Canada election 2015: What we learned in week 5

Week five of the 2015 federal election marks the end of the long, slow, late-summer start to the campaign, with all parties expected to intensify their efforts after Labour Day. But this end of the beginning might have been a turning point in other ways, too.

Summer campaigning phase ends with raw emotion, improvised plans and a tolerance for risk

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      Week five of the 2015 federal election marks the end of the long, slow, late-summer start to the campaign, with all parties expected to intensify their efforts after Labour Day.  

      But this end of the beginning might have been a turning point in other ways, too.

      Here's a little of what we learned over the last five days:

      'An image is worth a thousand words'

      NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's observation Thursday may be a cliché, but he's right.

      NDP Leader Tom Mulcair makes a campaign stop at a café in Toronto on Thursday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

      As images of a drowned toddler on a Turkish beach touched hearts worldwide, Conservative candidate Chris Alexander, the immigration minister, suggested the media should have done more. But thousands of words have been spoken and written about the plight of Syrians fleeing conflict. Plenty has been said also about the state of Canada's refugee system.

      Until that photo yielded a tragic story of a family's desperation to cut through red tape and join their relatives as refugees in Canada, it didn't seem like a ballot question.

      One haunting image focused minds. It also upended the election agenda.

      Mulcair, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau all reflected on their own experiences as parents and struggled to balance their emotions with their messages.

      Strategically, the risks were highest for the Conservatives, who have to defend a record that includes significant refugee reforms. Message plans and media appearances were cancelled, as they scrambled to mount a defence against what appeared — at least at first — to be a game-changing development.

      Perry Bellegarde doesn't vote

      Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde revealed Wednesday that he does not vote in federal elections. And statistics released by his organization show he's among the majority: in most ridings across Canada, fewer than 50 per cent, and sometimes less than a third, of eligible on-reserve voters cast a ballot in 2011.

      Conservative Leader Stephen Harper looks toward the media as his wife, Laureen, aims a camera during a photo op in North Bay, Ont., on Wednesday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

      His position on voting may undermine a cause the AFN is championing: increasing voter turnout among First Nations people. 

      It's unclear whether more First Nations ballots will really shift the result in the 51 ridings the AFN is targeting. Closing the gap on infrastructure and education spending is among the issues Bellegarde wants Canadians to consider as ballot priorities, even if he doesn't cast one himself.

      Financial data is subjective

      Did Tuesday's GDP numbers mean the economy was in recession, or growing? Well, both, depending on which party was talking about it. (There were two consecutive quarters of contraction, but the month of June reversed the trend and showed the Canadian economy moving in a positive direction once again.)

      Similarly, did Friday's job numbers show progress, or stagnation?

      Are there any definitive economic indicators to help voters assess if the government's plan for the economy is working well or badly in need of change? 

      There's been something for everyone in this week's financial figures. Numbers don't lie, but they certainly can spin.

      A humorous look at one of Stephen Harper's favourite campaign words. 0:55

      You've always got time for...

      It's hard to find more to say about the campaign staple of sipping and serving Tim Hortons coffee on a whistle stop.

      But perhaps it's worth warning against the line Harper used behind the counter in Gananoque, Ont., this week: "Tell me what to do, just don't let me handle the cash." If that's the case, are you sure you should preside over the economy, sir?

      Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau found yet another baby to play with at a fast food restaurant in Montreal on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

      Trudeau's decision to take a break from the grind and sip honey and lemon instead didn't seem to work against him as he served up the doughnuts in Gatineau, Que.

      But Mulcair's sipping in B.C. may have affected his performance in a subsequent media appearance. We'll chalk up those slightly jumbled words to his "breakfast of champions" — starting the day with a wine-tasting session. As he said, it was already noon in Halifax, right?

      Foamy pints in Whitehorse, BC White for breakfast and interprovincial beer barriers were all part of the campaign this week. 1:21

      Need levity? #NameHarpersPlane

      Mulcair joined his local candidate Hoang Mai in shucking corn for the cameras at a seniors' residence in Brossard, Que., on Friday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

      ​What could be more democratic than letting the public having a go at what until now was the travelling media's domain: choosing the right nickname for a party's campaign plane. With the Conservatives' plane now, er, good to go, the debate began in earnest, with hilarious results.

      As all three of the ground wars take flight with their own planes in the coming days, settling on the perfect name for christening offers a harmless distraction to look forward to.

      1,2,3 strikes and you're ... PM?

      Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau balances his son, Hadrien, on the field at Rogers Centre ahead of Friday night's Blue Jays game in Toronto. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

      The Liberal campaign has taken several risks so far, but it took another one among coveted Toronto voters and baseball fans in general with the decision for Trudeau and his family to attend Friday night's Blue Jays game.

      Others — Harper and Mulcair, specifically — tried and failed to bring good luck to the Blue Jays, who are winning plenty of games lately ... except when a campaigning politician is present.

      Trudeau's presence added to the leaders' jinx, with a 10-2 blow-out loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

      If the Jays keep winning as October approaches, the campaign message is clear.

      The Rogers Centre: It's just not worth the risk.


      • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the AFN had received a half-million-dollar contract with Elections Canada to increase voter turnout among First Nations people. In fact, the work the AFN does with Elections Canada under that contract solely involves providing information about the mechanics of voting.
        Sep 05, 2015 2:09 PM ET


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