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With 3 days to go, a look at the strategies

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With the election campaign finally into its last few days, it’s interesting to look at what strategies worked, what ones failed, and what ones failed so badly they actually backfired.

We won’t know for sure of course until we see what happens, but rather than wait, a few observations, strictly for what they are worth. Opinions may vary. 

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The biggest strategy failure may be Thomas Mulcair playing it too safe, moving to the centre and in the process alienating some of the NDPs traditional base, and by promising a balanced budget as a way to show Canadians the party can be fiscally responsible. This let the Liberals appear as the real alternative to Harper. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, he was leading the polls, if we can remember that far back.

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Harper's first strategy was to base his reelection bid on the economy and security. But when that wasn't resonating, he needed a Plan B. Enter Australian strategist Lynton Crosby and wedge politics, and consequently the niqab became an issue. Then he doubled down with his tip line that encourages neighbours to watch for “barbaric cultural practices”, a measure aimed at tapping into a perceived fear of Muslims. His politics of division may have worked at first, especially in Quebec and to the detriment of Mulcair but curiously not of Trudeau. It is yet to be determined whether Harper took it too far, to his own detriment.

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As an aside, Crosby has now quit. According to one Tory insider it was because he didn’t like Harper tapping into the Ford family to boost his campaign. Others suggest he left to protect his brand, not wanting it to get out that his dirty tricks perhaps don’t always work.  

But maybe the greatest strategic failure has been the Tories “he’s just not ready” campaign aimed at Trudeau. As we all well know, those “nice hair though” ads started airing in what advertisers call saturation rotation long before the formal campaign began. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, given that a similar tactic doomed both Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff before they even got started.

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These ads lowered our expectations of Trudeau. This combined with another strategic mistake – the ridiculously long campaign, allowed people to get to know him a bit more, and see that in debates and elsewhere, he wasn’t the disaster the Conservative campaign had told us he would be.  As Tory strategist Kory Teneycke said about Trudeau prior to the first debate "I think that if he comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations." Strategically, that was a dumb comment to make. Not entirely inaccurate, because the Conservative campaign did lower those expectations. But that was a very stupid thing to do because when Trudeau did show up not only with pants, but with a performance that was at least on par with his opponents, it came as more of an eye-opener than would otherwise have been the case. It prompted voters to take notice.

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The best strategy has been the Liberals'. There were some hiccups at first, in fact even before the campaign started, in Trudeau’s support for Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation. This put him at an immediate disadvantage, compared to Mulcair’s forceful opposition to it. It showed Trudeau as putting politics ahead of principle, based on polls at the time that showed widespread support for the measures, and a fear that if he didn't support it Harper would make him look like he was soft on security. But as the campaign went on, Trudeau’s stock rose. This because he didn't slip as the Conservatives told us he would.

Mainly though, he managed to differentiate himself from both the Conservatives and NDP with his position to run three years of deficits to finance a stimulus program to provide jobs. With that strategy, he emerged as more of an alternative to Harper than Mulcair is.

And that is exactly where you want to be when polling tells you that the vast majority of Canadians want change.

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