On my way back from voting Monday, I chanced upon a bit of election literature that had been tossed on the ground next to one of those damnable supermailboxes. Being the good citizen that I am — hey, I just spend 10 minutes of my day voting — I picked up the debris.
But I read it first. It was a piece of Conservative propaganda I hadn’t seen, a direct mailing to a resident, so my guess is it was sent to a contributor. On one side was a picture of Stephen Harper, looking almost saintly. The photo was accompanied by this quote from Chairman Harper: “It is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to joining the Canadian family.” The other side had a checklist of things the Conservatives have done to “Keep Canada Strong”. The three items were “more jobs”, “less tax” … and “fight terrorists”.
It struck me that this mailer encapsulated the entire, brutal Harper campaign. The election, in Conservative land, was only about jobs, taxes, terrorism, and two women who wanted to wear the niqab during their citizenship ceremony. That was Stephen Harper’s Canada — obsessed with taxation, beset by enemies from within (newcomers, i.e. Muslims, who don’t believe in Canadian values) and without (terrorists).
Everything about the Harper campaign was bleak and negative. Justin Trudeau just wasn’t ready, he was going to ruin the economy, raise your taxes and destroy your business. Harper himself never appeared in his own party ads, except until the bitter end when a still photo of Harper attempting to smile was used.
Trudeau remained upbeat. He rarely mentioned Harper, and when he did, it was “Mr. Harper”, while Harper referred to Trudeau as “Justin”, as if he wasn’t worthy of the honorific. Everywhere he went, Trudeau was the sunny son. While he reached out to adoring crowds, posing for innumerable selfies, Harper surrounded himself by true believers only. Few, if any, voters got close enough for a selfie. Perhaps nobody wanted one.
Trudeau was a “we can do better” kind of guy. Harper was a “we’re doomed without me” kind of guy. In his previous victories over the Liberals, Harper benefited from the Grits having terrible leadership; the charisma-challenged Stephane Dion, and the icy academic Michael Ignatief. Faced with no choice, Canadians turned to Harper. But this time, the formula didn’t work. No matter how hard they tried to destroy Trudeau, it didn’t stick. Even the notorious “nice hair” ads didn’t do the trick, and I think it’s because Trudeau has never taken a bad picture. Even when the Cons resorted to the trope of running a picture of Trudeau in black and white, he was still shown smiling and looking handsome. Even when he opted for that crazy devil goatee look and longish hair, he still looked better than helmet-head Harper.
There are dozens of reasons why Stephen Harper was so decisively defeated. I’m not going to list them here, but I think the primary reason was that Harper and the Conservatives ran a relentlessly negative campaign, while Trudeau was upbeat and positive. Canadians, I believe, are naturally optimistic people. Harper represents one side of the Canadian personality. When he faced unpleasant Liberal leaders, the public turned to an unpleasant Conservative. But faced with a sunny and optimistic leader, an outgoing, young, handsome guy who clearly loves people, we jumped at the chance to vote for him, despite misgivings we might have about his mental acuity.
I think Trudeau represents the way we want to see ourselves, whether it’s accurate or not.