing how, after the defeat has happened, of course, a writer can take facts about a politician and make it sound as if he's a vampire.

    I thought only soap operas and True Confessions mags specialized in such dramatization and colouring. What happened to factual reporting?

    Wells could get a job on America's Most Wanted.

    • Which politician was made to sound like a vampire? Ignatieff comes off like a bumbling misfit. Rae comes across as a rather pushy individual with rather poor political instincts. Not a vampire in sight.

  26. "is it possible to regain some semblance of decency and principle"

    If he had shown some of that before now, he may have had his majority earlier. It was the lack of both, more than his stated platform, that made me (and people like me) run hard in the opposite direction. Well, that and the presence of too many Harris retreads in key roles.

    • Agreed. His personality has held him back more than his policies. Many people can't trust him, and he seems mean-spirited and conniving. Maybe that's all politicians, but he's not very good at donning the sweater vest and convincing people he's a swell guy.

  27. For this particular election, Wells' rules are like horoscopes – everybody reads what they want.

    I think they're great rules, but #1 takes a beating every few years. Honestly, Canada's had more party gyrations since 1984 than just about any other major democracy. We've had ancient parties decline or die, new parties arrive and decline, the 3rd and 4th parties of 15 years ago now rule the roost, vast shifts in loyalty in different regions… and we're probably not done, at least in Quebec — hardly the most boring outcome.

  28. I had wondered if the Tories engineered the exact date of the budget so that the election would end on tax filing day. Now I'm pretty sure. If you look at the polls over the weekend, they made a sharp turn up for the Tories as 50% of people Netfiled.

    I know I didn't enjoy finding out this weekend I owed $13,000 over my installments.

    • I believe too, that was one of Harper's most brilliant moves. At that time I was watching the news on TV about people protesting the timing, as it was too hectic a schedule to have both important exercises at the same time. Harper stuck to his gun. I thought then wow, it would effectively kill many birds in one stone (pardon my language PETA!). It was definitely a spending promises killer. Everytime an opponent promised spending, unknowingly they dug themselves deeper. There was no need even for the Conservatives to counter them, beauty! While doing my tax preparation and hearing those promises coming from NDP, Liberals, and to certain extent by Conservative, I heard imaginary ding, ding, and ding some more. The saving grace for Conservatives side was when they made precondition to those promises by planning them to happen in years time (after the budget is balanced). That too was brilliant as it projected a serious well thought realistic and reasonable plan, not just an attempt of vote buying and empty babblings. I wonder whether our PM is brilliant at chess.

  29. That line was a keeper.

    Buy hey – they fooled Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne, who were both convinced that the election would be 2012. Maybe Paul and Andrew couldn't believe the Liberals would telegraph such an important secret.

  30. Don't worry – the PQ will soon be back in town and the neverendum can begin.

    It's the End of History. Until it's not.

  31. It appeared to me that the opposition parties played into Harper's hands without fail. The majority, if not all, charges laid repeatedly against the Conservatives were specious if not simply ridiculous. A group labelling themselves as "NOT HARPER" here in Kings-Hants, constituency of Scott Brison, were seemingly comprised of misfits and oddballs. When asked what it was about Harper they disliked, their answers were consistently vapid and incoherent. With widened eyes and bulging nostrils, they proclaimed Harper to be "evil" but their looks and demeanour suggested that it was "they" who were unhinged. Had Harper really killed the census? Was it he who refused to reform the Senate? Did he fill the pockets of Conservative friends with public monies, as the Liberals had done? NOT HARPER! Sadly, those who proclaimed these specious charges, for the most part, except for the brainwashed i.e. the so-called “Raging Grannies” etc., knew they were not true. It was not Harper who was guilty of contempt, it was really those in opposition exhibiting contempt for the Canadian electorate.

    • Who killed the census if not Harper? Are you going to pin it on Tony?

