Transcript: Party strategists dissect the 2015 campaign

Three senior members of the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP give insider insight on what went right and wrong in the campaign
Analysts and campaign experts weighed in on the results of the federal election during the Maclean’s "Election 2015: What Just Happened?" panel debate at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario on Oct. 21, 2015. (Photograph by David Kawai)
(L-R) Moderator Paul Wells from Maclean's, Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke, NDP campaign director Anne McGrath and  weigh-in on the results of the federal election during the Maclean's "Election 2015: What Just Happened?" panel debate at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario on Oct. 21, 2015. (Photograph by David Kawai)
From left to right: Paul Wells from Maclean’s, Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke, NDP campaign director Anne McGrath and Kate Purchase of the Liberals. (Photograph by David Kawai)

What just happened? It’s a question Maclean’s considered during a working lunch at the Chateau Laurier on Oct. 21. During our second panel of the session, Political Editor Paul Wells spoke with key party operatives: Kate Purchase (Liberals), Anne McGrath (NDP) and Kory Teneycke (Conservatives). 

For the record, here’s a transcript of the discussion: 

Paul Wells: What just happened?

Kate Purchase: Well, I’m told that we won Monday night, and I really do think that we were able to pull off the events of Monday night partially because we had the best team, but also because we had the best platform, in my personal opinion, and an incredible leader. That contributed to the success, that obviously we had a plan going into this that we set in motion a little over two years ago, and we stuck to it. Through all of the ups and downs of the campaign—or pre-writ, frankly, and there were many of them for our party but also in other parties that you couldn’t possibly know—we had a plan. We knew the regions that we wanted to pick up, and we knew the program that we were going to be putting forward for the campaign. We were consistent and disciplined, and I think that was a big contributing factor.

In addition to that, we had laid out multiple phases of the campaign. The first phase of the campaign – and this is not a plug for our hosts today, but it was to win the Maclean’s debate and fight our way back into the battle. Phase two was really focused on the NDP, where we wanted to prove that we were the real change agent, partially through our platform, but it was also through our advertising and our ground game. Phase three was all about wheeling on my friends in the Conservatives, and just going hard for those last two weeks, and building that kind of momentum that we were able to see. The ground game was a huge part of that for us. In the last two weeks of the campaign, that final barnstorm tour that we did, we picked up over a dozen ridings. There was only one riding where the leader touched down that we didn’t win that riding, which was Perth–Wellington. So that was a big focus.

As well, our advertising strategy was integrated and part of the core strategy. I like to think that it was particularly innovative. It was different and fresh, and was a fresh voice. That was a big thing, you know. It was all about really laying out that plan two years ago, knowing where our regions of strength were, but also where we truly believe, particularly in the urban West and Lower Mainland and Manitoba, where we thought we could surprise people, and that’s what we focused on.

Paul Wells: I’m going to put one question to you before we go on to the next. Your approach sounds like it was very regional, but  the result in the end, it took on aspects of a change election and a wave election. Did you get better results than you had tried to get?

Kate Purchase: Yeah. We absolutely did. There was something in that last week where the momentum did start to build for the campaign—that we didn’t anticipate. You know, we always were very confident, and we set out many caucuses ago that our goal was 170 seats, and that we were aiming for a majority government. Lots of folks laughed at us, and lots of people said that’s insane, you only have 35 seats. But absolutely, 184 seats definitely exceeded our expectations. Looking at ridings like Kelowna—I don’t think we could have ever anticipated winning a riding like Kelowna.

Paul Wells:  Anne McGrath, what will you remember many years from now about these three months?

Anne McGrath: That it was a long campaign. I’m wondering when the early election timing speculation is going to begin for the next one. Even prior to the campaign starting, people were working really hard and getting ready and so forth. Everybody already knows that the stage was set at the very beginning for it to be a campaign about change. I think that what happened, to some extent, was Canadians chose the agent of that change. For the New Democrats, we had a lot of expectations. We were very hopeful about some of the things that we could achieve. The results, I think, are mixed. On the one hand, we have the second-largest caucus we’ve ever had. We’re a permanent and, I think, important fixture on the Canadian political landscape. We have 16 new members of Parliament. We clearly  have obvious roots in Quebec, where we have 16 members of Parliament, and we’re back in Saskatchewan, where we have three new MPs: one in Regina, one in Saskatoon, and one in the north, so really very good beach heads to build upon there.

