PHOTOS: Then prime minister Stephen Harper with his strategic brain trust, back when they still seemed like the masters of Canada’s political universe and would seem so for a few more weeks. (Source unknown.) Below: Screen shots of Mr. Harper’s Aug. 2, 2015, news conference announcing the call of the Oct. 19 federal general election and of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledging the cheers of the crowd at Vancouver’s Pride Parade yesterday.
One year ago tomorrow, then prime minister Stephen Harper called a supposedly impromptu news conference in front of the governor general’s official residence in Ottawa and told Canadians he’d asked for Parliament to be dissolved and a federal election to be held on Oct. 19.
Governor General David Johnston, naturally, complied with that plan quite readily, notwithstanding the unusually long campaign period.
At the time of Mr. Harper’s visit to Rideau Hall, he was thought by the entire political commentariat to be the Smartest Man in Canada, and his idea of an 11-week election campaign was seen as a stroke of pure political genius.
It was the longest campaign in modern Canadian history, the media kept telling us – which is the kind of thing superlative-loving journalists come up with when the thing in question isn’t actually quite the longest.
With the deepest pockets and what we’d all been advised repeatedly to think of as the most brilliant political team, enhanced by election rules freshly rewritten to benefit the PM’s Conservative Party, Mr. Harper and his political brain trust called the election earlier than necessary or traditional so they could double the cash limits that would have applied during a traditional campaign and spend those other parties into oblivion.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, then the leader of the Opposition, had been described for months as an angry old man. Youthful Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, we were told, just wasn’t ready, and neither was the Parliamentary third party he led. What a loser, we’d been instructed, over and over.
Mainstream media commentators enthused about how the vast Tory war chest and the new rules designed to tilt the playing field in their favour would ensure the continuation of Mr. Harper’s rule. “Harper stands to become the first prime minister since Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1908 to win four consecutive elections,” the National Post panted with enthusiasm.
Mr. Harper himself, smarmily and smugly told the media that it didn’t really matter when he called the election. “In terms of the advantages this party has, in terms of the fact that we are a better financed political party, a better organized political party and better supported by Canadians, those advantages exist whether we call this campaign or not.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, some of us who had watched the provincial election campaign unfold here in Alberta and seen the astonishing election of an NDP majority government in Wild Rose Country wondered if voters might not react with quite as much enthusiasm as expected to the idea of calling an election early – no matter how one defined that notion. We were swiftly put in our places and informed the situations were not analogous.
And – who knows? – maybe there weren’t. But something was certainly going on in our national neighbourhood!
The angry-bearded-guy smear may have stuck to Mr. Mulcair – although his own blunders, in particular trying to out-Tory the Tories on the theory it was voters, not Mr. Trudeau, who just weren’t ready, also contributed to what happened next.
But despite the massive Tory slime campaign, not a thing seems to have stuck to Mr. Trudeau, who was out there on the Wet Coast basking in the glory of the Vancouver Pride Parade on the day the writ was dropped.
Or maybe it was just that Canadians – righteously sick of Mr. Harper’s mean-spiritedness, his authoritarian tendencies, his serial science denial, the nastiness of his party’s attack ads and all the rest – had just had enough of the man and the crowd that surrounded him, and collectively made the decision that, if we couldn’t have electoral reform, we’d vote like we had it anyway.
The Canadian right has been having a protracted tantrum ever since. Never mind interim Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose’s weak, if reasonably civilized, performance. Read the rantings of their Outrage Machine on social media for a glimpse of the state of fury that has engulfed the Canadian conservative movement.
Canadian Conservatives seem to be waiting, teeth grinding and prayers wending upward to the Almighty, for Donald Trump to be elected south of the Medicine Line show that Trudeau punk a thing or two.
But for the rest of us – and that is a pretty comfortable majority across Canada – no one can deny this has been a far happier country since Mr. Harper slipped out the back door of Parliament and schlumped off into the sunset, which is thought in Alberta Conservative circles to take place every night somewhere just west of Bragg Creek where the edge of the world is located.
Of course, there is plenty of fault to find in the way Mr. Trudeau is running the country, but it’s a sign of how happy Canadians are with the new state of affairs that the old Harper brain trust seems to have given up on federal politics entirely and migrated en masse to Alberta in hopes of re-establishing a Tory redoubt here in oil country.
They reason, I suppose, that if they can only re-unite the Alberta right under the unlikely and uncharismatic Jason Kenney, push Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats out of power and get their prayers for higher oil prices answered in a timely enough fashion, they can try to stoke the fires regionalism and erect the firewalls of alienation to undermine the federal government.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Trudeau was in Vancouver again yesterday, welcomed back to the Pride Parade with his wife and kids, where they were generally acknowledged to be the stars of a show attended by half a million people, most of them smiling.
Eventually, as always happens, Canadians will tire of Mr. Trudeau and his government, even if the Liberals never really stopped being Canada’s Natural Governing Party.
But the honeymoon will probably take longer than the pundits predict and the Tories pray because we Canadians still have the image of what a decade of Conservative Party government looks like, looming large in our collective rearview mirror.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.