Political Truths

Election Blog September 29

Political truths 

Before he started seeking public office himself, John Tory ran campaigns for many other Conservatives.  Often he would be the party official designated to stand in front of the camera and speak to people like me and say it was all going very well, that many voters were undecided and that the party was going to prevail in the end—even though both he and I knew it was headed for disaster.  All parties have to play this game.  


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So I scarcely expected him to concede defeat when he taped an interview for Focus Ontario this afternoon at the Global studios—even though our Ipsos Reid poll released the night before showed Liberal support increasing into majority government territory, and PC support dropping–mainly because of the faith based school funding promise.  After seeing the poll a Conservative backroom person from campaigns past confessed to being nervous about Tory even winning his own riding, Don Valley West, where he is trying to unseat Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.   


“I’m going to win my seat.  And I’m going to win the election,” Tory declared on Focus.  I have often wondered what would happen if a politician confessed to a reporter before Election Day:  “You’re right. I’m toast.” It is a tactic I do not expect to ever see.  


It is only one poll and things can change in a week.  But the trends are not going the right way for the Conservatives.  


 They have built their campaign around their leader.  “Leadership Matters” is their slogan, repeated at the end of each speech.  They have chosen this theme because polls, including ours, show Tory tied or leading Dalton McGuinty on the question of “who would make the best premier”. It is unusual to see an opposition leader scoring so high.  


But still the PCs do not appear to be gaining, mainly because of their leader’s choice to stick with his promise to fund faith-based schools.  The ads attacking McGuinty’s record of broken promises do not seem to be resonating.  I am tempted to conclude that in this election leadership does NOT matter.    


As a backroom boy, Tory had a large role in a couple of PC nightmares: the 1987 rout at the hands of Liberal David Peterson (a campaign that was probably lost before it ever started) and the 1993 historic near-wipeout of the federal party under Kim Campbell.  He once told me an anecdote about the Campbell campaign.  Tory pointed out that the backrooms  generally have a pretty good idea of what is going to happen on Election Day, no matter what kind of smiley face they put on for reporters.  The night before the 1993 election, he and other campaign officials had a conference call with Campbell.  One of them broke the news to her:  they were going to lose.  


“Okay, how bad do you think it will be?” she asked.  


“Prime Minister, our projections show us winning NO seats,” was the answer.  A painfully accurate prediction, given that the PCs were reduced to two MPs.   


It would have been fascinating to have seen the look on Campbell’s face at that moment.