By: james Di Fiore
When Olivia Chow announced she would run to become the mayor of Toronto it looked like she couldn’t lose. Toronto had just spent 4 years dealing with Rob Ford, a cartoon-like politician whose exploits need no rehashing.
Toronto knew Olivia. She had a presence in our city for decades. She had a famous husband who propelled the NDP to Official Opposition status and gave them 100+ seats in the House of Commons.
In short, we needed no introductions. We just needed Olivia to be herself.
Instead, in one of the most badly calculated political strategies in Canada’s history, Olivia gave us someone we had never met before. She changed her clothes, her way of speaking, her overall demeanor. She hired political goons while giving her rivals all they needed to completely destroy her.
Chow finished a distant third place as John Tory rode to victory ahead of Doug Ford, the conservative who finished second.
This federal election is showing a lot of parallels.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair had everything going for him. His party was well ahead of the conservatives and liberals in the polls. He had impressed Canadians over the past two years by holding Stephen Harper to account in the House of Commons, especially during Question Period. A majority of Canadians had become wise to the antics of Stephen Harper; his incremental strategy of ushering in anti-democratic policies, his disregard for evidence based decision-making, and his contempt for ethics, especially in regards to the Senate scandal.
Canada finally had a competent politician holding Harper’s feet to the fire, and Canadians rewarded his feistiness by propelling him to the top of the polls.
And then it happened. Harper announced an elongated 78 day campaign, and Mulcair decided to do his best Olivia Chow impersonation by needlessly reinventing himself. He or his handlers decided to abandon the Mulcair that won us over, and place a stiff, faux jovial imposter in his stead. His entire demeanor had all the authenticity of a wax museum figure, and his support began to plummet.
Mulcair had been known for years in Ottawa as Angry Tom, and it was Angry Tom who Canadians needed at a time when they felt exhausted by a prime minister only interested in retaining his power. Moreover, Mulcair’s new persona was matched only by his decision to push the party towards the right, alienating his base and confusing undecided voters who were not looking for outlandish promises like balanced budgets.
Add a masterful Liberal campaign and a surprising performance by Justin Trudeau, and the writing on the wall became ever more clear: the NDP were in third place, and the notion of their first crack at power had all but evaporated.
Campaigns are not all that complex at the end of the day. People are not always savvy, but almost all of us have instincts that tell us who is being real with us, and who is trying to play a role. In this election, Mulcair was playing the role of a guy who wasn’t being himself, and Canadians rewarded him by making sure he would never become prime minister.