How the leaders hope to win this federal election

How the leaders hope to win this election

An air war. A street fight. A long march. Evan Solomon offers an inside look at each leader’s favourite tactics in an election that anyone can win.



Maclean’s is pleased to welcome Evan Solomon to our pages—print and digital—as an election campaign commentator. Solomon, a veteran political journalist and former host of CBC’s Power and Politics and The House, launches a radio show called Everything Is Political: Campaign 2015 on Sirius XM starting August 6.

If all goes right for Stephen Harper, the Super-Sized federal election campaign will be decided by an air war. Define and destroy the opposition with millions of dollars of TV ads before ground troops even get a chance to fight. Keep firing off those universal child benefit cheques, the cruise missiles of the air campaign.

Thomas Mulcair wants an old-fashioned street fight. The bloodier the better. For him, the leaders debates are his octagon, where he can deploy his intellectual mixed martial arts skills and destroy his opponents.

Justin Trudeau wants neither. He wants the campaign to be about a long march for change. Rise above the negative attacks. Represent what political strategists call, with gnostic whispers, “The Change.” Take your punches, retain a sunny disposition, and hope for a wave of people to follow.

The Harper Air War Campaign (call it the HAWC) begins with a huge advantage. The Conservatives have spent months during the pre-writ phony war doling out government money for dozens of programs and larding regions and families with cash. But the 11-week campaign means parties can spend more than $50 million and only the Conservatives have close to that kind of money. Election rules also shut out third parties—like unions—from spending big on anti-Harper ads.

The strategy goes even deeper: It also sets the Tories up for the next election. Why? Because of the rebate, parties are reimbursed 50 per cent of their expenses and candidates 60 per cent of theirs. So, let’s say the Tories spend over $51 million on this campaign, as expected. They will get back about $25 million. “That gives them a fully funded 35-day campaign next election, no matter how they do in this campaign,” a senior Liberal told me. “Everyone else will be in debt.”

The HAWC began in earnest a month ago with the launch of the anti-Trudeau “Just Not Ready” ad. Even Liberals admit it has dropped Trudeau’s poll numbers like a football tossed to Robert Stanfield. Conservatives tell me they have seven or eight more versions of that ad ready to run. The strategy is deliberate, if dangerous. Push Trudeau down five points and let Mulcair rise so the Liberal and NDP votes split in Ontario. Conservatives believe that, if Mulcair is seen as the only alternative to Harper, they will win. Given Mulcair’s steady rise and the Conservatives’ recent horror show in Alberta, the strategy could prove much riskier than imagined.

The HAWC is meant to frame the debate on two Ts: tax and terror. Even as Canada lurches toward a possible recession, Conservatives are happier to debate dollars than Duffy. “As long as we are talking about the economy and security, we’ll take it,” a Conservative strategist told me.

Finally, the HAWC takes the pressure off Harper to be, well, likable. He knows people are sick of him. In a recent Ekos-iPolitics poll, 60 per cent of Canadians said Harper makes them feel “angry” and “discouraged.” The pitch for Harper is like the ad for Buckley’s medicine. Yeah, it tastes terrible. But it works. If the Mike Duffy fiasco isn’t already priced in, if the economy doesn’t go Grecian or if the wave of change doesn’t finally drown him, Harper the Air Warrior may be able to keep his cash cannons firing—and win.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair speaks at a rally in Ottawa on June 17, 2015. The federal NDP is going on a pre-election offensive aimed at demonstrating it's the party best positioned to defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives in the looming Oct. 19 election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Mulcair the Street Fighter cannot wait for the debates. He’s the perfectly built machine for face-to-face battle—smart, fearless and goes for the kill, as he proved in question period. He cut his political chops in the National Assembly, which, he likes to say, is a much tougher political neighbourhood than Ottawa.

Still, Mulcair knows winning an election is not just about being a gladiator. He once told me, “I know how it works: He who wields the sword often doesn’t wear the Crown.” He fears he will do all the hard work to take down Harper, and smiling Trudeau will glide in and get the top job.

That’s why he’s learning from the pros behind the first Orange Wave, like Brad Lavigne and Anne McGrath, not to be such a know-it-all. As the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. So, Mulcair is donning the proverbial sweater-vest. Smiling more. Slashing less. Talking about his family and hard-working “values.”

