Stephen Harper began the election campaign by declaring: “A national election is not a popularity contest.” That’s exactly what you’d expect to hear from someone who is not popular. It’s a form of wishful thinking—like back in high school, when I announced to the girl of my affection: “My parachute pants and forehead acne are not a deal-breaker.”
Then again, Harper’s re-election strategy depends on no one thinking too much about what he’s saying. He’s running on his economic leadership, even as the economy hurtles toward recession. He’s running on his fiscal record, despite seven straight deficits and an addiction to bribing Canadians with their own money. (Got a kid? Here’s free kid money for some reason!) It’s like a rock star proclaiming: “I am awesome at what I do. Just please don’t listen to my last five records.”
As the campaign begins, Justin Trudeau is pledging “real change.” Thomas Mulcair is promising “meaningful change.” But which political leader will provide Canadians with “exact change?” It’s a dumb question—but Harper has seen to it that we’ve got plenty of time for such things. And also, apparently, for infinite airings of the ad in which Justin Trudeau’s “job application” is reviewed by members of the Subpar Actors Guild.
On Twitter and elsewhere, Harper is choosing to refer to the Liberal leader as “Justin”—presumably to reinforce the view that he is too boyish to become PM. Or perhaps I’m wrong and this is one of those Voldemort situations. Refrain from invoking the powerful name “Trudeau!” Instead, please use “Justin,” “He Who Must Not Be Trusted,” or “Hair Lord.”
The New Democrats entered the campaign buoyant in the polls—but then, Mulcair refused to answer queries from reporters. Trudeau, on the other hand, took questions from everyone: the media, the crowd, random strangers, inanimate objects. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I do have milk. Thanks for asking, billboard!”
The NDP leader is prone to talking too quickly, so someone clearly got to him before his launch speech and said: Speak deliberately. And so he did. Unfortunately, he came off less a Calm, Thoughtful Leader than he did a Person Being Held For Ransom.
Mulcair (eventually) got to his point. “I want to speak to every Canadian who thinks Mr. Harper’s government is on the wrong track.” That’s a bizarre thing to say. We should take him up on his offer, Canada. Hi, Tom, we’ve all dropped by for that chat. Hang on a minute while we cut this scone into 17 million pieces.
Then again, at least it’s possible to imagine Mulcair encountering an ordinary Canadian without blowing on a panic whistle. Harper concluded his launch by declaring: “Over the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting Canadians from coast to coast to coast.” Yes, come meet the Conservative leader. You just need to submit to a background check, pass the scrutiny of his handlers, and break into that underwater vault from the new Mission: Impossible movie. Breathe deeply, citizen!
To me, the hero of the early campaign is Gilles Duceppe, back as the leader of the Bloc Québécois. He mostly seemed cheesed that Harper screwed up his vacation plans. “We won’t let Stephen Harper and his schemes ruin our summer,” he said. “We will go out to meet you at your rhythm.” Goodbye tour bus and polo shirt; hello inner tube and Speedo. Vive le lemon shandy!
Related: Our election profile of Quebec
We’ve all heard this will be the longest campaign since 1872, but that doesn’t capture how long it’s going to feel. Back in the 19th century, news travelled at the speed of mosey. A politician in 1872 could launch a scathing attack and not expect a response from his rival until, on average, 1875. A typical war room consisted of a loud guy shouting burns from the back of a pony.
Meanwhile, the 2015 campaign is taking place in the age of the news microcycle, where people on Twitter spend half an hour thinking every tiny misstep is the election turning point. Mulcair just got muffin in his beard. IT’S OVER! In 1872 time, this campaign will be roughly 1,000,000 days long.
That’s not to say it won’t be memorable. Think of the campaign this way: It’s like a George R.R. Martin novel and we’re at the part where he spends seven pages cataloguing the many symptoms of dragon gonorrhea.
Eventually, we’re going to get to the magic and the carnage.