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.
EARLY IN THE CAMPAIGN, as part of what might be called the Sweater-Vest Initiative, Harper let his campaign staff talk him into sitting down for breakfast with travelling campaign reporters for an on-the-record session. Not just croissants and coffee, but cameras and boom microphones.
INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY is no help at all to a party that has preferred lately to wipe the slate clean every two years. Of the 15 or so people travelling with the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, precisely one had ever done an election tour before as a political staffer.
SOMETIMES IT WAS when the leaders were closest that it was easiest to see the differences in their styles. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, the Liberal and the Conservative were both in southwestern Ontario, a Chrétien Liberal stronghold that veered sharply Conservative in 2006.
AND THEY WERE OFF. Stephen Harper’s campaign plane flew straight to Quebec. Now, as in 2006, Quebec was a big part of the Conservative strategy to win new seats, and the region around the provincial capital—entrepreneurial, middle-class, suspicious of Montreal and its exotic elites—has always been the bedrock of Quebec conservatism.
WHEN HE FINALLY climbed into a limousine for the three-minute ride from 24 Sussex Drive to Rideau Hall, Stephen Harper was 49 years old and had been hovering around Parliament Hill for more than 15 years in one job or another. He had won fewer than half of the seats in the House of Commons in 2006, but had managed to hold that minority government together longer than any other minority in Canadian history.
Never has a foreign economic crisis intruded so directly upon a Canadian election as this year. Even in 1930, when the perpetual Liberal machine of William Lyon Mackenzie King was unseated in reaction to the Great Depression, the stock market crash of 1929 was nearly a year past.
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