Media

What a difference a year makes

No Comments 18 January 2016

At the beginning of 2015, who would have predicted that the also-ran third party in Parliament would form a solid majority government with a leader who is making international waves?

By SHEILA COPPS

First published in The Hill Times on Friday, December 18, 2015.

OTTAWA—What a difference a year makes. At the beginning of 2015, who would have predicted that the also-ran third party in Parliament would form a solid majority government with a leader who is making international waves?

Even the most diehard Liberals were entertaining a two-stage victory process. The first move was to return to official opposition status before winning government.

Common parlance said that prime minister Stephen Harper’s grip on power was so tight, that his organizational skills and communications discipline could secure his re-election.

That race was supposed to be against Thomas Mulcair, the New Democratic Party leader who had ably mastered the art of Question Period. His questions were so good; it was assumed that his answers would be better.

And then there was Justin. Indeed, friends and foes alike branded him on a first-name basis.

Savvy political advisers called him thus to differentiate him from his father. Justin Trudeau was friendly, approachable and a very different leader from his Cartesian parent.

His foes branded him the same way to promote the notion that this kid just wasn’t ready. His age, his hair, his unconventional career path (as a teacher, not a lawyer) managed to sow the seeds of doubt about his capabilities. That, and a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign designed to reinforce all perceived weaknesses, did the trick. When the never-ending campaign actually started, voters at the doorstep repeated verbatim the exact lines crafted for the Tory ad campaign, without even realizing it.

Voters were questioning his age, and even asking whether he had the intelligence to be prime minister.

Through it all, Trudeau continued to surprise. First it was a knockout punch in the boxing ring. That was a risky move for any politician because if he had lost, his Rocky story could have ended there.

There is nothing the public likes better than to watch a politician flub a sporting challenge, and it can have devastating electoral consequences. Robert Stanfield never did learn how to play football.

But Trudeau did his homework. He trained quietly and effectively, and when the moment came, his opponent didn’t even see it coming.

To his credit, Stephen Harper actually saw  Trudeau coming. Throughout the long months when the polls were tracking the ascendance of Thomas Mulcair, he was virtually ignored in the Conservative air wars.
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© 2017 Sheila Copps.