SIX: THE COUNTDOWN
EVERY DAY ON the campaign trail, a Liberal party videographer would point a camera at Stéphane Dion’s face and he would improvise a short campaign update in English and French. It was one of many ways the Liberals were sacrificing effort and attention to the eternal hope, still unfulfilled today, that the so-called new media would transform elections as radically as television and radio had before.
The day after the English debate Dion was in Montreal. He stared into the camera and made his pitch to the vanishingly small Internet audience. “For once Canadians had a chance to see me in their living room and on TV and not the caricature that Stephen Harper with his propaganda tried to bring to the people,” he said.
And it was true. The question now was what to do about it. The problem was that Dion had a much better plan for the 30 days after the election than he did for the 12 days left before it.
He was in Montreal to address the Board of Trade along with a similar group representing young people in business. He was obviously on a bit of a high, full of obscure asides and literary allusions. “I’m always wary when I hear about ‘la relève,’ ” he told the young entrepreneurs in French, using the term that means a rising generation. Its literal translation would be “the next shift” or “the ones who take over.” “I’m always reminded of what Gilles Vigneault said whenever he heard it: ‘What, did somebody fall?’ ”
But his speech was only middling and it was delivered with the aid of that old emotion-killer, the teleprompter.
This was the day the U.S. House of Representatives would pass a reworked version of the US$700-billion bailout package it had rejected, in a particularly nasty afternoon of infighting and finger pointing, four days earlier. Harper was still intent on playing things cool: “We are not going to get into a situation like we have in the United States where we’re panicking and enunciating a different plan every single day.”
Dion was less sanguine.
“We need a plan. A plan
‘The only pole I care about is that way! Or that way.’ Dion said. Everyone laughed.
made in Canada, not in Australia.” Applause, none too raucous, from the business crowd. “One thing that is certain: Stephen Harper is an economic risk Canadians can no longer afford,” Dion said.
But even in Montreal he had to fend off more than one opponent. He called Layton’s plan to cancel $50 billion in corporate tax cuts, the mechanism by which Layton planned to pay for his entire spending program, “a job killer.”
Afterwards, talking to reporters, Dion said it was impossible for voters to vote for a Conservative minority or a Liberal minority. He just wanted them to vote Liberal. “You can’t vote one-third Liberal, two-thirds Bloc—a fourth third, like in the play by Pagnol.” Justin Trudeau, the party’s star candidate in the Papineau riding, smiled at the reference to the French playwright Marcel Pagnol. So did Geoffroi Montpetit, the resident classicist on the leader’s tour. But when a reporter quizzed them later about the line, neither had a clue what Dion was talking about.
The worst thing was not the obscure literary references, it was the lack of a big footstomping crowd event on the leader’s agenda to build visible momentum coming out of the debate. Since providence had landed him in Quebec at a moment when Quebecers were astonished to find themselves wondering whether it was actually time to take him seriously, the low-key Montreal appearance had to count as a lost opportunity. Dion did sit down to tape some television interviews, including one with Bernard Derome, the dean of French-language news anchors, that would air after he left Montreal. So he would linger in conversations, as it were, for a few days. But he was still trailing Harper, and he had done precious little to change that here.
By Saturday in Dieppe, N.B., Dion had got the references to Vigneault and Pagnol out of his system. In a room full of supporters in a shopping mall, he seemed at times to be channeling his party’s winningest working-class hero— Jean Chrétien.
He said he wanted a Canada “where not only the rich go to university,” a potent
distillation of the master’s thesis on student aid he had delivered at Western. He wanted a Canada “where nobody has to sell their house to pay for their medication.” Harper still didn’t have a platform, he complained. “The mail from Australia is slow.” He said one of the questions from ordinary voters in the debate had been what each candidate’s first action would be on taking office. “Harper
very courageously said, T will continue to do nothing.’ “We don’t need a prime minister in a bubble,” he said. “We need a prime minister with the people!”
“He’s beginning to feed off the crowds that he sees,” Munson said later, after a brief stop on Prince Edward Island. The Conservatives had been saturating the tiny province with
its four Liberal seats for a year—radio ads, mailers to every household, visits by half the cabinet. Dion needed to shore up Liberal support. Still playing defence. “He’s beginning to pay attention to the simpler messaging that he could be using.”
