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October 4, 2021
The Empire Club of Canada Presents
Tales from the Campaign Trail - Majority or Bust?
Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Associate Vice-President, Humber College
David Coletto, CEO & Founding Partner, Abacus Data
Marieke Walsh, Political Reporter, The Globe and Mail
Dan Mader, Partner, Loyalist Public Affairs
Jennifer Howard, Chief of Staff to Jagmeet Singh, NDP
Braeden Caley, Senior Director, Communications, Liberal Party of Canada
Distinguished Guest Speaker
Tenio Evangelista, Vice-President of Infrastructure, Government Relations, OMERS
It is a great honour for me to be here at the Empire Club of Canada today, which is arguably the most famous and historically relevant speaker’s podium to have ever existed in Canada. It has offered its podium to such international luminaries as Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Audrey Hepburn, the Dalai Lama, Indira Gandhi, and closer to home, from Pierre Trudeau to Justin Trudeau. Literally generations of our great nation's leaders, alongside with those of the world's top international diplomats, heads of state, and business and thought leaders.
It is a real honour and distinct privilege to be invited to speak to the Empire Club of Canada, which has been welcoming international diplomats, leaders in business, and in science, and in politics. When they stand at that podium, they speak not only to the entire country, but they can speak to the entire world.
Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Good afternoon fellow directors, past presidents, members, and guests. Welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club of Canada, and also an Associate Vice-President, at Humber College. I'm your host for today’s event; it's a virtual event, and it's all about “Tales from the Campaign Trail, Majority or Bust."
I'd like to begin this afternoon with an acknowledgement that I'm hosting this event within the Traditional and Treaty Lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege that my ancestors and I have had, since they first arrived in the country in the 1830’s. I want to recognize that last week, across the country, many dedicated time to learning about the experiences of Indigenous children were forced to attend Residential Schools. Many of those individual stories are untold, buried with them in the ground, and many survivors who tried to tell those stories were not believed. I hope that we continue to find ways, beyond the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, to honour these survivors and to hear their stories. And as we work to connect past actions to present realities, listening and learning from each other is so important. So, we encourage everyone tuning in today to learn more about the Traditional Territories on which you work and live.
I now want to take a moment to recognize our sponsors, who generously support the Empire Club, and make these events possible, and complimentary, for our supporters to attend. Thank you to our lead event sponsors, Earnscliffe and OMERS, and to our supporting sponsor, the Canadian Securities Exchange. And thank you, also, to our season sponsors, the Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA and Waste Connections of Canada.
Now, I'd like to remind everybody participating today, that this is an interactive event. And so, those attending alive are encouraged to engage with our speakers by taking advantage of the question box, you can scroll down and find that just below your on-screen video player. We'll try to incorporate as many questions as we can throughout the discussion. And if you require technical assistance, please start a conversation with our team, using the chat button which you will find on the right-hand side of our screen. We also invite you to share your thoughts on social media. I will be posting some different hashtags during the conversation so you can use those, on those platforms that are working today, to engage in a conversation. And to those watching on demand, or tuning in at a later date, welcome.
I’d now like to officially call this virtual meeting to order. I am delighted to welcome and introduce the panel for today's events. David Coletto is CEO and Founding Partner and Abacus Data and will be kicking off today's events with a brief polling presentation, to set the scene for the panel discussion that will follow. Marieke Walsh is a political reporter for The Globe and Mail, and will be our moderator today; Jennifer Howard is Chief of Staff to Jagmeet Singh, leader at the New Democratic Party; Dan Mader is Partner of Loyalist Public Affairs; and Braeden Caley is Senior Director of Communications for the Liberal Party of Canada. You can read the full bios of the panelists by scrolling down your screen. Our panelists today are going to share an inside scoop on what went on in the war rooms, on the buses, on the ground, all across this campaign that we just wrapped up as a country. They are going to let us know how three of the major parties functioned, what they got up to, all of the good stories that we've been waiting to hear in the run-up to Canada's 44th Federal Election. To get it started, over to David, to share those polling results and kick us off. David?
Polling Presentation by David Coletto, CEO & Founding Partner, Abacus Data
Hi, Kelly, thanks so much for that introduction, a real pleasure to be here. We were just talking before the show started—more than two weeks, or just about two weeks since the election, it feels like a long time. This election was a short one, but also felt long, I'm sure more so for our insiders that will share their experiences on the campaign. Now, I've been asked to come and share some polling data, based on our final survey of the campaign that we did over the final weekend, as well as a post-election survey that we wrapped up in the days following the election. And I've been asked to kind of give a sense of what I think happened, and it's not easy, and nor is it, I think, obvious that this election was about one thing. And my thesis today, is that it was about multiple things, and trying to unpack the different forces, and feelings, and attitudes, and impressions, that voters had of their choices in the lead-up to the campaign, and then, throughout this campaign, is really my goal today. Now, we know the outcome, I'm not going to dwell on, you know, the outcome being very similar to the results in 2019. But obviously, you know, that's a big part of how I think the public is reacting to the election call itself, and whether they felt that it ultimately changed much in terms of the composition of Parliament, or perhaps the direction of the country. But it is worth noting that, while on the surface it might look like this election was, you know, a repeat of 2019 in terms of the outcome, I think there was a lot of important differences that were going through people's minds. And some of the divisions, or cleavages that, you know, we had seen in this country over the last decade or so, I think continued to form. That will tell us a lot about how this new parliament is going to work, and, you know, what comes next in terms of our political system.