      • If you think the census has been killed, you'll be in for a BIG surprise when you're asked to complete it. The long-form is now requested from one in three, an even greater sampling than before. The ONLY difference is that you are not threatened with jail-time should you not wish to answer specific questions for any reason. A voluntary response is more likely to elicit accurate information than a mandatory response. Just remember, "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." If you force someone to do what they are unwilling to do, they will give you fake i.e. BS answers. A moral requirement is by far more effective than a mandatory i.e. threatening requirement. Think about it. It should be common sense. Accurate data is more important than fake data.

        • I suppose you'll be pleased to hear that I showed that pesky government who's boss when they threatened me with jail time over the short form census. I reversed the genders of everyone in my household, used a die to determine our dates of birth and put down elven as our sole language.

          The long for census is dead. A survey won't be of much use, because the sample is 100% guaranteed to be biased in ways that cannot be determined, and thus corrected for. They could send the long form to everyone in Canada–it won't make it statistically valid.

          • Your attitude clearly proves my point. Answering the census, long or short, by anyone who doesn't wish to do so or, following your example, provides fake i.e. BS answers, will not provide a statistically valid census. Unless, of course, its purpose is to count the number of simpletons. I filled out the long form as truthfully as possible and did so from a moral obligation. What is the meaning of a moral obligation? Those who understand require no explanation whereas those who require an explanation will never understand.

          • You can make a moral argument for refusing to complete the survey, as well. A high response rate plays into the hands of those who would claim that it has any statistical usefulness (which it won't have). The lower the response rate and the more obviously skewed the data, the moret inevitable the reinstatement of a true random sample long form census in 2016. And the elimination of the long form census leads inexorably to the creation of a giant database of demographic and other information being compiled about all citizens, necessarily attached to your identity and without your knowledge or consent, and with far fewer safe-guards against abuse by the government.

  32. How would it go if Wayne Gretsky was head of the Liberals?

    snip snip: In the weeks before the budget, a Liberal strategist said, the Conservatives bought airtime to run 1,600 ads.

    “We had 131, and the NDP had, like, 25 or something,” the Liberal said. “It was a massacre.”
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/05/04/politics-turne

  33. Mr Ignatief called Harper evil ("there's a whiff of sulphur coming from that guy"), arrogant, wasteful…

    His desperate efforts to topple the Conservatives could have been comic, if it wasn't so disgraceful. He tried a so-called "scandal" a day.
    In the end the Liberal conceived "Contempt of Parliament " vote came to his rescue. Mr Ignatieff forgot that their MAJORITY was the only reason this fate didn't befall any of the previous Liberal governments.

    Mr Ignatieff's arrogance shined throughout his campaign. He didn't hesitate to call his the only voice of the Liberals.

    Good riddance! Canada and the Liberals are all better off without this man.

    • Well said.
      I read so many comments/columns trying to blame conservative attack ads and everything else under the sun for Ignatieff's fall, but it was HIMSELF, from day one, who failed to interest most canadians, except for uber Liberals who were convinced this academic genius was the new messiah.
      Harper didn't really have to do much at all… Iggy did it all to himself.

  34. You're correct.

  35. Faux graciousness is a lot easier to pull off when you have near complete control. You never have to bear your fangs if no one can touch you.

  36. Jack Layton and Velvet Touch – "same old same old"
    Jack Layton just put us through a 300 million dollar election, because he accused the Harper government of not giving answers to Canadians, or at least credible answers, and he declared this was tantamount to contempt of parliament, and Canadian people .Layton can be sure that Canadians, as well as Libby Davies, are not satisfied with his answer, or non answer, of why he was found nude by Toronto police in a Toronto massage parlor the Velvet Touch. Layton accused the other two parties of the "same old same old" in the election, so now Canadians want to know if Layton who will not give us answers as well, and is he also "same old same old"?

  37. Fascinating. Tell us more of your insight into the future actions and attitudes of 'most Canadians'. The other side of that door is a good place to stand… that's right…. close it… thank you.