Wasn’t it perilously late? “Well, it is. Absolutely. But it’s happening. That’s the good
thing. It’s happening.”
Another pertinent question: where was it
happening? Munson spoke on a campaign plane that was on its way to Iqaluit in Nunavut. After a news conference there at the end
of a pier, Dion would head south, but not very far, for another news conference in front of a six-metre inukshuk on the shores of Hud-
son Bay in Churchill, Man. By now it was Sunday. Harper was actually taking the day off. But the election was even closer, the surprising debate performance another day further into the past. Dion was still behind. Support for the Conservatives was starting to fall in the daily tracking polls. Nanos, which had put the gap between the two largest parties at 15 points only nine days before, now had it down to four.
But catching a glimpse of Dion was still a privilege accorded only a very few Canadians in very out-of-the-way locales. Too bad, because he was doing his best work of the campaign. In Churchill he said that the first time he had visited, he had asked to see the polar bears, but nobody understood him because he pronounced it “polar beers.” Asked about the polls, he said his job was to run his campaign, not analyze it. “The only pole I care about is that way!” he said, pointing off to his left. “Or that way.” He pointed to his right. “Which way is the North Pole?” The crowd laughed heartily.
In the media filing room, Mark Dunn and Alphée Moreau gave photographers a few extra minutes to transmit their pictures of
polar bears to newsrooms in Toronto and Montreal. When everyone got back to the campaign plane, trouble: the change in schedule would have the pilots on the job longer than Transport Canada regulations permitted. The plane would have to put down in Saskatoon for the night. The next morning’s events in Victoria would be cancelled. Tick, tock. Momentum was frittering away.
With no food ready and waiting for the Liberal tour in Saskatoon, Liberals and the journalists covering them went out to a steakhouse for dinner. (This happens on every tour. Harper’s staff took journalists out to the Keg in Toronto earlier.) At one point Dion got up from his table to confer with Gianluca Cairo, his executive assistant. A reporter took the opportunity to ask the Liberal leader what his strategy for the campaign’s last nine days was.
Dion didn’t hesitate. “Win.”
AS LUCK WOULD have it, others had a similar strategy. On Tuesday in Toronto, the longawaited Conservative platform arrived. It had not arrived from Australia, but its wide margins, immense typeface and even larger
subheads made it look like it was concocted in that corner of every undergraduate’s mind where unforgivably short term papers are stretched to meet course requirements.
And yet Conservative strategists insisted, both on the day and later, that the platform release had always been planned, that it was always going to arrive near the end of the campaign, that it was always going to look like this. In 2008 as in 2006, Harper saw the platform as a summing-up document. It was not designed to announce news, but to confirm that, in dribs and drabs over the whole preceding month, news had been announced.
Still, the Liberals pounced on the document. On the tarmac at Vancouver airport, Dion dismissed the Conservative platform as a “brochure.” As he walked toward the campaign plane, Dion’s principal secretary, Andrew Bevan, said the economic speech Harper had delivered after the platform unveiling had been a dud. “From what we’re hearing from the room, it was flat, it didn’t go over well. It’s not enough to staunch the bleeding. And he’s bleeding.”
The Dion team was giddy. To them, the platform was Harper’s last chance to save
himself. To them he’d blown the chance. “He can’t win,” Greg Fergus said. “He can’t turn it around now.”
But hadn’t Brian Mulroney turned it around after John Turner had come on strong in the 1988 debates?
“Mulroney had two more weeks than Harper does. They had 57-day campaigns in those days.”
At the front of the plane, Dion conferred for two full hours with Justin Trudeau, who had come to Victoria to lend a hand and would introduce Dion at a North Bay, Ont., event that evening. Trudeau came back to the reporters’ seats to solve one riddle, at least.
“The fourth third from Pagnol. He explained it to me,” Trudeau said. “It’s from the play Marius. One of the characters is mixing a drink. He says, ‘You need a big third of eaude-vie, a little third of water, another third of cassis, and another third of eau-de-vie.’ Somebody tells him that makes no sense. He says, ‘It depends on your thirds. And on your liquor.’ ”
As the chartered Air Inuit plane flew over the Prairies, Geoffroi Montpetit and Mike McNair pored over the Conservative campaign document. They fed their analysis to Andrew Bevan, who worked on updating Dion’s speech. At a rally for candidate Anthony Rota, Trudeau pumped the crowd up and Dion shared the fruits of his staff’s research.