Now, when you ask Canadians, how do you feel about the election results. You can see here that, you know, not a lot of folks out there are delighted or happy with the outcome. I think that's a reflection of their feeling about maybe the choices that were on offer, or the fact that they were asked to participate in this election overall. But you can see that, you know, if you add up delighted, and happy, and accepting, that's a clear majority of people who kind of give an “okay, I'm fine with this, this is not something that is overly upsetting.” And that, I think, is a reflection of the fact that when we asked people what outcome they wanted. You actually typically got more people saying, “I'd like some kind of minority at the end of this, than either of the two main parties winning a majority,” which I think is a reflection of, generally, the satisfaction that most people had with the output that the previous parliament had produced. Now, in terms of the takeaways, I think there's four in my mind that I want to focus your attention on. Unlike some of my colleagues in the polling industry, many of the online polls like ours didn't show a lot of movement from day-to-day. I for one, am always sceptical about, you know, the daily tracking polls that shows like five- or six-point swings over two days; that means millions of people are like waking up one day and saying, “I'm a Liberal today, and then tomorrow, I'm a Conservative.” I don't think that typically happens. But what we see during a campaign, especially with telephone surveys is, I think, difference in motivation, and engagement, that causes some folks to be more likely to answer a survey or not. So, we saw very little movement after that first week of the campaign.
I also think that all elections are about a choice between, you know, the desire for change, wanting to see a change in government, and keeping the status quo—and that's a particularly important question in the midst of a pandemic. And that choice that voters were asked, you know, to make between replacing a government that most felt had done a reasonably good job managing the pandemic, with a choice, or multiple choices, that they weren't completely sure would do either a better job in the short term when it comes to the pandemic, or a long-term outcome. I think, what I'm going to show in our polling was that increased public anxiety, or pandemic anxiety, over the course of the campaign, I feel is it was a double-edged sword for the Liberals; and I'll talk about that. And then lastly, you know, with what I believe was a more disengaged electorate, did this campaign matter at all? And I don't want to take away the thunder from my campaign warriors on the panel today, but, you know, if no one's paying attention and there's a campaign, did that campaign even happen? That's a question I throw out there.
So, let's look quickly at the trend line in our vote intention numbers. And you can see once the election was called, the Liberal number dropped fairly quickly by four points. And then over the first two weeks of the campaign, the Conservatives caught up. And then from that point on, we saw almost no movement in our weekly tracking, between the Liberals, the Conservatives and the New Democrats, right? They all stayed more or less within one or two points of where they were. Now, you saw that purple line start to rise, not as high or as fast as some of the telephone surveys were showing in terms of the People's Party, but for the most part, this was a fairly flat kind of momentum. Even when we did daily tracking in the final week, we didn't see a whole lot of movement happening; perhaps at the end, a little drop for the New Democrats, but for the most part, pretty stable numbers.
Now, that national number obviously overshadowed some of the regional and demographic differences, and I'm just going to highlight a few for you. One of the things I think happened in this campaign, and we saw it just in the seat outcomes, with the Liberals, you know, holding their vote—or gaining vote in the case of the Lower Mainland—you know, was really very much an urban and suburban base, and the Conservatives reinforced and strengthened their hold on rural Canada. This is the national divide by urban, suburban, and rural respondents. If you look at Ontario in particular, you see a really big divide, and so the Conservatives were able to close the popular vote gap in Ontario, but it didn't really matter in terms of seats, because they didn't do it where the seats were, and that was in and around Toronto, Ottawa, and the larger cities. And so, what we saw at the end of this campaign is actually, I think, a bigger divide, where in places like Saskatchewan, the interior of BC, Alberta, rural Manitoba—no offence, Braeden, you'll come up later—the Liberal Party really doesn't exist all that much, but in large parts of urban Canada, the Conservatives are quite weak; think of the fact they have no seats in Montreal, Toronto, or the formal city of Vancouver. And then for the New Democrats, you know, one of the few parties that can actually bridge that urban-rural divide, where they have seats in urban and rural settings.
I'm always interested in the demographic divide, typically, generational; interestingly, in this election, our data suggests there wasn't really sharp differences in vote by age, you can see the Liberal vote was fairly consistent across the three age groups. The New Democrats did slightly better among younger voters, they had a lot more potential among that group; this is those who actually turned out and voted, or said they definitely were going to be voting in the election, in the final weekend. And the Conservative vote, you know, again, it was fairly consistent, so not sharp demographic divides in terms of age; we did see a gender gap, but not as sharp as it had been in the past. But what we did see—and I think this is tied to the urban-rural divide—is among racialized Canadians in our sample, the Liberals won by almost 20 points among Caucasian or white Canadians, you can see the Conservatives won by 5. So, that I think was really a feature of the urban-rural divide.
So, what was the campaign about then; and what can polling data tell us about the different forces at work? Well, the first question always, I think is, especially with a government that's been in power for six years, and is asking for another mandate, was this a change election? And we have the benefit of having previous data, so when you look at those bottom two bars on this slide, you can see when the campaign started, 43% of eligible voters said they definitely wanted a change in government. Over the course of the campaign that increased to 50%, but when you look at that bar at the top, it was still either slightly below, or about where we were in 2019. So, in some ways this campaign was about changing the government, for those mostly who didn't vote for the Liberals last time. The problem for the opposition parties was, that number didn't get to a point that really put the Liberals in jeopardy, where you had large numbers of people; think of the provincial election in Ontario in 2018, where you had close to 70%, 80% of people saying they definitely wanted a change in government, getting rid of Kathleen Wynne—we never we never really saw that. And I think part of that, in my mind, was because, while I think—and we'll get to this in a moment—the opposition parties, particularly the Conservatives and Democrats, did a really good job at litigating the so-called unwanted, or unnecessary election. But what they didn't do, was at the same time make a compelling case for change, at a time when maybe the country wasn't ready for change, because we're in the midst of a pandemic. The data suggests they didn't quite get there, and that, I think, helps explain why the Liberals were able to hold on to much of their vote from 2019, and nd hold on to those core seats that they had.
