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The Canadian Federal Election of 2008
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The Canadian Federal Election of 2008 is a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of the campaign and election outcome. The chapters are written by leading professors of political science, journalism, and communications. They examine the strategies, successes, and failures of the major political parties – the Conservatives (Faron Ellis and Peter Woolstencroft), Liberals (Brooke Jeffrey), New Democrats (Lynda Erickson and David Laycock), Bloc Québécois (Eric Belanger and Richard Nadeau), and Green Party (Susan Harada).

Also featured in this comprehensive volume are chapters on the media coverage (Christopher Waddell) and the way Canada’s party finance laws affected the campaign (Tom Flanagan and Harol J. Jansen). The book concludes with a detailed analysis of the voting behaviour of Canadians in 2008 by Harold D. Clarke, Allan Kornberg, and Thomas J. Scotto, and an overview of the long – and short – term forces influencing the future of Canadian electoral politics by Lawrence LeDuc and Jon H. Pammett. The introduction by Christopher Dornan discusses the post-election crisis, while the appendices include all of the election results.

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The Canadian Federal Election of 2008

The Canadian Federal Election of 2008

Edited by

Jon H. Pammett

& Christopher Dornan

Copyright © Jon H. Pammett and Christopher Dornan, 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.

Copy Editor: Jennifer Gallant

Designer: Courtney Horner

Printer: Marquis

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

The Canadian federal election of 2008 / edited by Jon H. Pammett and Christopher Dornan.

ISBN 978-1-55488-407-0

1. Canada. Parliament--Elections, 2008. 2. Canada--Politics and government--2006-. 3. Elections--Canada--History--21st century. 4. Voting--Canada. I. Pammett, Jon H., 1944- II. Dornan, Christopher

JL193.C358 2009               324.971’073               C2009-900297-3

1    2    3    4   5         13    12    11    10    09

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and The Association for the Export of Canadian Books, and the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit program and the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

The Outcome in Retrospect

by Christopher Dornan

CHAPTER ONE

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives Campaign on Their Record

by Faron Ellis and Peter Woolstencroft

CHAPTER TWO

Missed Opportunity: The Invisible Liberals

by Brooke Jeffrey

CHAPTER THREE

Modernization, Incremental Progress, and the Challenge of Relevance: The NDP’S 2008 Campaign

by Lynda Erickson and David Laycock

CHAPTER FOUR

The Bloc Québécois: Victory by Default

by Éric Bélanger and Richard Nadeau

CHAPTER FIVE

The Promise of May: The Green Party of Canada’s Campaign 2008

by Susan Harada

CHAPTER SIX

Election Campaigns under Canada’s Party Finance Laws

by Tom Flanagan and Harold J. Jansen

CHAPTER SEVEN

The Campaign in the Media 2008

by Christopher Waddell

CHAPTER EIGHT

None of the Above: Voters in the 2008 Federal Election

by Harold D. Clarke, Allan Kornberg, and Thomas J. Scotto

CHAPTER NINE

The 2008 Election: Long-Term and Short-Term Assessments

by Lawrence LeDuc and Jon H. Pammett

APPENDICES

Appendix A:

Results of the 40th Federal Election by Percentage of Votes and Number of Seats Each Party Received

Appendix B:

Percentage of Votes Received by Constituency

CONTRIBUTORS

INTRODUCTION

The Outcome in Retrospect

Christopher Dornan

The 2008 Canadian election will be remembered not for its outcome but for its aftermath. It was an election that no one won. Every party fell short of what it had hoped for. The Conservatives failed to win a majority. The NDP failed to make the breakthrough it thought was within its grasp. The Greens failed to win a single seat. The Bloc failed to hold the fortress of Quebec, and indeed lost three seats. And the Liberals just failed in almost every respect.

And yet every party, even the Liberals, could count some measure of victory. The Conservatives retained power with more seats. The Greens were included in the leaders’ debates and raised their national profile. The NDP won seats across the country. In Quebec, the Bloc remained the predominant party. And the Liberals held on to enough seats to deny the Conservatives their majority. Or perhaps we should say that the Conservatives denied themselves their majority. Quebec alone could not prevent the Conservatives from winning a sufficient number of seats to form a plurality, but Quebec alone could deny the necessary number of seats to form a majority.

