With the new Trudeau government formed and just now getting down to work, we’ve had a few weeks to reflect on a long, but still enthralling election campaign. It seemed like each of the three leaders at least had a chance to come out on top, but Harper made a number of critical strategic errors and Mulcairs’s flat campaign revealed a total inability to independently gauge public sentiment. In the end, Trudeau and the Liberals ran a bold and nearly flawless campaign.
It may be counterintuitive, but the very personal and aggressive Conservative ads attacking Trudeau actually worked extremely well. The attack ads just didn’t work as the Conservatives intended, though, ultimately benefiting Trudeau. The ads started early and whenever one aired the obvious question many viewers and listeners would ask themselves was: why were Stephen Harper and the Conservatives attacking Trudeau? At the time Trudeau and the Liberals were running a distant third in the polls. The obvious target should have been Thomas Mulcair and the NDP. A reasonable viewer or listener would expect that at some point the Conservatives would train their sites on Thomas Mulcair and the NDP. But it never happened.
With such a singular and unending determination for attacking Trudeau, the Conservatives sent a message to the country: Trudeau is the man that can beat us! The attack ads helped lift Trudeau and the Liberals from third place to contenders. Poor Mulcair and the NDP were not worthy of being attacked and did nothing to change this dynamic. Instead of speaking out against attack ads and this type of politics, Mulcair and the NDP seemed happy to just let the Conservative-Trudeau dynamic play out. It is commonly believed that attack ads usually work or when they don’t work, it’s because they backfire on the person who creates them. But this time it appears that the attack ads may actually have benefitted the intended target.
And what is going on in Quebec? It looks like Harper read Quebec correctly by using the niqab as a wedge issue. The Conservatives gained seats. Are Quebecers so afraid of Muslims? But such a strategy probably cost the Conservatives in the rest of the country.
And the differing responses from Trudeau and Mulcair to this unsavoury Harper tactic helped distinguish Trudeau from Mulcair. Mulcair, to his credit, will be remembered as coming to the defence of freedom of religion and the right of a woman to wear a niqab. Very specific. Trudeau’s response? A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Trudeau’s response envisions a much grander idea, that we are all equal and our membership in this great community we call Canada is something to be honoured and protected.