Speaking about an unnecessary election, was this campaign about it? I think all of all pundits started the campaign saying, “yeah, in three days, we're gonna forget about the fact that the Prime Minister called this election when he didn't really have to.” When we ask people what impact did calling this election have on their likelihood to vote Liberal, the first thing to note is, more than half said it had at least some effect, in their minds; you know, 21% said, “I will not vote Liberal because of this,” and other 17% said they're much less likely to vote Liberal, 15 somewhat. That's an important data point, because many of the folks, particularly in those middle categories, many of them actually voted Liberal in 2019. And so, they started this campaign, I think, with a perspective to say they were annoyed, frankly, people were kind of annoyed that this election was called. Ultimately, I think it probably cost the Liberals, in my mind, their majority, but it wasn't enough to prevent them from winning the most seats in the places that they needed it. So in part, this election was about the fact we were having an election, I don't think you can move past that and look and say it wasn't the case. Was it only about it? I don't think so. And then that's this dynamic between change, and this election.
Was it about issues? Well, you know, the sceptics will say elections are never really about issues, but I do think there were a number at play. And because no one issue emerged as the top issue for a clear majority of voters, no party really benefited from it, right? So when we asked voters in our post-election survey, what was or what is the top issue facing the country, and we asked them to pick their top three, you can see almost half said pandemic was the most important issue. But, just think about it, we're in the midst of the fourth wave, we're still in a global pandemic, and more than half of the country did not choose the pandemic. So, it wasn't the most important issue for everybody; it was important to many, but not everybody. The cost of living certainly was high up on the list, we'd continually seen it throughout the campaign, beyond the pandemic, as a top issue. Healthcare, the economy, the environment and climate change, and government deficit gets you to about a quarter of people putting it in their top three. By the way, those were the same issues, if you take out the pandemic, that were in the top four or five in 2019, and many of them were in the top four or five in 2015 and 2011. And so, we've had these same issues at the top, but the pandemic was certainly different.
Now, when we look at how folks voted, or said they were going to vote—in this case it was how they voted, because it's our post-election survey—depending on which issue they selected first. Here's, among those who said the pandemic was a top three issue, almost 40% voted Liberal, 31% Conservative and 19 %New Democrat, right? So, if this election was only about the pandemic, my mind says the Liberals would have won, and they would have won a majority government, and the other two parties would have been really actually close to the 2015 election results. If the election was about the cost of living, among those who picked this issue, you can see the Conservatives had more or less a slight advantage over the Liberals, but not a big one. And so, the issue that I think all three parties really fought this campaign on in terms of their platforms, how do you make life more affordable for folks? All three came close to the vote share that they got nationally, among this group. What about the economy? Well, here you've got the Conservatives well ahead, 47%, almost half of those who said the economy was a top issue ended up voting Conservative, 30% voted Liberal, and 8% from the New Democrats. You can see the challenge New Democrats have on that issue, but the effectiveness that the Conservatives had in framing, for sizable group of the electorate, this as a potential ballot question. What about healthcare? Despite the Liberals attempts to try to use it as a wedge, I don't think it really emerged as one as clearly as they had hoped, because it was basically tied among those who said healthcare was a top issue. And finally, on climate change—oh, no, not finally, second last climate change—you can see here, if this election was about climate change, the Conservatives would have struggled, and the Liberals would have done very well. Interesting tidbit, we asked a slightly different question in our surveys, we asked which party do you think is best on these issues? The Liberals also won by almost 15 points on that question. Two years ago, when we asked that question, the Green Party won outright; this time, they were at 5%. It shows, not only the decline the Green Party had in this campaign, but also the effectiveness—and Braeden, we’ll give you some credit here—that the Liberals have had over the last two years at making the public believe that they're the party that cares the most and are probably best able to deal with that issue. And so, climate change was not the most important issue, but was important to many voters. Finally, if this election was about dealing with the debt or deficit, you can see the advantage that the Conservatives had, this is a core Conservative issue. Almost all almost half of them ended up voting Conservative, or more than half of them, among those who cared about it. So, if we look at the issue set, by, you know, who owns those issues, you can see the Liberals did have an advantage, although not a huge advantage, on the pandemic; they also had a clear advantage on the environment and climate change. The Conservatives had a natural, as they typically do, advantage on the economy, and the government debt and deficit. And then there was a pretty competitive race between cost of living, and healthcare. And so, if you think about, was this a change election? Was this about calling the election early? What issues mattered? You can start to see why we get into such a close race, why no one was able to break away, because no one really won the question of priming and issue salience over the campaign.
Last point is, was this about the pandemic? Now, we've been tracking public anxiety or attitudes about the pandemic since March 2020. This is our trendline to March 2021, and so the red line are those who say they're getting more worried over time, the green line are those who say over the past few days, they've gotten less worried, and you can see, you've got the third wave, sort of emerging out of the spring, and then it drops down over the course of most of the summer. A month before the election was called, we actually saw probably the most positive kind of public attitude towards the pandemic that we had seen since it first happened, right? Everyone was getting vaccinated, everyone felt this was going to be a great summer, the worries about the fourth wave hadn't yet taken hold, we were seeing glimpses of it in the UK and elsewhere, but it really wasn't on our radar. And then a month later, you see almost doubling of those who say they're getting more worried, and then into the campaign, it basically holds, right? And so, it didn't get significantly worse in those final days, given what was happening in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but there was a large number of voters out there who were feeling anxious about it. And I mentioned the Liberals had an advantage. When we ask a slightly different question—and we asked this throughout the campaign—and this is the final weekend, we said, if this pandemic gets worse, which party would you prefer to be in charge of managing things going forward? And you can see, despite the fact that, in our final poll, the Conservatives were ahead by one over the Liberals in the ballot, the Liberals had a six point advantage on this question. Now, that would signal, obviously advantage; the problem for the Liberals was, in terms of—and I hate talking about political advantage around a pandemic, so excuse the sort of insensitivity of what I'm about to say—but not enough people who cared about this pandemic ended up voting Liberal; almost 1 out of 4 of that 35% ended up voting for a different party. And so, that signals to me that the pandemic was clearly in the public's focus, but it wasn't sharp enough, at the end of the campaign, to give the Liberals, those few—you know, I saw an analysis today that they needed 17,000 total votes in a handful of ridings to win a majority, but more than that, they needed a few points across the board, and they just didn't get there in order to win that majority going forward. Perhaps a few more weeks of this campaign, it may have happened, but the signal was that it wasn't.
