Inside Politics

Wrong, wrong, wrong: How the voters made fools of us all - except maybe Jason Kenney

Before we all start spinning our brilliant theories to explain why Stephen Harper did so well, let's admit it. We got it wrong, wrong, wrong.

Oh, we'll get to those clever theories soon enough. But can we quickly get a fast mea culpa out of the way? With luck, no one will notice.

The fact is that the political geniuses on the campaign planes were hopelessly out of touch - political staffers and journalists alike. A senior aide to Stephen Harper said his best-case scenario was 157 seats. That was his most extravagant dream! A longtime Calgary MP picked 149. So did I. A veteran cameraman picked 155, and we pitied him as we pitched our $10 into the pool. One respected reporter picked 139. We all thought, dammit, why didn't we do the same? One thing we were clear on: there was no way the Tories would get a majority.

And what did we say about the NDP? We sophisticates knew the polls were misleading. Why, we told each other, the NDP's feeble ground game would never get all those voters to the polls. Some picked 80 seats for the Dippers. Some said 90. Only a few dimwits went higher than that.

The best Tory spinners were as clueless as the rest of us about the extent of their victory. Ever since the orange surge became unmistakable, they've been a bundle of nerves. Sure, they thought they could win the most seats. But a majority? With last-minute polls showing the NDP barely three points behind? Even the sage of the Harper plane, Senator Marjory LeBreton, seemed nervous as a cat as we awaited the results. She had spotted the NDP surge early, warning less experienced hands to "hang onto your hats!" For sure, said another Tory expert, it would be a "nailbiter."

When the truth dawned on our TV screens in Calgary, it was hard to believe. At first, Tories and journalists alike were simply stunned.

Except, maybe, for Jason Kenney.

Kenney, of course, has personified the Tory ground game for years - a one-man vote-getting machine who routinely grinds his way through 20 events per weekend. His own riding is, well, "safe" doesn't quite cover it. He got 74 per cent of the vote last time. So he has time to roam.

Vietnamese New Year? He's there. Vaisakhi Day? He's at every parade. Eid al Fitr? Pesach? If there were an annual festival for Martians, Kenney would be there to explain how the Liberals had lost touch with Martian values, and that the Conservatives embodied their faith in family, hard work and limited government. And, on the way in the cab, he'd practice how to say a prayer to the planetary gods in fluent Martian.

Kenney on election night in Calgary was a sight to behold. Hugging, back-slapping, reveling in the results of so much work.

"I saw it. I felt it," he told me, clenching his fists. The only time he's he's got any notice in the national media for his decade-long marathon was when his plan to win over the "very ethnic" ridings in BC and Ontario leaked out. But Conservatives know what he's been up to, below the radar, for all those weekends on the road.

Now, they'll appreciate it. The "very ethnic" Bramptons are finally in the Tory bag - and much else besides. Kenney saw it coming when almost no-one else did - not even his boss, Stephen Harper.

Next time they hold an election pool, I'm asking Jason what he thinks, before I throw away $10.
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