Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberal Party had a surprising and decisive victory this week, giving them a solid majority government. A whole 38% of the popular vote! That’s totally majority territory! Especially since exactly zero polls predicted the victory, the lessons from this campaign are ringing around Canada. Even before we realized what a crazy result there would be, every analyst and their dog was talking about how all the federal parties would be watching this campaign and learning from it, since the parties are (according to some people with a tendency for hyperbole) a loose reflection of the federal parties. So did they learn anything that they’ll take into the 2015 federal election?
First of all, let’s realize that all the federal parties are going to look for something optimistic here, they’re going to try to learn the happy lesson. Nobody wants bad news and in politics, where you can spin anything, every party will find the happy message. So here are the happy-go-lucky lessons. What you’ll slowly realize is that the happy lesson for one party is the sad reality for another, but shhh don’t tell them.
For the Liberal Party of Canada, the major takeaway is obvious. The Liberal brand is not totally tainted, despite gas plant scandals and budgetary nonsense. People will still vote red passionately, if only because they don’t want to vote blue. There are some other positive lessons too. The charismatic leader card can work, at least to a limited extent. Many will say that Wynne won because she was the most likeable and relatable leader, as opposed to the positively stiff Hudak and the politically cutthroat Horwath. Trudeau’s Liberals have been banking on the likability card (read: Justin’s hair card), so its ability to work is a big positive for them. Also, they see that the Liberal party can have a strong electoral ground game, at least in Ontario. Their volunteer, door-to-door strategy worked this time around, so they’re going to try to replicate that in 2015.
The federal Conservatives, despite their (kind of) counterpart party losing big, still has a few positive lessons to garner. First, the steady hand candidate wins out over the ‘hope and change’ candidate. The fact that the big promises of the Hudak campaign didn’t inspire the electorate to vote for change actually bodes well for the federal Conservative Party. Second, the entire campaign was one of austerity and budget cutting. Even Wynne was forced to admit that budget cuts were necessary, and still managed to
Wynne win. That means the Canadian electorate, especially in the indebted provinces, understand the necessity of some cuts, which makes Conservative strategists giddy in their plush seats in Ottawa. They also learned that scandals don’t kill parties. If Wynne could survive gas plants, email deletion and #TractorGate (ok, we’re the only ones who cared about that one), than nobody is going to change their vote because of little things like Mike Duffy or Patrick Brazeau.
Finally, the NDP. They’re happy because…Horwath’s NDP gained a seat. No, but seriously. The Ontario NDP challenged the ruling government and weren’t really punished for it. People see the NDP as a legitimate option and a legitimate opposition to the government, which is why Horwath was not punished for her rejection of the Liberal budget, the event that triggered the Ontario election in the first place. Mulcair and his strategists can continue to be staunchly opposed to everything the Conservative Party does and see itself as an opposing force for good, or whatever they’re a force for.
Each party will spend the next two weeks telling their leaders why the Ontario result is great for the 2015 campaign. Hopefully they can keep those fake smiles intact for 18 months so we can continue to enjoy them through the next election.