So, to wrap up then, you know, I think first of all, if we look ahead, perhaps the precedent for calling or forcing an early election has now been set. You know, I don't know if, in two or three years from now, whoever pulls the plug, or whatever vote might happen in Parliament, whether the public will react as negatively as they did during this campaign, but it is clear that we can't assume that voters are just simply going to forget that an election is called, and we're going to move on to other things, especially if the opposition parties effectively keep it on the agenda, as both Mr. O'Toole and Mr. Singh did throughout this campaign. I believe that, although the election results look similar, it has created some sharper divides. Yes, the Liberals have a few seats in Alberta, but the urban-rural divide, a government that is primarily urban, up against an opposition that is primarily small town, small city and rural, may make for a fairly fractious Parliament going forward. And so, this election didn't necessarily solve for that problem, in fact, it may have made it worse. Now, obviously, the Liberals have an ambitious agenda, and perhaps the next few months, if this is Mr. Trudeau’s final kick at the can, may be all about legacy, and so agenda-setting and prioritizing will be important. But obviously, the public is still—and we're just finishing a survey now that continues to show this—ending the pandemic and getting us on recovery remains their top priority. And so, whether or not Parliament can kind of find common ground on that remains to be seen, but that's where the public's head are at. So, was this this election, you know, what happened? Clearly, I think you saw a confluence of multiple forces, you had tension inside some voters’ minds, between wanting to punish Mr. Trudeau for calling an election they didn't necessarily think he should have, but then not necessarily being sure that Mr. O'Toole or Mr. Singh were effective alternatives. And that often is the case; you can want change, but you still have to have an alternative, and that desire for change never hit a point that I think pushed the Liberals truly out of a place where they could get re-elected. And so, a fascinating campaign, despite the fact that those national numbers didn't really move. A lot was going on, I think, in people's heads. And it was one to certainly watch from the sidelines through the polls, and I look forward to the conversation now with Marieke and this great panel. So, Marieke, I will hand things over to you.
Marieke Walsh, Political Reporter, The Globe and Mail
Thanks so much, David, and I'm really excited to have this panel; they are people who are really core to every campaign, which means they have also not slept for five weeks, probably longer beforehand, and really gave up a lot to contribute to this election. And while they unmute their microphones, I'll just introduce them again for you. So, we have Jennifer Howard, who was the Campaign Director for the NDP, we have Dan Mader, who was the Deputy Campaign Manager Responsible for Policy, and then we have Braeden Caley with the Liberals, who was the Director of Advertising and the Deputy Chief Digital Strategist. So, a really stellar crew that we have joining us today to bring us behind the scenes of these campaigns. And Braeden, I want to start with you in the Liberals. But I'll go around to everybody on this. And it's really just to, you know, that question that nobody really loves, but we all like to hear the answer on is the self assessment of what grade you would give your campaign and why?
Braeden Caley, Senior Director, Communications, Liberal Party of Canada
Well, I would grade the campaign as maybe a B+ to A, we were obviously, you know, not a majority as the result in the outcome. But an absolutely tuned, balanced, effort from the ground up, of people working for weeks and months to knock on doors, make phone calls for smart digital campaigning to be brought to bear, a field program, and really, I think the best plan on several issues that, in David's excellent presentation, were key priorities for people on affordable housing, on pandemic response, on childcare, on climate change, the best plan, proven leadership and a strong team, I think were emphasised by us pretty strongly throughout. Of course, a majority government is, you know, in the title of this panel, “Majority or Bust,” but I've been around long enough in the party to remember the 2011 election campaign, and many before it, that were very different results. And now Justin Trudeau has won the most seats here in three consecutive elections, and that means he can get right back to work on the priorities that we talked about in the campaign. So, mission accomplished in that sense, of having a mandate to keep working on moving Canada forward.
Okay, thank you. I'll go to you now, Dan, with the Conservative campaign.
Dan Mader, Partner, Loyalist Public Affairs
Look, obviously we didn't win, and so there is room to improve, and we're working on doing that. On the other hand, we went from 12 points back to 1 point ahead by the end, we took an unknown leader—after a year of people not wanting to see politics and only paying attention the government—introduced him to Canadians, began earning the trust of Canadians. So, you know, definitely learned a few things, and room to improve but, you know, we won the argument on the economy, we won the argument about cost of living; couldn't quite convince Canadians to change horses in the middle of the pandemic, particularly as it got worse towards the end, but began the process, I think, of earning that trust. So, still pretty happy with what the team did and very happy with what the leader accomplished.
Okay. And Jennifer, how about from your perspective in the NDP?
Jennifer Howard, Chief of Staff to Jagmeet Singh, NDP
Yeah, we feel really good about the campaign that we ran; we had a plan for our campaign, we stuck to that plan, Jagmeet was very focused. You know, we started with, in many respects, the most popular, well-liked, and trusted leader, and we ended the campaign with people feeling even better about him; so, those are all positives. We would have liked to have won more seats for sure. Our vote went up, you know, and I think that's only true for us, among the major political parties. And now we have to focus on turning those increased votes into more seats, and that'll be a focus for the coming time. But we had a great candidate, we had a good plan, we stuck to that plan. It was a short campaign period, which is always a challenge, I think, especially for opposition parties, and it was, you know, half of it was during the summer. But yeah, I think we, you know, we accomplished what we wanted to in the campaign. The results were not quite what we wanted, and sometimes you do everything you know how to do, and you don't quite get to where you want to go. So, we have we have some work to do for next time.