Clearly, though, in terms of our aspirations, we did not succeed in the things that we wanted to succeed in. Secondly, we experienced some losses that were devastating personally, and for everybody. I’ve been through lots of campaigns, and when you’re successful, everybody says, “That was a flawless campaign.” I heard that in 2011: you guys ran a flawless campaign. That was not a flawless campaign. And when you’re not successful, everybody says the campaign was a disaster. Neither of those are true.

So I would say congratulations to both my colleagues here because we all ran very good campaigns, in my view. There were no serious and devastating errors. There were certainly moments where I wish other decisions had been made, but I take full responsibility for that. But then, on the other hand, I think that the NDP went in in a position that we’d never been in before. I think we emerged from this with a lot of hope for where we can go from here. There will be lots and lots of discussion and analysis, and people will have ideas about what happened in the campaign and what we should do going forward, and I look forward to those discussions because I think we’ll have a lot to learn from them. But what I do know is that we have a very strong caucus, a very strong leader. We ran with a very progressive platform, and we energized and mobilized millions of people to support us. We had volunteers we’ve never had before. We ran full campaigns in places  we’ve never run full campaigns before. We have a lot of opportunity going forward. And when Canadians chose change, they chose Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal party, and they had some things in their platform that I think are very interesting and supportable, and we will be working hard to make sure that those things actually take place.

There are many important things, whether it’s around pension security, health care, all of those kinds of things—I think they’re all going to be very important. But it is still the case that the number of votes and percentage of votes that you get as a party isn’t necessarily reflected in your seat count. I’m really looking forward to the commitment that this was the last first-past-the-post election, and that we will be moving to a system that more accurately reflects the wishes and desires of the voters in the country. And I think I’ll leave it there.

Paul Wells:  OK. Thanks very much for that. Kory Teneycke, what was the Conservative campaign’s objectives, and how did it do against those objectives?

Kory Teneycke: Well, obviously we didn’t achieve the ultimate objective, which was to get re-elected. But the benefit of going third on a panel like this is I get to agree with a lot of what the two previous folks have said without having to repeat it. The Liberals obviously ran the best campaign, in the sense that ultimately the ballot question that they presented to Canadians was the one that the majority of Canadians voted on and agreed to support.

In terms of the overall election, I’d underline how difficult a challenge we had trying to win four back-to-back elections. That’s something that has not been accomplished since 1908. If you think of 1908, you know, there was the first long-range radio broadcast from the Eiffel Tower, the Model T Ford had just come off the line. This is something that, despite many people attempting to win a number of elections back-to-back, has not been accomplished since then, and may not be accomplished for an equally long period of time, if ever. So it was a very difficult challenge, I think, right out of the gates.

I think that a large percentage of the electorate’s heart had hardened on us. The desire to not have us in office was greater than anything that we could put in the window vis-à-vis the economy or anything else. Our ballot question is pretty clear. It was on the side of our [campaign] bus. It’s about security and the economy, and which leader do you think is the best to be able to keep our economy strong and our country secure. For basically a third of the electorate, about the same as we had on day one of the campaign we had at the end of the campaign, the core constituency of the Conservative party is, I think, made of granite at this point, and I wouldn’t understate what an accomplishment that has been for Stephen Harper.

When you think what the party looked like in 2004, if you think of the 2000 election, the wake of the Canadian Alliance defeat, a party that really didn’t have any core constituency, the Conservative party started in single digits. If you look at Conservative parties of the past, normally going out of office it’s just an implosion, as we saw in 1993. We now actually have, I think, a core of supporters and a viable electoral coalition that goes from coast to coast, including Quebec, that is really united around a common set of beliefs and principles. After nine years in office, I think that wasn’t sufficient to form a government, but really I don’t think there’s any shame in the outcome that we ultimately attained. I think it speaks to what will be a very positive legacy for Stephen Harper.

