The red wave of Liberal rule firmly cemented its place in power on Oct 20th taking 184 Ridings in the Canadian general election. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party defied expectations and the odds by defeating the long standing Conservative government in pretty comfortable fashion.
The Liberal party began the 2015 election in 3rd place, behind the Conservatives and the NDP. The polls never supported the Liberals and a win was certainly not expected, especially not a majority win.
But how exactly did they manage it?
A Better Government Not Just A Different Government
Ever captivating to many, Trudeau was flagged as “unready” and “undeserving” by his opposition early in the election. Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke set the bar low professing that if Trudeau came on stage with his pants on, he would probably exceed expectations! Having a historical legacy to live up to, many doubted the 44 year old’s capabilities compared to his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau who was PM back in the early 1970s.
The Conservatives built a negative campaign on the inexperience of Trudeau and the idea that he was not ready for office. The Liberals knew they were in dogfight but were prepared to only win with ‘Positive Politics’.
As his name echoed around the hall after the final results were tallied, Trudeau said the Liberals won because "..we listened. We beat fear with hope, we beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together. Most of all we defeated the idea that Canadians should be satisfied with less, and that better isn't possible. My friends, this is Canada, where better is always possible."
Fairy tale stuff almost.
Focus on Grassroots
Trudeau captured public support in 2008 when he entered politics as a member of Parliament for the Montreal Riding, shortly after in 2013, he set his sights on leadership of the Liberal party. Upon winning, Trudeau oversaw a root-and-branch overhaul of the Liberal ground game, developing a platform, rebooting its fundraising ability and recruiting talented candidates after three successive election defeats. The party also modernized this ground game and consulted with veterans of President Obama’s US campaigns on how to use data to identify voters and recruit volunteers.
The 78-day ‘long’ campaign in Canada (compared to the US cycles which make it seem relatively short) Trudeau and his Liberals had been working steadfastly under the radar well before their competitors had ramped up. They established strong foundations of data-driven, tech savvy ways to understand the electorate better early on. The heavy focus on the grassroots organizations allowed them to knock on 5 million doors by the end of the first week in September.
The “Hope and Hard Work” slogan was trending on Twitter and being shared constantly on Facebook. Trudeau himself, used every platform he could to try to encourage new voters to come out and vote for a better government. Being the face of the party worked very well for the Liberals with Trudeau quickly coming to be recognized, not from the ‘Just not ready’ campaign of the Conservatives, but from his own ‘Ready’ campaign.
Vision For A Better Future
The Liberals began to capitalize on anti-Conservative feeling among the electorate towards long time leader Stephen Harper. He was disliked by many, and returned the favor by sometimes acting in ways that seemed secretive and controlling. Mr. Harper was still respected and even trusted on the economy, but after nearly 10 years in office, the voters’ desire for change had become apparent.
Trudeau appealed to people who wanted a change by promising a consistent, optimistic message about economic growth. The party committed to setting national targets for greenhouse gas emissions, legalizing marijuana, $46 billion in new infrastructure spending and changing Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system.
The Liberals also promised a tax hike for Canada’s top 1% to pay for a tax cut for the country’s middle class. The tax hike on the rich stems partially from Trudeau’s criticism of the Conservatives’ taxation policy
The race seemed deadlocked approaching polling day according to the media but the Liberals had put in the long hours and invested in a data driven ground game. In the end, it was this ability to get out their core voters and to communicate their vision for the future that won them the election.