Okay. So I think you've all given me the glass half full approach, or perspective, on your campaign, so I appreciate that. I want to dig in a bit more first on the end result, and then we'll kind of go back through some of the machinations of the campaign, because you guys have sort of touched on this now. Braeden, what strikes me, and David Hurley actually posted this as well—he's a former Liberal campaign manager as well—is just how much the Liberals were able to make every vote count, in truly a remarkable way. In 2006, Liberals won 30.2% of the vote, and 103 seats, in 2021, the Liberals won 32.6% of the vote, so just shy of 2 points more, and government and 159 seats. So, can you explain how that happened? What has changed in the Liberal machine that makes your vote count so much more in each of these ridings?
Well, it’s people, people, people. It's a party that has made some really important decisions with Justin Trudeau leadership, frankly, to open up the party, make it completely free for people to join, and then to put up their hand to volunteer long before a campaign begins. And so, you know, a huge volunteer army really, that, you know, had done well over two dozen National Days of Action before the red ever dropped in this cycle, knocked on or made calls to 18 million different people in the lead up to election day. And then, yeah you're right, like a very focused campaign effort that is, you know, really devoted to, you know, following the data, listening to the insights that you're hearing from campaigns, and what volunteers are getting on the doorstep, and then focusing that carefully into the ridings that are close. And knowing when those ridings are close, so that you can devote volunteerism or advertising into making a difference there, right up to the wire on election day. You know, and one of my best examples, I think, of that, is actually from 2019, but I think illustrates it. You know, Hochelaga was won by just a couple hundred votes in 2019; the seat was flipped, and that was after the biggest single team of volunteerism on election day anywhere in the country, so people were able to focus volunteers there, focus that campaign, and turn a seat. And there was a lot of that in 2021, that made a key difference to this close outcome, but a very strong seat outcome for the Liberal Party.
And Dan, I think that's what, you know, some of the reporting maybe during the campaign misses that. When we're talking about the national popular vote numbers, it doesn't always translate, as we see for the second time, how that filters down to seats. And so, I'm wondering from the Conservative perspective, does the party see it as a problem of the get out the vote machine? Does it see it as a problem of where their votes are in the urban versus rural divide? Or how does it view this, really, conundrum for you guys, of having the most votes, but not the most seats?
Yeah. Look, that is definitely one of the challenges that our party has faced over the last five, six years, is that we win by huge margins in rural areas. We win by huge margins in places in the West, particularly Alberta and Saskatchewan, and then might lose a bunch of seats by smaller margins in places like the GTA or lower mainland of BC. And so, one of the things we worked on this campaign was that it was basically it's about earning trust with voters, earning trust of voters in areas like the GTA, Vancouver, Atlantic Canada, where we were totally shut out in 2019, and working to kind of get back into competition there. And that's one thing we're pleased that we're able to do in this campaign, it looks like it's gonna take us a couple of campaigns to fully earn that trust, but we made gains in those areas. We made big gains in several provinces in Atlantic Canada, we're not shut out of Newfoundland anymore, made big gains in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in terms of increasing our vote share there, we gained votes in Ontario. And I think that our approach worked, in terms of—not quite enough, you know, another point or so, particularly if the NDP did a point or two also, and a whole lot of seats start flipping in our direction. So, there's more work to be done, but, you know, we saw that definitely as an issue, the concentration of our votes in rural and western areas. It’s something we've been working to address in this election.
And Jennifer, do you see it as a get out the vote challenge for the New Democrats that, you know, especially in downtown Toronto, for example, there were some very tight races that just didn't quite fall your way. So, what was that sort of tipping point that gave it to the Liberals, compared to the NDP?
Yeah, I think that’s a really good question, and we're going to spend some time, you know, really delving into the data to make sure we have the right answers, or fixing the right things. But I do think turnout was a challenge for us, we knew it was going to be from the beginning, we knew it was going to be in a pandemic election. You know, typically, our voters sometimes have a harder time getting out to the polls for lots of reasons, and I think that may have been true this time; you know, when you're spending the day, and all you hear on the news is the lineup is three hours long, and you need to take transit or to have someone look after your kids or, you know, whatever, that can turn away voters. I think there's a piece of work for all of us to do between now and the next election, to work with Elections Canada on how we make increasing turnout part of their mandate, and how we make voting more accessible. So, I think that was, you know, that was going to be a challenge from the beginning, we did a lot of things to try to drive turnout, and I think some of them successfully. But I think we also knew that that was going to be hard for a lot of our folks, not just in downtown Toronto, but we've heard some really disturbing stories from Indigenous communities, and even at polls on Election Day, and that, I think, is something we're gonna have to investigate and work on as we move forward.
The NDP have, as, you know, Braeden kind of describes this army of volunteers, does it have that same resource base that the Liberals seem to be able to draw on in those key moments?
Um, you know, I feel pretty good about the folks that we engaged in this campaign, and people that we have on the ground, the people that we have in digital spaces doing that work. I think there's more work to do there, and I think there's also work to do in focusing those people. You know, we, in coming into this campaign, one of the things I wanted to do is stop the trend, which from 2011 has seen us lose seats every campaign. And we did that this time, we would’ve liked to have succeeded even greater, but we did that. And that is because we had a lot more people engaged, both on the ground, but also in digital spaces, talking to their friends and relatives about voting for Jagmeet. And I think there's just more to build on there.
Okay, I'm going to rewind now to mid August, when it was still sunny, and we still had tans, and, you know, there was the spring in all our steps before winter. And I’ll turn to Braeden now, because I think there were, each campaign had something that the Ottawa bubble, or the pundits in Ottawa, were kind of scratching their heads over. And I'll start with the Liberals, but I'll go around, and then hopefully we can all weigh in on this. And for Braeden, I think it was this question of why the election was called, but also the appearance that, despite calling the election and telegraphing the election was coming for so long, the Liberals didn't seem quite ready for the start line. And what I mean by that is that, for example, Radio-Canada reported that the Prime Minister was still calling around looking for the “big idea” in the first week of the campaign, and we didn't see the sort of policy issue that matched the rhetoric from the Prime Minister when he went to the Governor General's house. So, what happened there? Do you agree with some of the commentary that you weren't quite ready, or wasn't as finessed, or how do you see it?