‘I said to Harper, “Be a tough son of a bitch, '1 the staffer said.
1 “You’ve always been a tough son of a bitch.” ’
Harper’s 44-page document made no reference to poverty, climate change or fiscal discipline, Dion said. But it mentioned Harper 100 times.
“We have a platform of 66 pages,” he said. “We mention the leader six times.” The Liberal platform had one picture of Dion. “It’s a very nice picture.” Harper’s platform had 22 pictures of Harper.
“Beyond the words, it’s all about him. It’s me, myself and I,” said Dion. “It’s his navel. It’s about his job. Our plan is about your jobs.” The crowd of 400 roared. It was the kind of rally Dion could have used four days earlier.
While the Liberal was at pains to depict Harper as out of touch with ordinary Canad-
ians, Harper seemed eager to help. Speaking to reporters after his platform launch, he said, “I think there’s probably some great buying opportunities emerging in the stock market as a consequence of all this panic.” Certainly there was panic: the S&P/TSX was down for the fifth straight day.
That night he appeared on the CBC to be quizzed by Peter Mansbridge. The CBC had labelled their leaders’ feature “Your Turn,” and its conceit was that this was supposed to be, well, your turn: ordinary Canadians were videotaped asking the questions they wanted the politicians to answer.
Alone among the national leaders, Harper had refused that set-up. He would take questions from Mansbridge alone, the CBC was told, or he would not show up.
The veteran anchor did his best to give Harper a fair and thorough grilling. The Prime Minister repeated his remarks about the markets. “We always know that when stock markets go up, people end up buying a lot of things that are overpriced and when stock markets go down people end up passing on a lot of things that are underpriced,” he said. “I think there are probably some gains to be made in the stock market.”
Mansbridge was incredulous. “Do you really want to be heard saying that?”
The answer from Conservative strategists over the next couple of days was: okay, maybe not the stuff about the stock market. But the general impression of Harper as a man who wasn’t getting carried away by all this frenzy was absolutely the one they wanted him to convey.
One Conservative travelling with Harper said it was better to play up the harderedged persona, the decisionmaker. “I said to him this morning, ‘Be a tough son of a bitch,’ ” the staffer said. “ ‘I’ve known you a long time and you’ve always been a tough son of a bitch.’ ” That advice led Harper to lay out the choice facing Canadians in stark and, truth be told, highly speculative terms: not just that Dion was risky, but that a Dion victory would lead to recession and spiking interest rates.
Harper’s team thought the feel of the campaign had changed since the debates. Before it was all about Tory minority or Tory majority, so it was hard to get reporters to concentrate on the Liberals. The challenge was to make people feel good about voting Conservative. Hence the sweater vests. After all, the Liberals couldn’t win.
But now the choice was more real. The Liberals actually might win. So the message
couldn’t just be that voting for Harper could feel good. It had to be that voting for Dion should make people feel uneasy.
Harper set about driving that choice into the most concrete terms imaginable. Suddenly in Victoria, Harper mentioned the idea of a coalition of opposition parties somehow running the country. “If you get prime minister Dion, either directly or by the opposition parties helping him take power, interest rates are going to go up.”
If there was a rough equivalent of Senator Jim Munson on the Conservative tour, it was Senator Marjorie LeBreton. (The mere suggestion would have elicited nervous chuckles from both of them.) She had been sent to upper-chamber heaven by Brian
Mulroney, and in the 2002 when she was advising Joe Clark, she used to send reporters long emails explaining why the country would be in big trouble if the new Canadian Alliance leader, Stephen Harper, ever took over. But then her party merged with his. “I’m a democrat,” she shrugged to anyone who would listen, and she rolled up her sleeves to work for the new boss. She was an invaluable asset: well acquainted with the Progressive Conservative wing of the party he knew least, level-headed, charming in a way he would never be.
“Unlike the last election campaign when we took a dip right at the end, this time a bit of a dip at the beginning of the last week, I actually see that as a blessing in disguise,” she said in
Greens were furious at May’s anybody-butHarper shtick. ‘The inference is: don’t bother voting Green.'