The aftermath of the 2008 election was such a piece of political theatre that the election itself almost immediately receded in memory and significance. If an election is a contest over how a country will be governed and by whom, the aftermath of the 2008 election was an even more riveting contest with, ultimately, only one voter: the governor general. In the run-up to Election Day in the United States, the movie Swing Vote was released, starring Kevin Costner as an ordinary Joe on whose single vote the outcome of the presidential election would turn. A fanciful, Capra-esque conceit in the United States — a feel-good plea to the population that every vote counts — in Canada this became a regal reality in which only one vote counted, the government of the day being determined over tea at Rideau Hall. How did this happen?

Thoroughly scorched in the election, Stéphane Dion had chosen not to resign immediately and announced that he would stay at the helm of the smoking hulk that was the Liberal ship until May 2009, so as to buy time for the party to go into dry dock. A more chivalrous opponent might have let the Liberals limp away, secure that they were no longer a threat, and gone on to govern. Had that happened, the Liberals could have been counted on to chew up time, money, and themselves in the selection of a new leader. But party politics can be total war, and the Conservatives think of the Liberal Party the way the Royal Navy thought of the Bismarck: Do not let it repair itself; sink it when given the chance.

So, on November 27, six weeks after the vote and in a moment of sharp public anxiety over the prospect of global economic collapse, the newly installed minority Conservative government issued an economic update in the House — not a budget, but an indication of a budget. Far from signalling willingness to compromise with the other parties or to work together with them, it was an avowedly partisan declaration of renewed war.

The update contained no economic stimulus spending to match what was being called for by the opposition parties and was already being considered in capitals around the world. Instead, the party line insisted that the sound management of the Canadian economy by the Conservative government made such emergency measures unnecessary. As a nation, we would project calm while others panicked.

At the same time, the economic update stripped civil servants of the right to strike (despite the fact that their major union had just negotiated a contract), cut government spending, rolled back legal recourse on pay equity for women, and eliminated the public subsidy to political parties, in effect favouring the Conservatives while throttling their opponents’ capacity to raise revenue (see Chapter 6). None of this projected calm. It was a deliberately divisive and vengeful gambit.

As previous books in this series have outlined, the Liberals had won election after election campaigning against the Reform Party, then the Alliance, and now the Conservatives by stoking anxiety among the electorate that their opponents on the right had a hidden agenda. Give them power, the Liberals told the country, and only then will they reveal themselves. That argument was blunted by the Conservatives’ tenure in minority office from 2006 until 2008, when they did very little to truly upset a middle-of-the-road voter. Incremental conservatism — the strategy to inch the country toward a comfort level with Conservative management and therefore Conservative policies — seemed to be working (see Chapter 1). Granted another minority in 2008, however, the Conservatives abandoned incrementalism and almost immediately handed the other parties an opportunity to draw for the public the ideological divide the election itself never revealed, and therefore the pretext to unseat the minority.

Three days after the economic update, on December 1, the NDP and Liberals signed a power-sharing agreement to form a coalition government that would replace the minority Conservatives and that would hold until summer 2011. On the same day, the Bloc signed a separate policy accord promising to support a Liberal-NDP government at least until summer 2010. Together, the parties vowed to defeat the Conservatives on a confidence motion scheduled for December 8, 2008, and then petition the governor general for leave to form a government. There seemed a distinct possibility at that point that the result of the October 14 election might be overturned before the year was out, with a centre-left majority coalition replacing a right-of-centre minority government, but without the matter being sent back to the electorate.

The Conservatives scrambled to indicate that they would remove the more contentious items from the fiscal update, but the other parties had been bullied during the previous minority and knew full well that if they buckled now they would have little leverage to hold the Conservatives in check. They held firm in their determination to topple the government. Such resolve was not hatched in three days. Discussions between the parties about such a possible alliance predated the economic update and had been pursued most vigorously from the high echelons of the NDP. The economic update was so pointedly aggressive, however, that what had been vague, hypothetical discussions between otherwise political adversaries suddenly crystallized into a common cause.

The nation was now on a countdown to a possible change of government, and cacophony ensued. Was it or was it not constitutional, proper, or advisable to replace one government with another without a popular vote? Experts and the public weighed in. The rules of parliamentary democracy had to be explained — and disputed — in newspaper articles, over the airwaves, and on the web. What would or should the governor general do in such a situation? What precedents existed, and should we be bound by them? Did the Conservatives have the right to govern, since they had won more seats than any other party, or was the coalition more legitimate, since together the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc had won more seats and more of the popular vote than the Conservatives?

