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Opinion

Federal Tories in denial on why they lost election

Stephen Harper is not the only reason the Tories lost the 2015 election.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Stephen Harper is not the only reason the Tories lost the 2015 election.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/1/2016 (1227 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA -- Celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary injected some Donald Trump-like buzz into the unofficial race to replace Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservatives this week, as he began kicking the tires for a possible run.

O'Leary, whose highly undemocratic attempt to buy duly elected Alberta Premier Rachel Notley out of office was met mostly with eye-rolls and outright anger this week, would add some colourful commentary at the very least.

It's expected the Tory leadership convention won't be scheduled until the spring of 2017, and the actual race will last about a year, giving contenders 12 months to raise money and travel the country drumming up support.

But the big picture isn't just about who they choose, says conservative pundit and Summa Strategies vice-chairman Tim Powers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/1/2016 (1227 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary injected some Donald Trump-like buzz into the unofficial race to replace Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservatives this week, as he began kicking the tires for a possible run.

O'Leary, whose highly undemocratic attempt to buy duly elected Alberta Premier Rachel Notley out of office was met mostly with eye-rolls and outright anger this week, would add some colourful commentary at the very least.

It's expected the Tory leadership convention won't be scheduled until the spring of 2017, and the actual race will last about a year, giving contenders 12 months to raise money and travel the country drumming up support.

But the big picture isn't just about who they choose, says conservative pundit and Summa Strategies vice-chairman Tim Powers.

"You really have to have a full understanding and do a proper autopsy on what killed you," he told the Winnipeg Free Press. "The natural reaction for political people is to think it is solely about the leader, but that's not true."

'We got over 30 per cent of the vote, we have 99 MPs, a caucus of 145. It's a pretty solid Opposition'— Manitoba Sen. Don Plett

If the Conservatives learn lessons from the past, they will see leadership is only part of the battle.

In Manitoba, the provincial Tories have spent 16 years trying to figure out how to get back into government. If current polls hold true through April 19, they will finally do just that.

But it has been more than a decade-and-a-half of meandering in the wilderness, trying a whole bunch of different identities on for size. And for much of the first five or even 10 years, it was also about resentment that Manitobans kicked them out of office in the first place, denying the wrongs of the past and underestimating the strength of the NDP machine.

While there has been internal finger-pointing among federal Conservatives, there are still an awful lot of Tories, both within the party and among its faithful voters, who dismiss the Trudeau Liberals' majority government as a mistake by voters.

They have to get over that, and fast, Powers said. "If you keep dismissing (the fact you lost and he won) you're shagged."

Manitoba Sen. Don Plett doesn't think there is much for the Conservatives to worry about. It's the media making a big deal about the need to rebuild, he said.

"We got over 30 per cent of the vote, we have 99 MPs, a caucus of 145," he said. "It's a pretty solid Opposition."

True, but ask the Liberals how earning 30 per cent of the vote and winning 103 seats in 2006 worked out for them in the next election, or the one after that.

One of the biggest problems was a belief the Liberals lost then because of the leader, said Powers. In fact, the Liberals' result in 2006 was more about an arrogance voters had come to see in a party that seemed to think it just couldn't lose. It was about too many scandals and bad decision-making.

The Liberals lengthened their stint on the opposition side thanks to party infighting, fundraising failures and a general malaise among Liberal voters that set in deeply until Justin Trudeau came on board with a fresh perspective and a willingness to rebuild from the ground up.

The Conservatives won't likely face the same fundraising problems. The big blue money machine is the most powerful political fundraising operation in Canada.

However, if they aren't careful, they can easily fall into the traps the Liberals did in Ottawa, or the provincial Tories did in Manitoba.

The Conservatives didn't just lose the 2015 election because of Harper. They lost because Canadians grew weary of the 'You're with us or you're with the (terrorists/pedophiles/really bad people)' attitude that made the federal government inaccessible and closed-minded. They lost because too many Conservatives believed no matter what they did, voters simply weren't going to elect the NDP or Justin Trudeau.

Right now, many Conservatives clearly think they can lay the blame for all Canadians disliked about the previous government on former prime minister Harper. So much so Tony Clement was comically attempting this week to explain why it was legitimate for him to be calling on the Liberals to produce information about the sale of military vehicles to Saudi Arabia his party refused to produce when it was in power just a few months back.

Very few people are buying what Clement is selling. And the Conservatives will find for a while, Canadians will not so easily be swayed to forgive and forget everyone but Harper.

Getting back into government will take a movement that shows Conservatives accept and take responsibility for the faults of the party's past and builds a new party around a new leader that doesn't believe it is owed an election win, but has to earn it.

 

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca @mrabson

 

Mia Rabson is the parliamentary bureau chief for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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History

Updated on Friday, January 15, 2016 at 8:00 AM CST: Replaces photo

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