Brantford, Ont., on Oct. 10, four days from the vote. “It focused the minds of our people. I think it caused voters to focus. It gave us a chance to tighten our message. It’s getting back to, ‘Who do you trust to lead the country through difficult economic times?’ ”
She had no interest in any efforts to make Harper look more empathetic. “He’s a strong leader and a private person. We don’t owe anyone an explanation that he doesn’t get out there and hug everybody.”
Early in the campaign, internal Conservative polls suggested the race was much closer than the public polls were saying. (Which is kind of funny, because early in the campaign, internal Liberal polls suggested the Conservatives were winning it in a walk.) At any rate,
the ironclad rule in the Conservative war room was that nobody was supposed to talk about their poll advantage. That discipline would come in handy now, when it was tightening up.
“I worry about our younger workers,” LeBreton said. “I keep telling them we are going to win this election. People are not going to vote for Stéphane Dion and a tax. I know this. I went through Joe Clark and the 18-cent gas tax. I went through [Robert] Stanfield and wage and price controls.”
BY NOW every campaign—even, belatedly, Dion’s—was in a home-stretch frenzy. All except Elizabeth May’s. She had decided, long ago, out of all the ridings in Canada where
she could seek to be the first MP elected as a Green candidate, to run in Central Nova, not far from her Cape Breton roots. Her target was Peter MacKay, the last leader of the Progressive Conservative party, the defence minister in the Harper government. May wanted to be a giant killer. But the reason people remember David and Goliath, all those thousands of years later, is that David had better luck than wannabe giant-killers usually do.
With a week to go in the campaign, May’s staff told her she was solidly on track to lose Central Nova by a spectacular margin. The only thing to do was to go home and till the soil for all she was worth. As a bonus, it might get her out of the national headlines.
Elizabeth May was Thinking Twice. It was
not a tidy thing to watch.
Recall that the central dilemma facing any third-party supporter is whether to stick with that third party or to ditch it for a second party that might stop the first party from winning. In 2004 Paul Martin had managed to hang on to enough NDP voters to win a narrow victory. In 2006 he lost them, and power. Layton had essentially convinced voters the Liberals weren’t worth saving.
But May had been playing footsie with Dion for more than a year. She had been a member of a coalition whose sole purpose in 2006 was to scare people out of casting votes that couldn’t stop Harper. And now she was shimmying all over the map.
“I won’t say, ‘You’ve got to vote Green if
you believe in our policies,’ ” she was quoted as saying in the Toronto Star on Sept. 25. “I’ll say, ‘Here’s our policies, figure out what you need to do because, frankly, the Green party has to put progress and principle above shortterm power.’ ” Just in case this was unclear, she said, “I will not be able to live with myself if anything I’ve done contributes to Harper winning, because the stakes are too high.”
The publication of that article led to an immediate “clarification” from the Green party, denying the plain meaning of its leader’s words. No, the Greens did not endorse strategic voting. Horrors.
This would soon become a bit of a trend. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, May
said strategic voting makes no sense in most places, but that there were ridings where websites would help people decide how best to beat the Conservatives. This article sparked another press release saying May did not mean what she had said.
Was she done yet? Nope. On Oct. 12 May told the Canadian Press there was “no question” that in 20 per cent of Canadian ridings, Green voters may want to vote strategically.
Out popped a new Green press release. This was becoming “tiresome,” the release said, putting sentiments between quotation marks that were the opposite of the ones May had used when she was speaking her own mind.
Tiresome? Other Greens had stronger terms for it, and it wasn’t the press they were tired
of. “She’s making it very confusing,” Simcoe North Green candidate Valerie Powell told reporters. “If the Liberals get in, they won’t reunite the left, they’ll have power!”
David Chernushenko ran against May in 2006 for the Green leadership. This question of whether Greens should vote Green even if it might not stop another party had been at the centre of their dispute. He had been quiet about her leadership style ever since. But at the very end of the campaign, he made it clear to Maclean’s that he was furious with her for muddying the waters.
“ft is unprecedented,” he said. “I sat in a room yesterday with representatives of all parties for election-night analysis. And they
were all just aghast. They couldn’t think of anywhere else in history, internationally, a party leader did anything other than ask for complete support for their candidates. The only time you don’t is when you decide to pull a candidate when they commit some kind of egregious mistake. But that’s completely different.”