Rallies were staged on both sides. The Conservatives did their utmost to portray the alliance as an attempt to usurp power, as a coup. Worse, the Conservatives howled, the alliance could not prevail without the support of the Bloc, and it therefore proposed to include a separatist party in the governance of Canada. No matter that the Bloc is already participant in the governance of Canada through its members of the House of Commons. No matter that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives had explored just such an option when the Liberals held minority government status under Paul Martin. No matter that in many respects the provinces of Alberta and Quebec share the same skepticism toward the federal government, which they all too often see as meddlesome and intrusive, rather than a champion of regional and national interests. The very idea that the alliance would use the support of separatists to unseat a legitimately elected government infuriated the base of the Conservative Party, and this became the heated rallying cry of the Conservative aggrieved. In Quebec, of course, that anger was seen as just another demonstration that the Anglos from Alberta did not and could never understand Quebec (see Chapter 4).

Meanwhile, the alliance hammered away as best it could at what it insisted was the Conservatives’ tone-deafness to the fears of ordinary Canadians and their best interests. The alliance’s attempt to wrest power was the government’s main rhetorical weapon against it, just as the government’s desperate manoeuvres to retain power were the alliance’s primary riposte, captured most comically, if in questionable taste, by a YouTube video clip from the 2004 Bruno Ganz film Der Untergang (Downfall: Hitler and the End of the Third Reich), subtitled to show Hitler (Harper) ranting in his bunker at his inner cabinet: I ‘don’t have a majority’? Why does it matter that I don’t have a majority?!

The difficulty for the alliance was that the man who had been most soundly drubbed at the polls, Dion, would become prime minister in any coalition government. Even many Liberals believed he had run a hapless campaign, unable to ignite confidence and enthusiasm within his own ranks, much less keep competent, organizational control over his electoral machine (see Chapter 2). Why, then, should he be vaulted into the Prime Minister’s Office, charged with holding together an unwieldy patchwork of parties? To a middle-of-the-road voter, even one hostile to the Conservatives, this was passing strange.

The country divided almost evenly between those with firm opinions on both sides, and with a sizeable fulcrum of those who professed no opinion. An Angus Reid poll released December 3 held that 36 percent of Canadians approved of the opposition defeating the government, while 41 percent disagreed.¹ Faced with the threat that his government would fall, Prime Minister Harper visited Governor General Michaëlle Jean on December 4, asking her to prorogue Parliament until January 26, 2009. She acceded.

By January 11, long after Dion had departed the scene, Parliament had been suspended, everyone had had a Christmas vacation, and the alliance had faded from a potential government to an unlikely prospect, a Nanos Research poll held that 42 percent of respondents nationwide favoured inviting the coalition to form the government if the Conservatives were to be imminently defeated, rather than resort to another election. Forty-nine percent disagreed. More telling, though, was the finding that in Quebec 62 percent would have the coalition form a government, while in Western Canada the number was 29 percent.²

With the prospect of an immediate change in government put on hold, calls within the Liberal camp for Dion to step down as leader intensified, with former deputy prime minister John Manley doing so openly in the pages of the Globe and Mail on December 6. Two days later Dion announced that he would resign as soon as a replacement was selected, and on the same day leadership contender Dominic LeBlanc withdrew his name and declared his support for Michael Ignatieff. A brief tussle followed between the two remaining leadership contenders, Ignatieff and Bob Rae, over how the party leader would be chosen. Ignatieff wanted the caucus to select an interim leader on December 10, while Rae argued for a vote amongst all registered members of the federal Liberal Party to be held in January, before Parliament reconvened. In the end, the party executive opted for a compromise, widening those consulted on the interim leader to include defeated Liberal candidates and riding association presidents.³ This still assured Ignatieff victory, and on December 9 Rae withdrew his candidacy. Ignatieff was installed as interim leader, to be ratified at the party conference in May (see Chapter 2).

Thus the Conservatives’ assault on their political opponents made a gift to the other parties of what they respectively most needed. The Bloc was galvanized in Quebec, able to trumpet its defence of the priorities and values of the province in the face of a rightist agenda and to point to the vitriol whipped up by the Conservatives as evidence of their fundamental contempt for a culture and people they did not understand. The NDP was vindicated in building its election strategy on the cornerstone of its leader, insisting that Jack Layton could move the party from the sidelines to the levers of power. The coalition did just that. For a brief moment, there was the possibility that the alliance would take power and Layton would become all-but-prime-minister. Certainly, he showed more steel and agility than his opposite number in the Liberal Party.