Yeah, I think that there were, in the first 7 to 10 days of the campaign, actually a series of announcements by the Liberal campaign that, while there was a lot of media discussion about the timing of the election, and of course, there were the events taking place out of Afghanistan, but important ground that was being set there on issues like the pandemic response, a plan to finish the fight against COVID-19, an announcement, for instance, that mattered a lot to people in British Columbia—where I originally hail from—about responding to extreme weather events, like the fires and heat events, extreme heat events that had been seen throughout the summer. These were, you know, important issues that, as David laid out, you know, whether it was on the pandemic or on climate, and they were put out by the Prime Minister in the first 7 days, 7 to 10 days of the campaign. So, I do think, you know, he and the campaign writ large, opened with important pieces there that were important to the closing days as well. Of course, it was, you know, a different dynamic this time, that the Conservatives and NDP did put their closer two platforms out pretty quickly, you know, in the first handful of days of the campaign—or just before it, I believe, in the NDP’s case. So, that does establish, I think, a difference in terms of a lot of coverage that takes place, when ours was still as it had been in 2019, right before the debates began. But, important groundwork there that was laid in the plans question in that first week.
But that's also when you saw it saw your lead disappear, right? That's when you saw the majority, at least in the national polls, disappear. So, did something go wrong in those weeks, or did it go as planned?
I think, you know, if you had asked many Liberals, I think, and many of the other party's representatives on this panel today, if some of the numbers that were being seen in public opinion polling in July, were an honest, accurate reflection of what you might expect—you know, there were some data polls, I think, that had the Conservatives at 24% or 25%--I don't think anyone that had been involved in general election campaigns had quite believed that that was real. And then, of course, when the Prime Minister has been out every day, working on the pandemic, and you see his announcements, and that dominates the news coverage, it's going to make a difference when suddenly there's three or four other leaders that are being covered on an equal basis, you know, their own campaign buses and planes, their own announcements every single day. So, to some extent, that's not unexpected, I don't think. And I do, as I mentioned, I think that the PM laid some very important policy ground in that week that was very important to people's decisions in the final few days.
Dan, how did the Conservative campaign, what was the perspective of the Conservative campaign in that first week on the Liberal campaign?
We were honestly a little surprised that the Liberals seemed to come out of the gate a little more slowly than we would have expected. We kept saying, you know what, this experienced campaign team, we know that they're going to kind of catch up, but we were a little surprised. But we mostly just focused on our plan, you know, that was, we had a plan, which was a plan to release the plan, you saw once or twice during the campaign.
Never. Never saw it.
And you know, initially, when we got into the election, the issues that mattered to people were who has a plan to kind of rebuild Canada, rebuild our economy, get people back to work, and who can tackle the cost of living. And what we tried to do is just every day, relentlessly talk about those issues, and as long as those issues continued to be top of mind, which they did for the first three weeks, every day, we were seeing results, and moving the numbers in our direction.
Okay, I'm quickly running out of time. So, Jennifer, I'll just get you really quickly on the Liberals, but then I do need to go to Dan and Jennifer on their own campaigns before we go to audience Q&A’s So just briefly, Jennifer, on those roles.
Sure. I mean, I think what was a surprise to me was how much the, “why did you call the election” stuck around. I think the common wisdom was that would fade, and it really never did. And I think, you know, even we underestimated how angry and annoyed people were about that, and how opportunistic it looked, which just kind of I think reinforced some of the doubts people already had about the Prime Minister.
Okay. And before we go to my question for the Conservatives, I'll just remind the audience that there is a question-and-answer time that you can add in your questions to the conversation, and that dialogue box should just be below where the video is playing. So, if you do have a question for any of the panelists, please do enter it now, and we'll get to that soon. In the meantime, my question for Dan is, you know, one of the stories or one of the messages from the Conservatives before the campaign, was to explain Erin O'Toole’s apparent unpopularity, or the low polling for the Conservatives, as the fact that he was a pandemic leader; he was elected to the top of the party during the pandemic, and he hadn't had a chance to really introduce himself to Canadians in a meaningful way. But then, when the campaign finally started, we saw him spend a lot of time in Ottawa—much more than I think we've generally seen from any campaign that we've run, or that I've seen in Canada—and I'm wondering what the gain was, or was it a misplay, to have him so often in Ottawa in that studio, doing virtual events rather than having that time to be across the country and meeting people.
The way we looked at that is, most of the time when you have campaign events, when a leader is interacting with people, they are, frankly, almost exclusively your partisans. You know, when you see the leader kind of campaigning at a campaign office, shaking hands, or speaking a rally, most of those people are already supporters or people leaning your way. And so, what using the studio allowed us to do was two things: one, very, very clean, professional Prime Ministerial-looking videos and press conferences, to really have people who had not really seen Erin before—because, you know, as we've seen, we've had the Prime Minister on our screens every day, but really not the typical sort of politics you'd have. So, to introduce him to Canadians, to show him as somebody who they can picture leading the country, and I think we succeeded in that. And then the second piece was doing a lot of telephone and video town halls, where we would reach thousands of people and have them get to hear from him, get to see him, get to ask him questions, where we were calling out to thousands, tens of thousands of people, and reaching a lot more actual undecided, and not partisans, than you would do traditional events. And that's why we did it.
Did it pay off? Does the party know if it paid off?
We don't 100% know yet, we're doing a huge amount of research now, and analyzing and crunching some of those numbers. We want to know that, because that will impact how much of this we do next time. But we do know that we talked to a lot more, sort of non-partisans and non-supporters than we would’ve in a traditional campaign.
Jennifer, was there anything that the NDP saw from that, that you saw working or not working, or did not have an effect for you guys?