As Trudeau keeps fading in the polls, Mulcair is likely to ignore him in the debates and make it all about Harper. That’s why the NDP has already said it will drop out of any debate Harper does not attend. Orange door. Blue door. If the debates matter in the campaign, the Street Fighter Mulcair could be the next prime minister.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

Trudeau needs his March to get back on track. For months, he was seen as the alternative to Stephen Harper. Wherever he went, the polls followed. Those days went away as fast as Trudeau could whip out a CF-18. Still, internal Liberal polls show that twice as many people want change in this election as the last. Harper’s greatest challenge is the great Liberal hope.

Trudeau is well aware of his vulnerability. A few days before his now-famous boxing match with then-Tory senator Patrick Brazeau, Trudeau assured me he was going to win. “I know everyone thinks I’m a pretty boy who can’t take a punch,” he said. “But I’ve been training all year, and have done this my whole life. It’s good to be underestimated.”

The same goes for the debates. He’s been training hard. As long as he doesn’t create a goofy clip that can go viral, he comes out clean. His bar for debate victory is probably the lowest.

Expect Trudeau to go much harder on Mulcair in the debates than he does on Harper. Liberal strategists say he will try to link the two on issues such as universal child benefits, by suggesting both Muclair and Harper support subsidies to millionaires. Can Trudeau outflank Mulcair on the progressive left? It’s a gamble for the Liberals, who made their reputations as tough deficit-slayers and who stand close to the centre on security issues.

But if the election turns on the big question of Time for Change, and sanguine Ontario is still too reticent about a NDP federal government, Trudeau could well lead a march that ends up in his old home on Sussex Drive.


How the leaders hope to win this election

  1. Evan:

    Great article! And even greater to see you back covering Canadian politics!!!

    As for Trudeau — we may yet see his bar is higher than he thinks because if he’s going to better than “do well” this time around, he has to keep appealing to Canadians’ sense of political readiness. Does he look/feel ‘Prime Ministerial’? In this opening week of the campaign, he’s come out of the gate handling the initial shirking by both the Conservatives and NDP (who wouldn’t even use his name) very well; he may have even started to remind people of his father a little. And already, Harper’s using his full name again – a sign something’s gone his way early on. ;)


    • “Harper’s using his full name again..” ..after only a couple of days. There are a dozen reasons but something made the Harper camp back off.
      The highest standard is set for Mulcair having made his name with his skills and behaviour in the HoC. Rerun the Mulcair campaign launch and listen to the deep breaths and pauses to say the right thing. Should he revert to that in the debates, then all is lost.
      Trudeau will have to watch that facial expression that says, “I can’t believe I just said that..”. He’ll have to stick to policy and don’t try an “..ah ha..” moment (aka Mulroney/Turner). The one liner for Trudeau will be regarding his opponents has to state he was, is and always will be a Liberal.. what you see is what you get!!

  2. So glad to hear about your new talk show and to see you writing for MacLeans! You have been missed.
    Really hoping for Trudeau to make a good show – I see so many of Harper’s less desirable traits in Mulcair. He knows that abolition of the Senate is virtually impossible and it seems dishonest to run on this as an election issue. I also do not agree that it is the best solution. We need something less extreme! It will be interesting to see how the debates go.

  3. A poem for Harper:
    ‘Lose Some Sleep’
    Losing sleep over my
    black silk niqab, harper

    try to lose it over
    missing murdered red
    brown women
    of this fast-fracking
    land, harper

    Losing sleep over my
    black silk niqab, harper

    Lose it over
    homeless jobless
    multicoloured people
    of your C51-aspiring
    brand, harper

    Losing sleep over my
    black silk niqab, harper

    Lose it over
    spilled oil minimum wage
    toil poisoned soil
    of your tarsands-producing
    wasteland, harper

    By morning
    perhaps we’ll see the
    bright BARE face
    of a composite order for a
    national inquiry just economy
    sustainable development
    itself on the
    parliament hill
    in your soft pink
    hand, harper.
    A not-for-profit
    stand, harper.

    On the National Day of Action Against Bill C-51, 14 March 2015

  4. What awful writing – all pretentious shallow quips.

    Solomon should go back to peddling “art.”

    • Go back to your wheaties….

  5. Great column. So glad to hear your incisive and clever analysis, Evan!

  6. Glad to have you back Evan, although you’re still as anti-Harper as ever, what with the war analogies vs Mr. Trudeau characterized as kind and warm-hearted.