The Liberals, forced by circumstances, were spared the long and messy prospect of being rudderless for months while they fought amongst themselves over who would lead them. Even before Parliament was recalled, there was no doubt in the party or the country that the Liberals were under new management. And whether the coalition came to pass or not, all the opposition parties made it known that they no longer had any intention of being pistol-whipped by a minority government with an arrogance beyond its station.

The November 27 economic update was a breathtaking political blunder, if only because it was so unnecessary. At a moment of political and economic uncertainty, when they could have called the country together, the Conservatives chose to pick a fight, and showed the country what it would have been like if they had won a majority.

This blunder, however, was merely the bookend to another, equally damaging and just as unnecessary, that the Conservatives committed even before the writ was dropped. It was the blunder that would turn Quebec against them, and therefore ensure that they could not claw their way to a majority. It was the issue that took the governing party by surprise and to which it had no ready or persuasive response. It was a key issue in the election.

It was $45 million in cuts to arts funding. In the grand scheme of the national budget, this is a minuscule amount of money, and the target programs were located in the Department of Canadian Heritage — whoever heard of Heritage looming large in an election? — and in an artist-export program in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. To the brain trust in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative Party, these cuts should have been seen, if they were noticed at all, as a prudent paring of inefficient government spending. Instead, they were seized upon, particularly in Quebec, as emblematic of a philistine sensibility.

The prime minister compounded matters by disparaging those elitists who stage or attend performing arts galas on the government dime. The problem with that argument was not simply that the prime minister’s wife attends many of these functions, but that the programs targeted for elimination had nothing to do with gala performances, which in any event are usually not possible except for private sector sponsorship. The federal programs to be cut were designed to promote Canadian culture and artists internationally; they were created to make money, not cost money, and in fact they did exactly that.

Before the arts cuts became a major issue in Quebec, the prime minister’s image management team made a point of his love of music, his ability to play the piano, and his father’s love of jazz. But these sensibilities did him little good. The largest rally of the election, or indeed its aftermath, was held in Montreal to protest the arts cuts. The viral video by Quebec’s Michel Rivard that made such clever sport of the cuts is telling in two respects (see Chapter 4). First, the character he plays is not some plutocrat applying for millions to mount an opera. He is a lone artist with a guitar, appearing before a panel of Heritage civil servants, appealing for money to send his band overseas. Second, the bureaucrats are depicted as clueless anglophones with the most appalling grade-school French. The joke is that the federal apparatus understands neither the arts nor francophone Quebec. The reality is that the federal Department of Canadian Heritage is shot through with, if not run by, francophones who understood the joke all too well.

The Conservatives had assiduously courted Quebec. They had made the prominent gesture two years before the election of orchestrating overwhelming parliamentary assent for a motion that acknowledged Quebec as a nation within a united Canada — albeit only to foreclose on a Bloc gambit that would have had the House vote on whether it recognized that the people of Quebec form a nation (see Chapter 1). Still, the Harperites could count as well as anyone and knew the importance of inroads in Quebec, and they thought they might make serious gains there. And yet they mishandled the file. Pestered by questions during the election campaign about these arts cuts, the prime minister insisted they were not political. Told to trim their budgets, this is what the civil service recommended. The government really just acted on the recommendation of the bureaucracy.

Even if that were true, and it probably is, it does not reflect well on the prime minister and his team, who apparently could not sense trouble in the making. For the sake of $45 million they squandered any chance of winning over Quebec, likely for years to come. Although all the parties lost the election, the biggest winner was the biggest loser. The Conservatives won a plurality, but it is not clear where that leads. They have alienated Quebec and shown themselves to be too extreme to too many people.

And so the stage is set for the next election, which will likely come much sooner than the once-every-four-years schedule that Stephen Harper passed into law and then ignored. In order to understand the election to come, one must understand the election that just passed. That is what this book is about: detailed, informed analyses of the 2008 election.

One’s anticipation of the future is only as good as one’s knowledge of the past.

NOTES

1. Political Crisis Splits Views in Canada, Angus Reid Global Monitor, December 3, 2008, available at http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/view/political_crisis_splits_views_in_canada/.

2. Joan Bryden, Quebecers want coalition, ROC wants election if budget defeated: Poll, The Canadian Press, January 11, 2009, available at http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/capress/090111/national/poll_coalition.

3. There were suggestions that the once-vaunted Liberal machine was in such disarray that Rae’s call to canvass the entire membership would not have been possible, even if the party executive had favoured it: membership lists were partial, out-of-date, and confused between provincial and federal Liberals to the extent that the Liberals simply did not know who all their members were.