Paul Wells: You accurately say that the Conservative base is now made of granite, and that’s a non-negligible accomplishment. Progressive Conservatives came out of 1993 with two seats; you came out with nearly a hundred. But increasingly since 2011, it’s starting to look like, for the Conservatives, the rest of the country is looking like granite too, and it’s granite that has been impenetrable to Conservative charms. Is it possible for the Conservatives in the future to reach out to the rest of the electorate while hanging onto that base?

Kory Teneycke: Of course it is. If you look at issues, and the reason why we wanted to run on the economy, I think on the big questions, support for our policy direction was greater than the support for the party. One thing that  a lot of people have not given the Prime Minister credit for is that support for him as Prime Minister exceeded our ballot support right though to the very end of the campaign.

So I think there is a lot to work with. We’re really talking about if you shifted that vote a few points from the Liberals to ourselves, you would do well. Look, the collapse of the NDP and the vote of the NDP was beyond anything we thought was possible. The gamble that the Liberals took in tacking to the left of the NDP didn’t really display … I’m not sure it would be possible to repeat if you were dealing with a government that had not been nine years in office. I think it’s not that people were overly comfortable with some of the things in the Liberal platform; it’s that that was secondary to their desire for a change in government overall.

(L-R) Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke, NDP campaign director Anne McGrath and TK weigh-in on the results of the federal election during the Maclean's "Election 2015: What Just Happened?" panel debate at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario on Oct. 21, 2015. (Photograph by David Kawai)
Teneycke, McGrath and Purchase.

Paul Wells:  Anne McGrath, I want to put a question that was just put to me before this session. When it became clear, just a few weeks into this campaign, that Justin Trudeau was coming up slowly but steadily and was going to be competitive with you guys as the change agent, why did you not unleash the hounds on him? Why did you not go hard negative on Justin Trudeau at the end of August?

Anne McGrath:  We were very clear from the very beginning and wanted to be quite clear that most Canadians did want change, so we were very clear that our opponent was Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. The other thing is that every time that our leader or our campaign or our party says anything critical of the Liberal party or its leaders, we’re under a certain level of critique for that. So even at the same time as Justin Trudeau was really attacking us openly all the time, every time you say something negative about the Liberals, many of our own supporters are not very happy when that happens.

We had the perception, we had the belief, that Canadians wanted a new government, and they wanted a progressive, principled, and positive government, and that us going heavily negative against what was, at the time, the third party would probably backfire.

Paul Wells: There’s a question I have for Anne and Kate, which is about that moment mid-September when the Federal Appeal Court panel released their ruling on the niqab. For Anne, what was the effect on the NDP campaign? To some extent, it’s obvious, but for Kate, I think it mystifies a lot of people. Justin Trudeau’s position on the niqab was identical. Why did he rise in Quebec while the NDP fell?

Anne McGrath:  We saw an immediate drop in support, particularly in the province of Quebec, and I think a lot of the progressive Canadians that were looking to us felt that the base level of support in Quebec was an important factor in supporting us because they were looking for the best vehicle to replace Stephen Harper. So we did see an immediate drop in support. What was surprising is that drop in support in the early days didn’t go to any one particular place. It went to a few different places: some to the Bloc, some to the Liberals. It didn’t attach onto any particular place, partly maybe because our positions were identical with the Liberals.

But I do think that a lot of Quebec voters, when the niqab happened, took a second look. They weren’t necessarily, in my view, anyway, voting or expressing support on that particular issue, but it shook them loose from where they had been. Then I think they went out and looked around. So I don’t think it was necessarily on that issue, but I do think that’s what shook them loose from NDP support at the very beginning.

Kate Purchase: I have to agree with Anne on that. I don’t think the niqab issue was the issue that caused the fall in support for the NDP in Quebec. I think, frankly, not having a strong platform that represented a lot of Quebecers to pivot to was the issue there. In terms of our position on the niqab, this was something that Mr. Trudeau had been speaking about for months and months and months. It was already ingrained in people’s minds how he felt about this particular issue. It wasn’t a surprise or it wasn’t a new piece of information in the campaign when he put forward his position again. It was sort of already baked into the core values of what people assumed about him. But I don’t think that that was necessarily the turning point for the NDP. I just don’t think that Canadians felt as strongly about it or that Quebecers felt as strongly about it as the people in this room all sort of believed.