Chernushenko said Green party members he’d been talking to were feeling “sideswiped and let down. The leader has only one job above all—and that is to support every one of your candidates in every one of your ridings.”
The most damaging thing about May’s anybody-but-Harper shtick was that the Greens had a lot of supporters from the centre right, Chernushenko said. And they were feeling unwanted. “I can tell you from messages I’m getting directly from all of the people who came over from the Conservative party saying, ‘Hey you know what? We don’t think Stephen Harper is the Great Satan, but we were attracted to the Green party. But now you’re effectively dismissing us or even forgetting we exist in this rush to anyone but a Conservative.’ Then there are all of these former New Democrats and Liberals saying, ‘Maybe I do have to plug my nose again and go back. I was starting to see the Green party as a viable option. But if even the leader doesn’t think the party has legitimately a job to do as a political party as opposed to a protest movement, then what am I doing here?’ ”
In one of her later attempts at damage control, May listed a few ridings where she thought the Green candidate had an excellent shot at victory. Chernushenko said that amounted to playing favourites—and it could literally kill the party. “Whether it’s explicit or implicit, the inference from that is: in all of the other [ridings] don’t bother voting Green. Vote for that next favourite party that will defeat the Conservatives. That is the killer. It’s the killer for motivation, psychologically. It’s completely demoralizing for anyone who is a candidate, a voter, a volunteer. And not only that, it will wipe out the Green party financially because”—since partyfinancing rules allocate money for every vote received—“the Green party needs every one of those votes.”
But as the campaign headed into its final weekend, Green supporters seemed to find room for faith somewhere. Polls put the party’s support up in the nine per cent or 10 per cent range. Not enough to elect many Green MPs, perhaps. But enough to constitute a serious drag on Liberal and NDP support.
WELL, THEN, Jack Layton would simply lift his party’s support up with his bare hands ifhe had to. On Saturday, 400 people, mostly
young, packed Club Soda in Montreal for an NDP rally. Nothing like this would have been possible anywhere in Quebec for the NDP a few years ago. “My friends, I’m Jack Layton and I’m running for prime minister,” he told the roaring crowd. “Can we stop Harper with the Bloc? Can Dion get the job done?” These were not hard questions for such a crowd. “NO!”
“I’ve had a dream of building a New Democratic movement in Quebec for a very long time,” he told reporters. “The foundation is here.”
Later, Brad Lavigne said the party had real hopes in four ridings: Outremont, JeanneLe-Ber, Westmount-Ville-Marie and Gatineau. The party had put $1 million into television ads in Quebec alone, more than ever before, most of it in Montreal and the Outaouais. Mulcair won Outremont in a by-election and looked pretty good to hold it. Jeanne-Le-Ber and Gatineau belonged to the Bloc. Westmount-Ville-marie was a Liberal stronghold.
The Liberals, Lavigne said, were “excited to match their worst showing ever”—28 per cent of the national popular vote. “The Liberal vote is collapsing. It’s not a fracture of the left, it’s a fracture of the Liberal party.”
Surely, reporters asked Layton, he would fall short in the stretch? “I always finish my speeches by saying, ‘Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.’ ”
Dion’s home-stretch campaign was hardly less frantic. But instead of setting his sights squarely, he had to worry about self-inflicted damage. The thing that had tripped him up was his own vaunted 30-day economic plan.
In Halifax, Dion made what is nearly an obligatory call for campaigning leaders who want to reach a wide Atlantic audience: the studio of veteran ATV supper-hour news anchor Steve Murphy. The interview was pretaped, as most of these things are. After a long preamble in his booming baritone, Murphy cut to the chase. “If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?”
Grammar teachers with a mean streak will be assigning that sentence to their students for years to come. And yet what was easy to miss in the foofaraw to come was that Dion understood the question as soon as he heard it.
“If I would have been the prime minister 2% years ago?” he answered, quizzically.
“If you were the prime minister now,” Mur-
phy said, “and had been for the past two years.”
But Dion had already jumped in. “If I’m elected next Tuesday. This Tuesday.” Now he was in trouble, because he was on what’s sometimes called “message track.” In Quebec it’s called “/a cassette.” Plug it in and push Play. “I would start the 30-50 plan that we want to start the moment we have a Liberal government.”
More trouble. The shaky start had rattled the Liberal. He meant to say his 30-day plan. The 30-50 plan was his anti-poverty agenda. Dion tried to correct himself, then thought better. “Can we start again?”
