2015 list of political winners and losers in Canadian politics

A legacy of guts, stupidity, craft and disappointment

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canadian politicsTORONTO, Ont. Dec. 29, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Creating lists of the year’s political winners and losers is usually pretty obvious: the winners of elections are geniuses and the losers are dummies. But there was far more to Canadian politics in 2015 than the obvious.

The obvious? According to plenty of pundits, it’s simply that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are heroes, and Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair and their respective political parties are zeroes. And yes, Trudeau and Team Grit fashioned a stunning federal election victory in October. And Harper and Mulcair lost what they each had – a strong majority Conservative government and the NDP’s status as Official Opposition, respectively.

But there were also plenty of less obvious political winners and losers:

Gutsiest political move: Tom Mulcair. The NDP leader did something rare, taking a very risky stand during campaigning. Mulcair’s repudiation of the Conservatives’ niqab-bashing was brave – particularly since most of his party’s seats were in Quebec, where aversion to the niqab (and the hijab) has always been high. Mulcair’s refusal to join in Islamaphobia precipitated a dramatic drop in the polls, leaving Trudeau as the only viable alternative to Harper in the province. It may be small comfort but history should record Mulcair’s stance as gutsy.

Dumbest political moves: the Conservative campaign. When political strategists know they are losing, they typically look for greener pastures or douse themselves with gasoline and light a match, seeking to go out in a blaze of glory. The Conservative Party – led by Jenni Byrne, Guy Giorno and others – opted for the latter. In early October, when they still had a chance at re-election, the Conservative braintrust bizarrely stopped talking about the economy and instead announced the creation of the “barbaric practices hotline,” which everyone knew was aimed at Muslims. It was “standing up for our values,” said Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. It was “disgusting,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, and most of the country agreed. A few days later, the Conservative braintrust made a bad situation worse. They created a photo op with Harper and former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. It is never a good idea to espouse law-and-order themes while campaigning with a crack-using, drunk-driving xenophobe.

Craftiest political move: the Liberal pledge to never “go neg.” Long before he won the Liberal leadership in April 2013, Trudeau pledged to never resort to attack ads and nasty invective against opponents — or “go neg.” Trudeau mainly kept his vow until his party slipped from first place to third in the polls in the summer of 2015. At that point, he pummelled his opponents in advertising and debates, during which he gave far better than he got. He left Harper and Mulcair wondering what had gone wrong. Trudeau isn’t the first politician to promise to never go neg while going neg and he won’t be the last. Because it worked.

Most disappointing political moves: recruiting crummy candidates, by every party. Don’t blame social media — it simply provides a platform for people to say crazy things, and for campaign war rooms and media to expose the craziness. However, the sheer volume of insanity and inanity during the campaign of 2015 dwarfed everything that went before it. The list of misdeeds and suspects is impressive: conspiracy theorists, Hitler comparisons, racists, threats, stalkers, and even a guy who peed in a cup when he thought no one was looking. It was appalling, disgusting and it reflected badly on the leaders of every party – because the leaders signed the nomination papers for these kooky candidates. No wonder people don’t vote as much as they used to.

All that notwithstanding, 2016 begins with the country in a better mood. Canadians generally seem to like Trudeau – or at least they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for a while.

Will they turn against him? Of course – they always do, in time.

And then, before you know it, we’ll be back in another election campaign – and we’ll have plenty of new examples of political moves that were gutsy, dumb, crafty and disappointing.

Troy Media columnist Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator. Warren is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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