Kory Teneycke: I’d be curious of Anne’s thoughts on this, the view that post-Labour Day your messaging and the signs behind your leader shifted from, you know, more of a “stop Harper” theme toward a “ready to govern” and “experienced leadership.” It’s our belief certainly that, in some markets like Ontario and B.C., it might have been a negative for the NDP voters that they’re with you in stopping Harper but not with you on becoming government because of some bad experiences, more at the provincial level, that they’d had with the NDP, that the idea of an NDP government wasn’t as appealing as stopping Stephen Harper.

Anne McGrath: Maybe there’s something there. I think the other thing, though, is that the Liberals were very successful in portraying the NDP platform in a particular way, as not being progressive. And that’s not true, but they were successful in doing that. I mean, we were proposing some of the first national progressive programs in Canadian history. We were talking about child care, we were talking about pharmacare, we were talking about hard caps with respect to cap and trade and climate change. So it was a very progressive platform. Credit where credit’s due, I think the Liberals were quite successful in portraying the platform in a negative way and as not being progressive, even though that isn’t what we were putting forward.

Paul Wells: Kory, I want to talk about kind of an extraordinary extended period past the midpoint of the campaign that begins with the photograph of the body of the Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, on the beach, and then, in a progression of kind of random events, goes through to the niqab ruling, the revocation of citizenship of convicted terrorists, the “barbaric cultural practices” tip line. At some point I get the impression that those early set of issues was working fairly well for you, and at the end of it the vinegar turned. What can you tell me about those policies, those decisions, that part of the debate?

Kory Teneycke: If you look at what our support was throughout the campaign, it basically didn’t fluctuate. So there could be critiques of some of these things, but it’s hard to see in the polling data any evidence of it working particularly positively or negatively for us in terms of electoral support. When courts render rulings, or events like the way the Syrian refugee crisis presented itself in the campaign, are beyond anyone’s control. These are things that you simply have to react to in the moment. The Syrian refugee crisis was a particularly frustrating point in that it’s an issue that we’d actually talked quite a bit about, and had even made one of our campaign announcements on earlier in the campaign about increasing the number of Syrian refugees we were taking. So from a policy perspective, we felt like we were on the right side of that from the beginning and had a pretty robust policy. In fact, [we were] the only ones who were particularly interested in talking about it. It also revealed the depths to which Harper Derangement Syndrome, which I think is a real thing out there, had taken root. That people were willing to essentially attribute the death of a child to a political figure is pretty shocking, and unfounded, obviously. But it speaks to how deep that sort of sentiment was with a portion of the electorate, and frankly, with a lot of people in the media.

Paul Wells: I’ll just bust if I don’t ask this question. Why did you go to Etobicoke twice in the last week to rooms that contained Rob Ford?

Kory Teneycke: Is there a list of people who are not allowed to attend Conservative party events? Before there was Harper Derangement Syndrome, there was Ford Derangement Syndrome. There’s a media obsession with the Ford brothers which is almost unprecedented. The Fords have been supporters of the Conservative party for their entire lives. Their political base is in Etobicoke. The fact that they would be at events we have in the GTA is supremely normal. The thought of not having them there is also unusual.

Paul Wells: The list of people who weren’t allowed in to Conservative events is actually really long.


Kory Teneycke:  We let you in, so…

Paul Wells: Stephen Harper rose to power in this country because he became a really good student of what is possible and what isn’t, and where perceptions are and where they aren’t. Your candidates in the Etobicoke ridings crashed hard after those events. I’m trying to find the strategic advantage in those events.

Kory Teneycke: Well, look. People will second-guess and critique various campaign decisions. That’s part of the accountability that comes with being on a losing campaign. I’m sure that, along with many other things, it will be looked at, and that process will occur, but it’ll largely occur behind closed doors. But is that the difference between the Conservative party winning government or not winning government? I don’t think so.

Paul Wells: Let’s talk a little bit about next steps. Kate Purchase, the incoming prime minister had a news conference yesterday, and gave some sense of what’s going to happen with the Liberal government. Could you give us a peek behind the curtain a little bit? What is the transition like? And the next two weeks before the cabinet announcement, what’s that going to entail for your team?

