Regina Leader-Post

A lib­eral dose of ruth­less­ness

- GREG FINGAS Fingas is a Regina lawyer, blog­ger and free­lance po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor who has writ­ten about pro­vin­cial and na­tional is­sues from a pro­gres­sive NDP per­spec­tive since 2005. His col­umn ap­pears ev­ery Thurs­day. You can read more from Fingas at www.

The fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign rep­re­sented a clas­sic pris­oner’s dilemma for both op­po­si­tion par­ties and their sup­port­ers: each had to choose be­tween re­in­forc­ing the mes­sages of a party with some im­por­tant aligned in­ter­ests, and turn­ing against that party in or­der to pur­sue mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive ben­e­fits.

It’s worth ex­am­in­ing how the choices made by the Lib­er­als and the NDP led to the former win­ning a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment — while also high­light­ing what it means in the Par­lia­ment to come.

The NDP, the Lib­er­als and their sup­port­ers were all mo­ti­vated in large part by their de­sire for a change in gov­ern­ment — a sen­ti­ment shared by roughly two thirds of vot­ers through­out the cam­paign.

But that num­ber was never set in stone. Af­ter all, the Con­ser­va­tives threw un­prece­dented amounts of cam­paign spend­ing into their own ef­fort to stay in power. And the Con­ser­va­tives’ track record of poach­ing an ex­tra cou­ple of points on elec­tion day means that there was rel­a­tively lit­tle mar­gin for er­ror.

So the more resources the op­po­si­tion par­ties col­lec­tively ded­i­cated to chal­leng­ing the Con­ser­va­tives rather than each other in terms of both val­ues and cam­paign strate­gies, the more likely they were to en­sure that vot­ers saw change as a nec­es­sary re­sult of Mon­day’s elec­tion.

At the same time, the op­po­si­tion par­ties also wanted to po­si­tion them­selves to win power in this and fu­ture elec­tions. There, the ben­e­fit of be­ing the sole de­fec­tor rather than the sole co-op­er­a­tor was ob­vi­ous: a party that di­rected its resources dis­pro­por­tion­ately to mak­ing the case against Harper while leav­ing it­self vul­ner­a­ble to at­tacks from the other was likely to suf­fer at the polls, watch­ing its com­peti­tor take power as a re­ward for be­ing rel­a­tively self­ish.

And that’s largely how the cam­paign ul­ti­mately played out.

A three-party log­jam to start the cam­paign was first bro­ken when the NDP started to rise in the polls. At that point, the Lib­er­als joined the Con­ser­va­tives in a bliz­zard of at­tacks de­signed to pull the NDP back to the pack — while the NDP did rel­a­tively lit­tle to try to press its ini­tial ad­van­tage, with elec­tion day still months in the fu­ture.

When the par­ties re­turned to a tie in the polls, how­ever, the re­ver­sion to the cam­paign’s start­ing point was painted as mean­ing that the NDP had lost mo­men­tum com­pared to its pre­vi­ous heights. And the Lib­er­als re­lent­lessly trum­peted that nar­ra­tive in telling vot­ers to aban­don the NDP in the name of vot­ing strate­gi­cally — even (if not even more strongly) in rid­ings where the Con­ser­va­tives had no re­al­is­tic chance of vic­tory.

The end re­sult was that the Lib­er­als chipped away at the NDP’s sup­port and swept to a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment.

Mean­while, the NDP saw many of its in­cum­bents and star can­di­dates caught up in the red tide as its re­ward for fo­cus­ing more on the need for change.

To be clear, nei­ther party’s cam­paign was free of some chal­lenges to the other. But the de­ci­sive fac­tor may have been the NDP’s re­luc­tance to use a tem­po­rary ad­van­tage as a ba­sis to try to squeeze the Lib­er­als out of the pic­ture — in con­trast to the Lib­er­als’ ruth­less will­ing­ness and abil­ity to do just that in re­turn.

The good news for the mil­lions of Cana­di­ans who wanted change is that there was enough co-op­er­a­tion on all sides to achieve the shared goal of re­mov­ing Stephen Harper from power.

But now, all par­ties will face the ques­tion of what they’ll do with the new-found free­dom from Harper’s rule.

We’ll find out soon whether the Lib­er­als’ prom­ise of change is all it’s cracked up to be.

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