“In recent years, seemingly more than ever, campaigns matter.”
— Tim Harper, Toronto Star columnist
When it comes to hackneyed clichés and overused phrases, any politician worth their salt knows the words “the only poll that matters is on election day.”
While that tired old refrain is true at its core, it has also become rather clear that election campaigns — and how they are handled — are just as important to any political party hoping to form government.
It’s during election campaigns, when voters are forced — or at least possibly more prone — to pay attention to what politicians are saying and promising.
This is when performance matters, and when political fortunes are made or destroyed.
In the above quote, Harper was ruminating on the provincial election in Quebec, where voters went to the polls yesterday. The election had been called by the Parti Québécois, which up until yesterday at least held power as a minority government.
Though the sovereigntist PQ led in opinion polls at the time the election was called, the party’s strong standing evaporated following a series of miscalculations and gaffs — not the least of which saw PQ Leader Pauline Marois pontificating for nearly a week on how a sovereign Quebec would function.
This after Pierre-Karl Péladeau, a controlling shareholder of the Quebecor media empire joined, the PQ ranks and said, “I want Quebec to become a country.”
As we write this, voters are still casting ballots in Quebec. But when the polls opened on Monday morning, it was the long-in-the-tooth, scandal-ridden Liberal party led by Philippe Couillard that was riding high in the polls at the end of the month-long campaign — and on track to win a healthy majority.
This is the fickle nature of Fortune’s wheel.
But we don’t have to look to Quebec to see how political fortunes live and die on the campaign trail.
A Probe Research poll in June 2011 had Manitoba’s Opposition Progressive Conservatives all but tied with the governing New Democrats at 44 per cent, with Liberal support down to a mere five per cent. But history recorded a solid win and an extra government seat in the legislature for the ruling New Democrats, after the NDP’s all-negative, all-the-time election campaign managed to scare voters away from then-PC leader Hugh McFadyen and his party.
Two and a half years on, and political fortunes have changed. On Monday, Probe’s most recent poll showed Brian Pallister’s Conservatives with 46 per cent of the decided vote, compared with 28 per cent for the NDP and 23 per cent for the Liberals.
This is not unexpected. The ham-handed manner in which the NDP raised the PST to eight per cent allowed the Tories to gain much-needed traction with voters, and solidify their support. Meanwhile, the Liberals, too, have a young new leader in Rana Bokhari, a fact that is at least somewhat responsible for the party’s resurgence at the expense of the NDP.
As we reported earlier this year, even the NDP bastion of Brandon East, currently held by MLA Drew Caldwell, is in play. As of last February, Probe found that 47 per cent of those polled would support the Tory candidate, compared to 31 per cent for Caldwell or another NDP candidate.
Thus it stands: With the NDP bleeding support to the Liberals, the Tories are now in majority territory. But there is a campaign yet to be fought, and with an election still two years away, these numbers can still change.
With the NDP already running negative advertising against Pallister and his Tories, we guarantee the party will dig up every bit of dirt it can. This will be a dirty campaign.
But if they are to hold their lead, the Progressive Conservatives must avoid the pitfalls that have dogged them for the last four election cycles, and offer voters a solid plan and clear alternative to the NDP.
And how Mr. Pallister and his team perform during a hard-fought campaign will matter greatly.