Kate Purchase: The next two weeks are filled with meetings and briefings, and obviously there are a few other moments .that just happen anyways. Tomorrow’s the anniversary of the Oct. 22 shooting, so obviously that’ll be a big part of the day tomorrow. Then it is all about putting together a cabinet and making sure that we are able to implement the platform that we put forward in this campaign and that Canadians voted for. A big part of that would be a tax cut for the middle class. But obviously, there are lots of things going on behind closed doors, and much like debates, we don’t talk about Fight Club or who’s involved. It’s going to be an exceptionally busy time, but I can tell you that [Trudeau] will continue to meet with the media over the next two weeks. A really important moment for him yesterday, to signal how we want to change the relationship and how we want to change how Ottawa works, was going to the National Press Theatre, rather than just doing an availability in Montreal, and start that relationship the way.

Paul Wells:  Anne McGrath, the NDP faces some decisions. Is the future of the leader part of those decision? Is Tom Mulcair leading the NDP to stay?

Anne McGrath: Obviously our biggest asset in this campaign was Tom Mulcair. If you look at any of the research, you’ll see that he’s very well respected, he’s seen as a very good leader, he is supported by the membership. We have not had a history in our party of taking out knives for the leader after a campaign, no matter how a campaign goes. He has a lot of support, and there’s no indication of any changes there. We’re going into a policy convention in April, and I expect him to be our leader. As we go into the next campaign, he will be even more seasoned. He’s a very polished performer, as everybody knows, in Parliament, and was a very, very good campaigner during this campaign. I think he’s got a lot of support, and will be continuing on.

Paul Wells:  I want to ask you about this week’s results in comparison to results that you lived through before, Anne. Because your friend Brad Lavigne’s book, Building the Orange Wave, points out that 2011 worked out really well but 2004, 2006, and 2008 were campaigns that produced only incremental growth, and I believe were essentially disappointing results every time. You grew, but not a lot. Is this like that? Is this week like that, or worse?

Anne McGrath: I have been through a fair number of transitions, both positive and negative, and I can say that they all have their challenges. I do feel for my friends in the Liberal party because, going from 30-odd seats to, you know, what you’ve gone to, there’s a lot to do in the next little while. I think it’s going to be very, very challenging. So for us, I think it’s going to be around consolidating and solidifying our caucus and getting ready for the next session, identifying the items that we want to really push on in the next Parliament. Despite the fact that we didn’t achieve what we wanted to achieve, we do have 16 new members of Parliament. I know them, and they are very, very good. And we’re going to have a very, very strong caucus.

My heart is broken about people like Megan Leslie and Olivia Chow and Robert Chisholm, Peter Stoffer, Jack Harris, Paul Dewar. But the party is very strong, very resilient, very experienced, and has a values base that I think will carry us forward.

Analysts and campaign experts weighed in on the results of the federal election during the Maclean's "Election 2015: What Just Happened?" panel debate at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario on Oct. 21, 2015. (Photograph by David Kawai)
(Photograph by David Kawai)

Paul Wells:  We’ll now take questions from the audience. 

Question: What was the Conservatives’ thinking in deciding to call an 11-week election campaign, and when did you make the decision?

Kory Teneycke: It’s a function of fixed election dates. I think elections will be longer so long as the Liberals continue with fixed election dates. I’m not sure whether they will or not. But it’s an inevitable consequence of that. We had parties essentially campaigning full-time, and I think a longer campaign is not a bad thing. There’s actually a lot of things that can be said for having a longer campaign that are positive for the electoral process. Having five debates was a good thing. And thank you, Paul, for your role in helping to advance that. It gives people more opportunity as candidates to cross the country. We certainly were able to do an unprecedented number of events and to visit places that we otherwise would not have been able to.

Does it affect the outcome? I don’t know, I think whoever runs the best campaign at the end of the day is going to win the election. But for the democratic process as a whole, I think a longer period of time is good. It’s healthy. It’s positive. To have everyone campaigning but not have election rules in place is very problematic on a bunch of levels. I don’t think there should be unrestricted spending going on in the pre-writ. I think that’s not a positive thing for our democracy. So having a common set of rules, everybody under the same set of rules, and having more time to talk to Canadians—these are all good things.