I mean, I can appreciate from a campaign director’s point of view, the amount of control you get to exercise when everything's in a studio in Ottawa, and you don't have to worry about anybody being late for an event, or anything going sideways. I don't think it's an approach that ever would have worked for us. I mean, I think Jagmeet really thrives with people, and gets energy, and I think that was the right call for us to make. But I think it was an interesting campaign innovation to do so much—I think, probably forced by the pandemic—to do so much from a studio location. And I don't know if it will stick around or not, it may, but I don't think it would have worked for us. I can appreciate though how, you know, when so much is outside of your control, locking things down in the Westin in Ottawa, takes a lot of those variables out of the window for you as a campaign director.
Braeden, did it make it easier for the Liberals to contrast with Erin O'Toole?
I think it did, and I would echo, you know, in a different way, but partly what Jennifer said about Mr. Singh, that the Prime Minister has, I think throughout his time in public life, shown that, you know, he is at his best when he's with people. And, you know, so much of the pandemic that wasn't possible for any of us, and we went virtual in so many different ways because of that, not because anyone I think wanted to be in front of computer screens as much as we all ended up being, but because it was a way of staying connected in between. I think the Liberal Party did great work on things like the National Convention, where you do plant in a studio in one set of time, but when the Prime Minister could get out to people and do so in a safe way, I think that that is an entirely different level for him, that he's then able to, really, I think, speak to people in a compelling way. I think of events like the drive-in rally in Oakville, that I think really projected the energy and a strong get out the vote message from him with, I guess, about eight days to go at that point. And those kinds of events can help drive things home, and we've certainly seen that there's a big impact to where the Prime Minister goes, and the sort of tales that he can bring with him to help them get candidates across the line.
Okay, and Jennifer, is my last question before we go to the Q&A. I want to know what the NDP got from putting their leader on TikTok, Jugmeet Singh had a TikTok, the other parties didn't even seem to think it was worth being on TikTok. There was a lot of discussion during the campaign about, for example, that shower video that Mr. Singh did near the end of the campaign, and whether that, you know, showed a lack of seriousness from a prospective Prime Ministerial candidate. And then also of course, things like his participation in video games. What was the benefit for the party of doing those things?
Well, I think the benefit for us is reaching people where they are. I mean, in an in a pandemic, people are gathering in different places. So, in other times, in other campaigns, and in this campaign, we saw leaders go and hang out at pubs and pull pints for people—kind of a lighthearted approach, but a way to connect; TikTok, video games are another way to connect. And I'll just say about TikTok you know, one TikTok video that Jagmeet has put out: 5 million views. It cost nothing to produce, took very little time to do, and 5 million—95% of those in Canada—have watched it. And we have heard in focus groups, people that have seen him on TikTok, and that's how they know him. I have in my own family many people who connect to him through TikTok, and that's how they know him, and that's one of the reasons they are voting for him. So, I don't underestimate the power of that of that medium. I think, you know, the next phase for us, is to is to continue to figure out ways to take that engagement, and harness it, and turn it into votes. But I would submit, that if any of the other leaders could get that kind of engagement on TikTok, they'd be on TikTok.
Okay. So I'll just, really quickly from Dan and Braeden, get a yes or no: will your leaders be on TikTok in the next campaign? Then we'll bring in David.
Like I know video is gonna be a really important part of next campaign, as it was this time, and it'll be even more important next time. I don't know about TikTok specifically, can’t comment on that, but definitely gonna be doing continue to do more video.
Video is king, I would just say, you know, also Facebook, Instagram, there's all sorts of other platforms where the Prime Minister has millions of followers and a really strong community, people who've been following along on those platforms for a long time and engaging with him. It's part of what I mentioned about that drive to open up the party, and how we've been able to build from those communities into real action in real life, as is said online, to get people knocking on doors. So, absolutely important to keep building on those social communities. But you have to work with all platforms, you know, not only one of them.
QUESTION & ANSWER
Okay, so I want to bring in David Coletto back to the conversation for the audience question and answer part. And I'll ask everybody to make sure their mics are unmuted, and we'll just try and go really sort of hot takes click around, so we can get to as many questions as possible in the very short time that we have. The first is on the protests, which I think is a really good thing to raise, because they dominated especially national media attention for a lot of the campaign. And so, Braeden, the question—I guess I'll put first to you, and then I'll get the others to weigh in—is, were you expecting the protests? And did the did the campaign try and capitalize on them, or did it change how you were campaigning?
I don't think a protest of that, you know, persistence, and at times size, during a pandemic were considered or expected as much. I, you know, don't think it would be correct at all to say capitalized on it. I think people who have known, you know, the Prime Minister for a long time, or who know people on that bus, or know young people, kids, families who are going to, you know, a political event, you want to be able to see them doing that safely and without feeling like their health is being put in danger or other forms of danger; so, you know, I think that was a concern. You think of events like Bolton when, you know, a political event that, in a democracy, should not be impeded from taking place was entirely blocked, that's a challenge for sure. But I think the Prime Minister addressed that, that evening, in a very important way, in a very real way that, you know, addressed the frustrations that people had, but also was very clear about our commitment around fighting and finishing this pandemic.
Jennifer, is that how you saw it.
You know, we also have protests and protesters at many of the events. It's not, frankly, a new thing for Jagmeet, he has faced, you know, some pretty vile hatred through most of his career, and most of his life. I think, you know, we took more of an approach to try to de-escalate those situations when they happened. Jugmeet was, you know, at the poutine truck in Montreal, and had somebody right up in his face, and his approach was to try to de-escalate that. So, I think we took a slightly different approach to those kinds of protests. And, you know, it's something you have to plan for, frankly, in a leader’s tour these days. I'm not sure that there was any greater, or, you know, stronger than I've seen in the past, but it is something that we plan for.
Okay. And Dan, with the Liberals the first week, with the Conservatives the second week, you guys seemed to run much more of a bubble campaign. Was that to avoid the protests, or what factors did that have with you?
Yeah, I mean, we as Conservatives are used to having protests, and it's sort of impacted I think a lot of how many of our people plan events is out of a fear of protests and the knowledge that, you know, if we do events disrupted by protests, that tends to be reported as quite negative for us. I think in this campaign event the protests probably did help the Liberal campaign, in that it allowed the Prime Minister to position it sort of campaign as, you know, him versus these extreme protesters, and sort of try to position that as the choice, and I think that was helpful to them. But, you know, we ran a campaign where we tried to get out there, but also sort of be careful that, you know, we don't have events disrupted.
