The House

'Voters wanted change' at the top

Former cabinet ministers Diane Finley, Tony Clement and Michael Chong say they heard from many voters during the election campaign that they wanted change at the top, they wanted a change in leadership.

Tony Clement: They wanted a different leader than Stephen Harper at this point

Outgoing Minister of Public Works Diane Finley, Treasury Board President Tony Clement and Ontario Conservative MP Michael Chong all say that Stephen Harper is to blame, at least in part, for their defeat in the Oct. 19 election. (Canadian Press)
Listen23:20

Some members of the Conservative caucus that survived the Crimson Tide on Oct. 19 say their drubbing at the ballot box can be attributed to widespread fatigue with Stephen Harper and a strong desire for change at the top.

"They wanted a different leader than Stephen Harper at this point," outgoing Treasury Board President Tony Clement, said in an interview with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"I was mostly hearing 'look Tony we like, we love you, you're amazing, you're great,' and then it would be one of two things: it'd either be 'I'm voting for you despite wanting change at the top' or 'I won't vote for you because I want change at the top,' so that was the defining issue no doubt about it," Clement said.

"I think people would want to see wholesale change because they wanted something different." 

Diane Finley, the outgoing Minister of Public Works, who has thrown her hat in the ring to become interim leader, said she too heard frustrations at the door about Harper's leadership. 

"What I heard is they liked the Conservative brand, we have good policies, strong values, we have a lot of respect from them, over 30% of Canadians supported us with their votes, we got over 100 MPs elected, that's a pretty strong base," but many voters wanted Harper gone after nearly 10 years in power. 

Ontario Conservative MP Michael Chong, himself a former minister early in Harper's tenure as prime minister, said voter fatigue with Harper was clearly at play in the campaign.

"The Conservatives under the leadership of Stephen Harper had been in power for almost ten years, and I think there was a sense that it was time to change government," Chong said. 

Harper took the blame for the crushing defeat at the hands of the fledgling Liberal leader.

Stephen Harper conciliatory, expresses gratitude to Canadians 3:02

"The disappointment you also feel is my responsibility and mine alone," Harper said in his concession speech to supporters on election night. 

"But know this for certain: when the next time comes, this party will offer Canadians a strong and clear alternative based on our conservative values."

The outgoing prime minister did not publicly announce he was stepping down, leaving that task to the party's president, John Walsh, who sent a note to reporters shortly after Harper took to the podium to concede defeat.

Finley, whose husband, the late Senator Doug Finley, successfully ran three election campaigns for Harper, said there were a number of issues with how this latest campaign was run.

Conservative Party campaign manager Jenni Byrne, right, is seen at a Harper campaign stop in Toronto, Ontario on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"I don't think there's any one single answer because campaigns are very, very complex," Finley said when asked by Hall what went wrong in this campaign.

"There would appear to be some communications issues, I think there might have been some preparation issues and some operational issues, but we'll do a thorough review because frankly, right now, is the time to start to get the pieces in line for the next election," Finley said.

Clement echoed Finley's concerns about communications in the campaign.

"I think we've got to look at all our advertising and messaging and take a good, new look at that," Clement said, adding that the negativity of their message might have hurt them when squaring off against the "sunny ways" of Trudeau's Liberal campaign.

Terry Milewski takes a look back at Conservative leader's political career 2:32

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