CHAPTER ONE

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives Campaign on Their Record

Faron Ellis and Peter Woolstencroft

Our party is well on its way to establishing itself as a permanent political institution.

— Stephen Harper, 2002¹

Building permanent political institutions is no easy task, and very few Canadians can claim to have successfully built a broadly based, centrist political party with enough national reach to form a federal government in Canada. Although it may be premature to place Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) Leader Stephen Harper among that select group, in the six years since he became the Canadian Alliance leader he has succeeded in bringing discipline and respectability to that party, led the merger between the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, won the leadership of the CPC, and brought it to government. Along the way he helped reduce Canada’s natural governing Liberal Party to its weakest position in a generation, governed Canada’s longest-serving minority Parliament,² and won re-election with a stronger mandate.

In achieving re-election, Harper and the Conservatives ran a relatively disciplined campaign. So much so that, at times, strategy worked to their detriment. By consistently sticking to their game plan so as to avoid missteps, they also limited their ability, or willingness, to adjust to changing campaign dynamics. When the campaign narrative — strong and stable leadership that can be trusted with a renewed mandate during uncertain economic times — was overshadowed by a curiously lacklustre start, characterized more by minor gaffes than by bold policy initiatives, Conservatives quickly found themselves playing defence. After Harper’s debate performances did little to reinvigorate the campaign or re-engage voters, Conservatives closed the campaign with the goal of simply maintaining power, the dream of a majority left unrealized.

By objective measures, the Conservative campaign was successful. The party won the largest plurality of seats and votes in Ontario, swept most of Western Canada, and held its own in the Atlantic provinces. The Conservatives earned increased support from women, urban voters, francophones outside of Quebec, and voters from many of Canada’s multicultural communities on their way to a 143-seat minority. But the expectation of winning twenty to thirty Quebec seats was not met.³ The Quebec results were even more disappointing given the energy expended and attention lavished upon that province by the government during its first term in office. Ultimately, the Conservatives won the election in the Rest of Canada (ROC) but lost their majority in Quebec.

Conservatives began their 2008 campaign preparation immediately following the 2006 election, similar to what followed the 2004 election. What had changed, however, was the party’s position in the thirty-ninth Parliament, where it sat as government and its leader as prime minister. Conservatives would therefore be defending their record in government, something not witnessed in Canadian politics for fifteen years. Also changed was the status of the leader. At the most basic level, Harper would have a personal record as prime minister to defend. But when Harper assumed his responsibilities with such surprising ease, immediately appearing to be the antithesis of the angry young Opposition leader he had been only a short time ago, he was so comfortable and natural in the role that no matter what would be said about his overly combative and excessively partisan style, during the thirty-ninth Parliament he transformed himself from arguably one of the party’s greatest liabilities into its single greatest asset.

The thirty-ninth Parliament, as is the norm for minorities, was an exercise in perpetual campaigning. The Conservatives, correctly assuming that their next campaign’s narrative of strong leadership would have to be substantiated by a record of accomplishment, quickly moved to implement the central priorities from their 2006 campaign. They methodically introduced only the most modest of conservative policies as part of a strategy that became known as incremental conservatism,⁴ believing that they had at most eighteen months to nudge the Conservative Party closer to the Canadian median voter while at the same time tugging the Canadian electorate towards conservatism. For the first year of the new government, the strategy largely succeeded. But when Parliament ran longer than expected, problems emerged that demonstrated the limitations both of the incremental strategy and of the prime minister’s willingness to suffer the indignities of his agenda being disrupted by a re-energized and more combative collection of opposition parties.

As it became evident that the Dion-led Liberals would not join their opposition counterparts in defeating the government until at least 2008, the Conservatives devised Plan B, which called for a new Throne Speech, a recycling of some bills that had died on the order table, and the development of a renewed policy agenda. Despite running a relatively scandal-free government, the Conservatives grew frustrated with their prolonged minority status, and the second session of Parliament became increasingly vexatious. The government’s aggressive pushback⁵ against opposition attacks brought out Harper’s more combative and at times abrasive leadership traits at the same time as the worsening international economic situation created uncertainty for the economy and government revenues. Determining that the situation would not improve to his party’s advantage, and indeed would likely worsen, Harper decided to violate the spirit of his own fixed-date election law and asked Governor General Michaëlle Jean to dissolve Parliament for a general election. This chapter explores how Harper and the Conservatives dovetailed their parliamentary strategy with their electoral strategy to produce their 2008 minority election victory.