  38. In fairness, I can't agree with your characterization of Layton with respect to the massage parlour story. That being said, the accusations by Layton et al with respect to credibility and “contempt of parliament" were clearly specious. Forcing an election on these grounds was tantamount to contempt for the Canadian electorate. The opposition got what it deserved, less power and a "majority" Conservative government. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.

  39. Paul;

    It's a beautiful thing to read that in 2004 two downtown Toronto Lawyers assessed MI as having a "good understanding of Canada"!

  40. NO! the first liberal leadership mistake made …was not allowing, .. card carrying, hard working, front line, on the ground, young liberals …feel like they have a meaningful vote/contribution into who would lead the party after the Dion disaster.

    The liberal party downward spiral actually began on the ground when the talking liberal heads at the top decided to remove democracy from the party!

  41. This is a great chronicle of the campaign for those of us who have no idea what goes on in the background, but I'm still left with the feeling that this and other post-election analysis doesn't adequately explain the outcome that nobody expected because nobody has taken a really hard look at the electorate, much of which doesn't seem to know or care about politics despite what would seem like some rather important issues. It seemed like most of the 60% or so who voted did so like it was Canadian Idol – watch and listen for a few minutes, decide who looks and sounds good, vote, back to things that matter. One of the most stunning of the stunning results of this election for me was the post-election national survey in which participants overwhelmingly said that they wanted the majority government kept on a short leash, yet that seems to have been nothing but a blip in all the post-election chatter.

  42. I'm not sure what planet you are living on but here in Canada, on the planet earth, the long form census has not been abandoned. Allowing those who choose to fill out the form voluntarily, whether that be in part or whole, increases the potential accuracy of the information as opposed to threatening people with jail terms or being shot by a firing squad. You have demonstrated the problem clearly by your reported attempt to skew the data as described. Accurate data trumps inaccurate data every time.

  43. A voluntary survey is by definition not a census. Therefore, the long-form census is dead. A voluntary census with a low response rate is just a waste of money. How you believe this counts as 'accurate data' is beyond me. The politicization of the census also assures that large portions of the population will now refuse to complete the survey. Want to do an over-under on response rate? My bet is sub-60%.

    I guess I should have put my earlier statement in sarcasm tags.

  44. “His formidable eyebrows arched up, then pressed downward and together, like twin dolphins at yoga class.”

    Best. Line. Ever.

  45. This country is going to the dog’s,anyone and everyone runs for office so they can collect a fat pension,But as a Canadian I say two things, scrap the C.B.C AND ALL THE POLITICIAN SHOULD NOT GET A PENSION AFTER THEIR TERMS,THEY SHOULD HAVE TO STAND IN THE EI LINE LIKE ALL OTHER CANADIANS,THEN WE WOULD SAVE BILLION’S OF DOLLARS AND WONT HAVE TO RAISE OUR TAXES,THIS SYSTEM JUST GOUGES THE REGULAR CANADIAN’S,STAND IN LINE YOU BLOOD SUCKER’SOR WE SHOULD HAVE A TAX REVOLUTIONIN THIS COUNTRY,ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
    S
    S

  46. Some interesting points, but there’s that elephant thing again. What Wells either overlooks or is hiding is the role of the media. How often did we hear about Ignatieff’s supposed failure to connect with voters? Every day, every day, every day, on and on and on. And how often did we hear about Harper’s contempt for parliament, or the many times he has outrightly broken the law in terms of election matters the last few years? Once or twice, in passing. As always, far too few people seem capable of seeing how thoroughly the media in this country manages the ‘news’, day in day out – including elections. To a highly-suggestible population watching tv an average of 4 hours per day, getting them onto any bandwagon they want is no problem. Imagine a media constantly telling everyone what a great guy Ignatieff was, and what a potential dictator Harper was – think the results might have been any different?
    For more analysis not to be found in the MSM -  What Happened? http://www.rudemacedon.ca/what-happened.html .

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