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Harper's 'picture-perfect campaign'

Serious, captivating and at times downright nasty, the political roadshow known as the federal elections never fails to entertain. Politicians crisscross the country making impassioned speeches and grand promises in an attempt to woo voters. From Mackenzie King to Stephen Harper, CBC Archives examines the turning points, missteps and victories in Canada's federal elections.

It's the election consolation prize no party really wants: a minority government. In such a government, the ruling party must seek the cooperation of others in order to pass legislation. Lester B. Pearson's minorities of the 1960s managed to effect major change, while Joe Clark's 1979 plan to rule as if he had a majority lasted only nine months. From Diefenbaker to Harper, CBC Digital Archives looks at the successes and defeats of Canada's minority governments.

Stephen Harper won last night's election, and outspoken Conservative Deborah Grey couldn't be happier. "I think the Canadian public has said OK, we're going to give you a try," says Grey in this 2006 radio clip. But former Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish doesn't think it's a case of Canadians actually preferring Harper. Although Harper did run "a picture-perfect campaign," Parrish thinks people were simply sick of the status quo. "I think the Canadian public threw out Paul Martin and they threw out the Liberals." 

• Born in Toronto on April 30, 1959, Stephen Harper moved to Alberta in his early 20s. He later earned an MA in economics from the University of Calgary. He first entered politics in the 1980s, initially working for the Progressive Conservative Party, then joining Preston Manning's Reform Party.
• In 2004, Harper became leader of the new Conservative Party of Canada, created from a merger of the PC Party of Canada and the Canadian Alliance party (formerly Reform).

• In the Jan. 23, 2006 election, Harper's Conservatives won a minority government with 124 out of a possible 308 seats. The Liberals were second with 103 seats. The Bloc Québécois won 51 seats, the NDP won 29, and there was one independent voted in.

• The government called a January 2006 election because the Liberals had lost a no-confidence vote in November 2005.
• A no-confidence motion means the current government could be dissolved (upon approval of the Governor General), after which an election is called.
• A no-confidence vote doesn't necessarily force an election, however. The Governor General can refuse the dissolution request, and can call on the Official Opposition to form a government instead.

• This no-confidence motion was a response to the November 2005 release of the first Gomery Report, which investigated the recent sponsorship scandal. (See the CBC Archives clip Sponsorship scandal: Breaking all the rules.) Gomery laid much of the blame for the scandal on former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his chief of staff Jean Pelletier. After the report's release, the opposition parties felt the Liberals should be taken to task for their corruption.

• In the wake of the sponsorship scandal, the 2006 election was considered by many political pundits to be more of a referendum on the character of the Liberal party itself, rather than a vote based on the key issues of health care, day care and tax cuts.

• The Liberals' campaign didn't go well. Martin seemed flustered in public appearances, and party advertisements attacking the Conservatives were poorly received. A Globe and Mail article described the extreme images of Harper that the Liberals attempted – but failed – to paint for the public: "Think first the goofy guy in the ten-gallon cowboy hat and the too-tight western vest… Or think of the scary, slightly out-of-focus Orwellian Big Brother image that the Liberals used in their TV attack ads in the second half of the campaign."

• The Globe article continued, "The Conservative Leader didn't allow the Liberals to define him. Instead, Mr. Harper successfully portrayed himself and his party as the folks down the block, hockey dads, soccer moms, moderate small-c conservatives, middle class, slightly bland, definitely not scary. The makeover was so successful that many voters decided to trust the Conservatives to form a government."

• An Edmonton Journal article drew very similar conclusions about Harper's platform. "Instead of strident neo-con ideology, the Conservative campaign team has served up a meat-and-potatoes menu of solid policy initiatives, selling not a right-wing vision of a radically different Canada, but a sensible shoes agenda of modest tax cuts, child care credits, cheap bus passes, shorter surgical wait times and parliamentary accountability." The article referred to this shift as "the repackaging and rebranding of a product Canadians weren't buying 18 months ago."

• Soon after midnight on election night, Martin conceded defeat. In his concession speech, he made the surprise announcement that he would be stepping down as Liberal leader.
• On Feb. 1, 2006, Martin stepped down, asking Toronto MP Bill Graham to act as interim leader and leader of the Official Opposition until a new leader would be appointed at a convention later in the year.
• Stéphane Dion was chosen as new Liberal leader at the leadership convention on Dec. 2, 2006.

• In October 2008 the Conservative Party under Harper won its second minority mandate.

Medium: Radio Program: The Current Broadcast Date: Jan. 24, 2006 Guest(s): Deborah Grey, Buzz Hargrove, Carolyn Parrish, Daniel Turp Host: Anna Maria Tremonti Duration: 21:24

Last updated: January 23, 2012

Page consulted on April 18, 2012

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