Canadian PM's low-energy campaign didn't see depth of voter anger

Tue Oct 20, 2015 1:05am EDT
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By Rod Nickel and David Ljunggren

CALGARY/OTTAWA Oct 20 (Reuters) - When outgoing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the longest Canadian election campaign in more than a century in August, he announced "this isn't a popularity contest."

Unfortunately for Harper, who lost Monday's election to the opposition Liberals, it was just that. The 78-day marathon allowed voters to decide they no longer liked the ruling Conservatives and ditched them after almost a decade in power.

An emailed statement from the Conservatives said Harper resigned as party leader after the defeat, though he did not mention stepping down in his concession speech.

"It's a bad night for the Conservative party, but we'll come back. I think where we went wrong was on tone," said outgoing Defence Minister Jason Kenney, long touted as a potential replacement for Harper. "As for leadership speculation, that's all for another day."

Insiders said the party ran an unimaginative low-energy campaign that failed to recognize how fed up people were with Harper. They also badly underestimated Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

The 56-year-old economist was a divisive figure who dominated his government, a man adored by those who liked what they saw as his principled, uncompromising style and detested by opponents who decried his dictatorial style.

He ran on a platform of tax cuts, stressing his record on the economy as well as the need to boost security. He also made sure he was the only public face of the campaign.

"It's hard to run on your record and promise change at the same time," said one veteran legislator. "If you propose new initiatives, people will ask 'Why didn't you do that earlier?'"   Continued...