This happens in television. Often it’s because an anchor isn’t as mellifluous as he’d
hoped. Sometimes the guest is put off by weird verb tenses. Anyway, Dion and Murphy restarted, Murphy asked the question again, Dion still didn’t know where to situate himself in time and space, there was giggling, and it all went downhill from there.
Now here’s the thing. Murphy had agreed
The weekend came down to Nota-Leader vs. Oftena-Bully. Dion and Harper made lastditcn efforts to fix those impressions.
to the do-overs. So it was highly unusual for him and ATV management to decide, later, to air the false starts. And a little odd that the whole tape found its way, hours later, onto coast-to-coast cable via Mike Duffy’s CTV Newsnet show.
The ethics of consenting to a restart and
then running the embarrassing footage are at least as interesting as the grammatical niceties of the future subjunctive mighthave-been with a half-pike. The upshot was that Dion was on TV looking like a goof on the very issue he had hammered Harper on for a week. “Isn’t this great?” a Conservative war-room staffer told Maclean’s at the moment the news broke. “It’s so great on so many levels.”
Harper seemed to concur. For the first time in the campaign, he gave reporters their second scrum in a day, right after the footage aired on Duffy, uniquely to comment on his opponent’s discomfiture. Who was the guy who didn’t have a plan now?
So to some extent the weekend would come down to Not a Leader vs. Often a Bully. Both made last-ditch efforts to correct those impressions. On Sunday in Vaughan, just north of Toronto, Dion uncorked a speech that was very nearly a harangue. For the first
time in days, his staff distributed the text of his remarks.
“This election has made it very clear,” he said. “I have a great team. Stephen Harper has no team.” Harper had “built his campaign on a lie. He must lose on this lie. There is no party with bigger tax cuts for Canadian businesses than the Liberal party!”
As for the NDP, “the only job a vote for Jack Layton will save is Stephen Harper’s job. That’s the way the math works.”
He was calling voters home to the Liberals. But Dion was an academic for years before he entered politics. He would have been very familiar, as a prof at the Université de Montréal, with the look of what he was doing. He had begun hard work—the work of delivering a message, finding words that worked, identifying gettable voter blocs, speaking with passion, the very tool kit of the politician’s craft, the basic survey work so fundamental to any politician’s campaign adventure—late. And like any student who starts cramming too close to the final exam, he was getting frantic.
“A vote for Jack Layton won’t stop Stephen
Harper. It will mean fewer members of Parliament able to make a real difference for their communities. A vote for Jack Layton won’t stop Stephen Harper. It will mean a Prime Minister who thinks that going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do. A vote for Jack Layton won’t stop Stephen Harper...”
There were two days left.
On TVs across the country, whether they were tuned to HGTV or the Food Network or maybe some other channels, ads appeared showing a young mother in a pantsuit in what was, frankly, her gorgeous, sprawling new kitchen. She looked worried. She picked up the paper. “Markets Unnerved,” the headline said, over paragraphs suggesting something a lot worse than unnerving. The mother put a protective hand on her daughter’s shoulder—there were no live males in this house, only televised images from the TV hanging in the corner of the immense kitchen. Why, there was Stéphane Dion now. The mother listened sombrely. “He worries me,” she said in voice-over. “He promises money like it grows on trees. Keeps promising this carbon tax. We can’t afford more
debt. I can’t afford more taxes.” In the background, an electric guitar played ominous broken chords.
Mother and daughter cast a glance at each other over the sprawling marble-topped island in front of the immense spice racks. “Dion’s just not worth the risk,” she said to herself as the Conservative party logo appeared at the bottom of the screen.
The Conservatives did a bigger buy with that ad in targeted swing ridings than with any other of the campaign. “Our lead with women had slipped away a bit, but it’s coming back,” Marjorie LeBreton said. “I always say women are the most worried about things, they’re worried about stability.”
Harper had started his first campaign as an incumbent Prime Minister in a flurry of soft-edged ads with a speech that talked about economic uncertainty. He was not ending it any other way. The campaign had been by turns lethargic, brutal, high-minded and astonishingly petty. In the end, for better and for worse all five of its chief protagonists— Harper, Dion, Layton, Duceppe, May—were proving true to themselves.