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This article was published 13/6/2015 (1889 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Just six months ago, federal Liberals in this city could barely contain their excitement. After a decade in the political wilderness, it was time for them to rise again and assume power.
Upon taking over the party in 2013, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals shot to the top of the polls. As late as last fall, the Grits seemed a legitimate threat to form government again.
And then came the winter of Liberal discontent. The Conservative government got a bump with its decision last fall to join the United States-led mission against the Islamic State. And then in early spring, Albertans elected an NDP government, sparking a surge in support for the federal New Democrats.
Polls suggest if the election were to be held today, Trudeau would not only fail to return the Liberals to power, he would likely still be leader of the third party.
It's a stunning reversal of fortune that seemed, only a few months ago, to be so remote. Trudeau appeared fully prepared to avoid the mistakes of his predecessors. Recent trends indicate he may not be as free of those gaffes as first thought.
Flash back to 2011, when then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff suffered the humiliation of seeing the Grits relegated to third-party status. It was a huge disappointment for Liberals, who felt they had nowhere to go but up after losing the 2008 election.
The Liberals rebooted the leadership in 2013, choosing boy-wonder Trudeau to author a comeback.
The conventional wisdom was in Trudeau, the Liberals finally had a well-known and charismatic personality who contrasted well with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair. More importantly, the Liberal establishment promised it would never be caught under-resourced and unprepared to battle the grossly well-funded Tory machine.
In both 2008 and 2011, Stéphane Dion and Ignatieff were defined well before the campaigns by relentless Tory attack ads. Dion, the hapless academic, and Ignatieff, the opportunistic carpet-bagger, became objects of derision in large part because of those ads. That is not to say Dion and Ignatieff did not make mistakes. Only that they never had a chance to establish a brand; the Tories did it for them.
It should be noted that in those elections, the Liberals were only a shadow of the party that had, under Jean Chrétien, won three majorities. The Grits had neither the ground game nor the cash to counteract the Tory onslaught. They could only endure the Tory ads and hope to reverse the trend during the campaign.
History has shown us a month-long campaign is too short and too late in the game to change perceptions created by months and millions of dollars of ruthless attack ads.
What changed for Trudeau and the Liberals? The loss of Liberal support is due in part to rising NDP fortunes. Reasons for that vary. However, it appears once again, the Liberals are being out-spent in pre-election ad buys.
The Liberals have their own ads, but even the most loyal Grits are wondering now if they will be enough.
Federal parties do not reveal the size of the ad buys, so it's tough to tell with certainty who is spending the most. However, anecdotally, it seems the Tories are massively outspending both of their opponents in pre-election attack ads. That make sense; once again, the Conservatives have raised more money than the other two parties combined. In the first quarter this year, the Tories raised $6.3 million from donors; Liberals received $3.8 million; the NDP, $2.3 million.
With those resources, the Conservatives clearly have the luxury of carpet-bombing voters in the pre-writ period, with the NDP and Liberals offering only token shots in return.
The eerie similarities between this pre-election period, and those for in 2008 and 2011, have Manitoba Liberals engaging in lots of nervous shuffling of feet.
Still, local Grits are taking a glass-half-full view of the situation, and remain hopeful they can hold their only seat (Kevin Lamoureux -- Winnipeg North) and recapture three seats they held back the Chrétien glory days: Winnipeg South, Winnipeg South Centre, and Saint Boniface.
Tory incumbents in two of those seats (Shelly Glover in Saint Boniface and Rod Bruinooge in Winnipeg South) are retiring. Tory MP Joyce Bateman has long been viewed as easy pickings for the Liberals and candidate Jim Carr in Winnipeg South.
There are even hopes the dynamic Robert-Falcon Ouellette, fresh off his solid showing in last fall's mayoral campaign, can out-duel NDP MP Pat Martin in Winnipeg Centre. Although with the NDP surge, that is a steep hill to climb.
Nationally, there is a lot of concern in Liberal circles about vote splitting with the surging NDP. In Manitoba, Liberal sources believe that is less likely because of the rising unpopularity of the provincial NDP. And because the anti-Tory vote is at all-time highs, creating openings for any opposition party that can position itself as a legitimate option to govern. That, Liberals argue, gives them a legitimate reason for optimism in a close, three-way race.
Politicians embrace a unique form of optimism that says there is always enough time to turn things around until there is no time left at all.
And make no mistake, time is running out on Trudeau and the Liberals.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @danlett
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
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