And, David, when you're looking at sort of the trajectory of the polls, did you see the protests move the needle in any way?
I don't think in terms of like people's choice, but I think what it did is, I think Dan said, it sort of raised the stakes of the election a little bit, for particularly sort of Liberal-oriented voters who maybe weren't sure why we were in the midst of this campaign, and maybe made a, you know, a starker choice, not between the, you know, the main parties, but just simply on the issues that, you know, got people so riled up that they were willing to sort of follow along the Prime Minister's campaign. So, I don't think it changed the outcome, but it probably gave particularly the Liberal campaign a little bit of fuel to engage their own supporters.
Okay, I'm gonna go to Jennifer next for this question, because I think it's something that some people in Ottawa are also wondering about. The question is, why is O'Toole on the hot seat but Jagmeet Singh is not, or seems to be getting pass—I think this person maybe means in terms of leadership, given that neither leader was able to significantly grow their footprint in Parliament. Can you talk to me a bit about whether you think Mr. Singh will face a leadership challenge, or what the culture is around the NDP that doesn't have seem to have the knives out as quickly as they have been on Mr. O'Toole?
Well, I think New Democrats, by and large, are proud of the campaign that we ran, and that's been the overwhelming feedback that we've received. We've all been on the phones with candidates who were successful, and not successful, and other activists, and while there's disappointment about the result, people are proud of Jugmeet, and they're proud of the campaign that we ran. We also tend to, with the glaring exception of one, give our leaders a lot more time to build towards a win. You know, people often think of Jack, and the breakthrough in 2011; they forget that there was 10 years before that, of not breakthroughs, and a lot of building, and a lot of learning. And so, I think, you know, New Democrats, we just know that giving leaders some time to build, and grow, and do that work, is better in the long run for success than dumping a leader every time things go awry.
And, Dan, are you are you trying to bring that culture to the Conservatives? I know that the Conservatives have their first caucus meeting tomorrow, which I think might be tense at times. So, maybe shed a bit of light for us on the efforts being made by Mr. O’Toole’s team to ensure that he does get that second chance.
Look, I understand, you know, many Conservatives are concerned, and rightfully so, about the direction of the country under Mr. Trudeau, and feel that there is a, you know, a very urgent need for change in this country. Conservatives also understand that in the past, it has taken us time to do that; it took, you know, it took Mr. Harper, for example, two elections to earn the trust of Canadians. And I think that the people I talk to, most of them understand that, you know, we made progress in this election in terms of earning that trust, but there is more to do, and that you are not going to achieve that if you keep changing leaders every election. And so, I think that the message that the campaign team, and the leader has been expressing to Conservatives is, we recognize we didn't do everything, right, we recognize we could have done more; but we introduced the leader to Canadians, he did well, he showed he's a good campaigner, and we are very well positioned for next time. And the response we got to that is very good one.
David, I'm gonna put the next question to you. And I'm wondering, you know, foreign policy rarely gets a lot of play in Canadian elections, but Afghanistan certainly got a lot of airtime in the first few weeks of the campaign. Did it have an impact, do you think, on the actual campaign?
I think it added to the mood, you know, when the election was called it added to the sense that, you know, is this the right time to have an election? I think the timing of that just made people even more sceptical of whether we should be in the middle of a campaign, but I don't think it ended up having any impact on people's choice. Like, the data point I have is, when we asked people, you know, how important are different issues, only four percent put it in their top two or three of issues that actually drove their vote through the campaign. So, I don't think Afghanistan, nor any real, you know, foreign policy issue had much play. China, to some extent, I think in some ridings, it appears that it could have been the reason why, you know, the Conservatives lost influence, each with large Chinese Canadian populations, but I think that was, you know, very isolated, and as a whole, no, foreign issues really didn't play a role.
Okay. So, we're already over time, so I'm gonna have to wrap it there. Thank you all so much. I'm now going to turn it back to Kelly Jackson. Kelly.
Kelly Jackson Thank you to David, Marieke, Dan, Jennifer and Braeden. That was so great, and I could tell that we could have gone on for another hour with all of the questions coming in. I'd like to introduce Tenio Evangelista, Vice-President of Infrastructure Government Relations at OMERS, to deliver today's appreciation remarks. Tenio?
Note of Appreciation by Tenio Evangelista, Vice-President of Infrastructure Government Relations, OMERS
Thanks, Kelly. And thanks to the Empire Club for putting on another post-election event. I think we all really enjoy these, and I know us at OMERS, we love our partnership with the Empire Club, and we look forward to many more—hopefully not a post-federal election one anytime soon, but maybe a provincial one. I just want to thank all our guests, starting with David Coletto; great presentation, David, as always, some really interesting insights into the numbers and how they moved, how they didn't move, so, really appreciate your time. Marieke, great job as always, as the moderator—maybe they should get you to do the next debate, maybe it'll run more smoothly, but you did a great job, thank you. And to Jennifer, Dan, and Braeden, thanks for your time, thanks for the insights into the campaigns. I know it's not it's not always easy, especially if you're not the winner, to come and talk about what went wrong, what went right, but we really appreciate your time, and we look forward to seeing you all soon. Thanks again.
Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you. Thanks, Tenio, and thanks again to all of our panelists, and everybody who joined us today, or will be participating in tuning in at a later date. Our next event is going to take place on October 14th, at noon Eastern Time. It's going to be a fall market update with the Honourable Kinga Surma, Ontario's Minister of Infrastructure, and then on October 18th, also at noon, Peter Mansbridge will be joining us, to moderate a panel discussion on, “The Affordability of Ageing at Home.” More details on these events, and complimentary registration, is available at the empireclubofcanada.com. This meeting is now adjourned. Have a great evening. Stay safe and take care.