THE LEADER, THE PARTY, AND THE PARLIAMENTARY TEAM

Few party leaders have accomplished as much, in such a short time, within such a dynamic environment as has Stephen Harper. While contesting no less than six elections in six years,⁶ Harper also built the strongest political machine in federal politics and assembled a competent, disciplined parliamentary team.

The Leader

Stephen Harper’s transformation from electoral liability to genuine political asset began almost immediately after his swearing in as prime minister. Harper assumed the role with such ease and confidence that it seemed improbable he was the same politician who had been typically described as a cantankerous, abrasive, and angry young leader of the Opposition. His new-found confidence was evident in his parliamentary performances, where his strategic political instincts were matched only by his tactical acumen. Witnessing this transformation, combined with his determination to have a minority Parliament implement his agenda, even critics began to describe Harper as smart, focused, decisive, tactically brilliant, and unpredictable. One national columnist described him as a real leader.⁷ Another wrote that no one would have ever imagined, based on his indifferent performance in the House as opposition leader, that Stephen Harper would emerge as its dominant figure in his new role as prime minister.⁸ As the face and voice of the government and the party, both domestically and while representing Canada internationally, Harper clearly demonstrated how much more he enjoyed being in power than he had enjoyed life as Opposition leader.

Part of the transformation was evident in his ability to actualize one of political scientist Tom Flanagan’s Ten Commandments for Conservatives: not being a Boy Scout.⁹ For example, he was determined to change the relationship between the media and his government, to his advantage and on his terms. Almost immediately, reporters complained about not being able to interview cabinet ministers or scrum caucus members. They further argued that Harper’s communication staff, particularly Director of Communications Sandra Buckler, had built a firewall between the media and the prime minister. Indeed, the government’s relationships with the Parliamentary Press Gallery, and the national media corps more generally, were at best frosty, and at times downright belligerent. One manifestation of the chill was that the government held very few press conferences. And when it did, instead of following the tradition of journalists asking questions on a first-come, first-served basis, the Conservatives insisted that those asking questions be chosen from a pre-approved list.

At one press conference in May 2006, the media began a series of formal protests by boycotting the event, leaving Harper to make his statement to a single camera in an almost vacant room. Harper’s response was to bypass the national media, which he considered to be Liberal-friendly and hostile to his party and its agenda anyway, and take his message more directly to voters through regional media and paid advertising. Although the Ottawa media boycott would eventually be scaled back, his relationship with the Parliamentary Press Gallery remained strained throughout his first term in office.¹⁰ Evidence of Harper’s control approach extended to the closing days of the 2008 campaign, when Conservative strategists stopped taking questions from reporters travelling with the leader’s tour.

Harper’s attempts at controlling his own fortune extended to his dealings with bureaucrats and his political opponents. When uncooperative bureaucrats, many of whom the prime minister also considered partisan Liberals, could not be shuffled out of the way or otherwise bludgeoned into submission, Harper had them removed.¹¹ When his parliamentary opponents could not be outmanoeuvred, sometimes he sued them.¹² His style was typically recognized as effective, but also domineering. His motives were political and usually deeply partisan. And although he often appeared cool and somewhat aloof, few doubted that he was completely in charge of his party, his caucus, and his government.

The Party

When Canadian Alliance (CA) and Progressive Conservative (PC) party members agreed to merge their two distinct party organizations, it was Reform/Alliance members who made most of the institutional and cultural compromises. To get the deal done, Harper conceded to PC Leader Peter MacKay virtually all party structure and governance matters, including the founding principles and party name. In following him, CA members agreed to abandon their missionary party in favour of a more centrist, classic brokerage party. In one sense, Harper succeeded by giving away the store. But he did not do so in secret, nor without the ongoing endorsement of party members.

At the party’s 2005 policy convention, Conservative delegates embraced the project by adopting various resolutions that spoke to the party’s desire to move toward the political centre. They systematically defeated most social conservative policy resolutions, voted down the last vestiges of Reform populism,¹³ and backed Harper’s Quebec outreach program. Delegates to the party’s 2008 convention further reinforced the brokerage party culture within their organization.¹⁴ By way of example, convention organizers took some initial media flak for not having distributed policy resolutions until only one week prior to the convention, as well as for substantially reducing debate and discussion time.¹⁵ Organizers were vindicated, however, when many of the workshops and both of the plenary sessions finished their work on time, and in some cases finished early. In fact, at several junctures during plenary debates, co-chair and former PMO chief of staff Ian Brodie had to plead with delegates to send at least one speaker to the