Week 6 of the federal election campaign: what we learned

Week 6 may go down as when the Conservative campaign realized that staying the course wouldn't bring the change Stephen Harper is seeking. Plus: Who knew there could be so many facepalm-worthy candidate capers?

Change is everywhere... if voters stop facepalming long enough to notice

Campaign trail zingers of the week

7 years ago
Duration 1:13
Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair take their best shots at each other in this edition of the best campaign zingers of the week.

After an eventful six weeks, the polls aren't anywhere close to suggesting a clear winner.

Even more surprising: The party that was assumed to have called a long election to capitalize on its own financial and logistical advantages is the one that's seen its footing slip.

Until now, the Tories were fighting a stay-the-course campaign premised on other changes being risky. Even their campaign theme music wasn't updated.

By the end of the week, change was in the air on the Conservative team: a campaign leader pulled off the tour and back to the war room, a chief of staff hauled into that same bunker and an offshore strategist contracted to find new messages for new target voters and reverse downward trends.

Let's sum up week six:

Open to change?

When a politician changes course, is it a spineless flip-flop, or a prudent and pragmatic response to shifting circumstances?

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper wipes his brow during a rally to end a long week on the campaign trial Friday night in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A week ago, Stephen Harper's instincts in the wake of a mounting Syrian refugee crisis appeared to be to double-down on defence. He said Conservatives had already addressed the problem with a commitment to accept a further 10,000 Syrian refugees in early August, and further, only Tories understand the importance of fighting ISIS so that people no longer have to flee.

Not just the other campaigns, but mayors, premiers and civil society groups were all out suggesting Canada's response could and should and, in so far as they could act on their own, would be stronger. Far from being a crisis Canadians weren't prepared to dig deep for, money was offered for refugee relief at the provincial and local level.

At first, Conservatives suggested fast, substantial action was difficult because the federal government is in "caretaker mode" during a campaign. But being in campaign mode so soon was the Tories' idea. 

By the end of the week, Harper signalled change was coming, and by Saturday it began, with a minister sent out to announce a new $100 million federal relief fund to match donations

Call for change

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also changed course. Turns out his suggestion that he doesn't vote because he needs to remain non-partisan didn't go over well amid efforts to mobilize aboriginal voters.

"I sought advice, I sought guidance, I sought direction from leaders and elders and people and they were all consistent," he told reporters at an event in Ottawa on Thursday. 

"As national chief, you're expecting all the citizens and First Nations to vote, but if you don't vote, that's sending a mixed message, so they recommended that I lead by example."

"I will be voting on Oct. 19."

Change by coalition?

In 2011, a lot of time and energy was spent talking about the possibility of a coalition to replace Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Then voters rendered it all moot by returning a majority.

Four years later, everyone listened closely to the responses of the four federal party leaders when the CBC's Peter Mansbridge asked them what happens if there isn't a clear winner this time.

In what's becoming a 2015 campaign staple, an NDP supporter snaps a selfie with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in Edmonton Thursday night. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Perhaps an election is no time to talk about co-operation. But their remarks suggested dim prospects for a formal coalition between the Liberals and the NDP. Even Elizabeth May, while offering to help mediate a deal to replace the Conservatives, doesn't want her Green Party in a coalition.

All three of the contenders seem focused on getting to a seat count that renders it moot once again. 

'Mansbridge bump'

Think politics has been reduced to 15-second soundbites, even shorter gif loops and 140-character tweets?

The opposite seemed true when the Google search engine traffic was analyzed this week: a bump appeared to correspond with CBC News chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge's long-form, sit-down interviews with the three contending federal party leaders on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

Does that signal a strong appetite for longer, detailed conversations among an electorate struggling to make up its mind in a tight, three-way fight?

What to say, except... *facepalm*

It's been a bad, bad week for local candidate search teams, nomination green-light committees and the candidate vetters at campaign headquarters.

Why did it take a series of tips and blogs from the dark arts practitioners in Canadian politics to research and unleash this urinating, impersonating, posing, conspiracy-theorizing and just plain blabbermouthing deluge?

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau climbs the famous Grouse Grind during a stop in North Vancouver on Friday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

You had one job, candidate vetters.

And bad enough that prospective MPs did and said that stuff, but since they did... did it not occur to them to destroy the evidence?

Say it with me: Google yourself. Pull down that multimedia. Delete those tweets.

Up next: more debates

Next week brings a new phase in the campaign, with a series of debates offering new hosts and new formats. 

Anyone hoping that the turmoil of the negotiations to set the debate lineup was behind us was surely disappointed to see a letter from the Liberal Party, and comments from Tom Mulcair, suggesting the Sept. 28 Munk Debates format, which was supposed to be bilingual, was still in dispute.

Rudyard Griffiths said a month ago he was getting nostaglic for how the broadcasters consortium used to handle all the partisan gamesmanship. As the bickering continues over his event, more might agree.

That's what change brings.

And finally....

Justin Trudeau: "More, more, more, more"

7 years ago
Duration 0:55
A humorous look at one of Justin Trudeau's favourite campaign words

We take a fun look at one of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's favourite words from the campaign trail.


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