    Still, I miss your interviewing style on Power and Politics; in my opinion they should not have let you go. Personally, I feel the show is still as partisan as ever, with the left far outflanking the right, with the help of the producers’ gotcha questions of course, but I don’t tune in as often.

    I’m glad you’re writing for Macleans. Think of how great you could be if you really really tried to be non-partisan, even if it hurt! Others might have held you back, but Macleans surely won’t! Cheers and best of luck.

  7. Evan Solomon is an arrogant, self-serving narcissist and everyone should be aware of that fact. I was glad when the Toronto Star discovered and made public his complete lack of journalistic integrity, and I applaud the CBC for severing ties immediately. I sincerely hope he falls flat on his face with his McLean’s and Sirius XM positions. He should never have been allowed back into the world of journalism in any capacity whatsoever.

    Solomon should be thoroughly ashamed of himself and the way that he’s sullied the good name of ethical, hard-working journalists in this country. What an utter disgrace his career has turned out to be. This attempt to limp his way back into print is pathetic after his egregious breach of ethics, and I call on every Canadian to boycott his column and anything else he involves himself with as a ‘journalist’. This man has conclusively proven that he’s morally bankrupt, and he should NEVER have been rewarded by McLean’s with another chance.

    Shame on you McLean’s! Evan Solomon is an utter pariah of Canadian journalism, and should be treated as such. And for those celebrating his return in this thread, you simply are not informed enough about the serious need for strict journalistic integrity and ethics if you naively shower him with praise and cheer his return. The nature and value of his actual journalism in itself was not skewed, altered or tainted by his misdeeds, but that should not diminish the public’s perception of his very real guilt, nor lessen the severity with which he is perceived. Anything less is willful ignorance.

    • Martin, you should try a mild laxative. You will feel better in the morning.

      • Right on Donna but with a strong Laxative for Martin. I never found Evan arrogant. He was a cool cat and that’s that.

    • He proved a lot of your thesis when an inside the bubble nothing, already forgotten story about Elizabeth May was repetitively lifted into something a national black headline crisis by Solomon. A pathetic gotcha journalism disgrace.

    • Barbara Amiel wrote this June 18th in Macleans and I am of the view that it is ‘dead on’ regarding Mr. Soloman :
      “CBC’s summary execution of   Solomon was an ugly sight. No employee deserves the shabby treatment he received and, when presented as a moral act for the good of the nation, it is particularly unpleasant. Public broadcasting is vital to a nation’s culture, but it becomes hard to support CBC’s unique role when its executives act like Robespierres, reflect mob hysteria and seem unable to think beyond a tight little world of inbred views.”
      Have a read if you missed what Barbara wrote.

  8. Great Article, Evan! Welcome Back. You have been missed.
    Geoff Chaulk
    St. John’s, NL

  9. MacLean’s has shown itself to be duplicitous and crassly opportunistic in choosing to publish Solomon. On the one hand, it published revealing articles such as this: and this, but then it turned around and within just a few weeks decided to hire Solomon. I agree with Bruce DeMara that Solomon and MacLean’s should have made a more overt and explicit public statement preceding his reappearance at the very least, which neither did:

    Evidently, MacLean’s is tone deaf to what message this sends to young people either in journalism school or planning to enter the profession in the future. When someone like Solomon can be outed as unscrupulous and ethically debased, yet still be hired by respected outlets like MacLean’s, it reveals the secondary importance of high ethical standards and personal integrity above profits. Clearly the latter matters more to MacLean’s. How incredibly disappointing. As a revered fixture on the Canadian media scene, we should all expect more from MacLean’s.

    Solomon used his professional contacts to personally profit, and he did so in a hugely deceptive and immoral way. By hiring Solomon, MacLean’s is saying that this doesn’t matter to them, and for that, this publication (along with Solomon himself and anything he does from this point onward), has forever lost my respect.

    Shame on you, MacLean’s!

  10. So GOOD to have Evan Back as things are going to get Real Interesting.
    SHL, Toronto

  11. Glad that you are back Evan,missed your insightful interviews of politicians as you always cut to the chase and sifted through the lies and put people on the spot when needed.Not surprised you were let go from CBC over trivial issues as the conservatives do not like to have to answer to anyone without lying.