Question: When did you share with your competitors that you would call an election for 11 weeks long rather than five? Because you said “no surprises” when you cut the party subsidy. And that was a surprise.

Kory Teneycke: I disagree with that characterization. I think everyone was campaigning, so the fact that there was an election campaign coming with a vote on the 19th was not a surprise. I think whether you’re in a writ and campaigning or not in a writ campaigning, you’re still campaigning, and you’re still campaigning toward an election day on the 19th. So…

Paul Wells: Let me ask Anne McGrath, having seen the way it played out now, assuming that the next fixed election date is Oct. 15, 2019, would you normally anticipate that there’ll be a long writ period now, having seen the way it played now?

Anne McGrath: I don’t think that the long writ period was a good idea, obviously, for a number of reasons: the money involved, the exhaustion level involved. It is, however, surprising to me that, in an 11-week campaign, in the last week or 10 days there’s still so much that you wanted to do that you don’t get [done]. I don’t know if it did serve us, and I’m not talking the party, but as Canadians, I’m not sure that it was the right way to go. The fact that it was a surprise, and the changes in the Elections Act that allowed for a $54-billion ceiling, which is incredible, at the local level and at the national level … I mean, it certainly was one of the first elections I’ve been involved in where I didn’t have to worry about hitting the ceiling.

Question:  Electoral reform. What are the promises on getting rid of first-past-the-post by 2019? 

Paul Wells: Kate Purchase, that promise was repeated yesterday. Does it hold for today?

Kate Purchase: Absolutely. This is something that we put forward—actually in this room, I think, earlier in June, moving past the first-past-the-post system. That’s something that we’re very committed to. How that system changes and what form that takes, obviously there’s lots of different models out there, and we’re going to be looking at all of them and including Canadians in that discussion. But we’re very committed to making sure that this was the very last election that first-past-the-post was the decision.

Paul Wells: Anne, you’ve already mentioned that you’re very eager to see this happen.

Anne McGrath: Absolutely. I think that, you know, if we were to be able to change to a fairer proportional representation system, I think  one of the things that has always been an issue for the NDP, and continued to be in this campaign, is the whole phenomenon of strategic voting. It was more organized and more focused and more, probably in some ways, successful in this campaign than we’ve ever seen before. But I still believe that people should vote for the party that best meets their values, their aspirations, what they are looking for in politics. I think [proportional representation] gives space to a lot of different voices, voices that right now are not included in our political system.

One of the things I was very proud of, for instance, that we did was we ran the largest number of women candidates and the largest number of Indigenous candidates, not only in our party’s history but probably in Canadian political history. If we want to move to a Parliament that is more reflective of the country with respect to gender, race, Aboriginal Canadians, then we must move to a fairer system. Proportional representation is the one that seems to work best in many other countries in the world and I think would serve us well.

Kory Teneycke: There are pros and cons to every different voting system. What our position has been is that, if you’re going to make a change so fundamental to how we choose our leaders in this democracy, and with precedents from many provinces on this, you should take it to the people directly. It is a very fundamental question of democratic choice. So having it sort of buried in one’s platform and not really front and centre in what people are voting on, it would be, in my view, and certainly in the view of our platform that we put forward, something that should be voted on by all Canadians.

We’ve seen cases made for this sort of reform before, and it’s been soundly rejected by Canadians. That’s not to say that it will always be rejected by Canadians. I think there are credible arguments for a number of different voting models. Bring it to the people. Convince them that it’s better than what we’re doing now. If you make a good case it’ll happen, and if you don’t, it won’t.

Paul Wells: Kate Purchase, what do you make of that, the notion that you can’t just have another election a few years down the road under a different electoral system without a direct consultation, referendum?

Kate Purchase: I know what Kory’s referring to is a referendum on these things, and I don’t know that we’ve come to a decision about how exactly that would come into place, but I do know that, as is evidenced by a number of different policies that we’ve put forward, that having Canadians involved in that decision and talking about the various options—there’s not just proportional representation, there is preferential ballot and lots of different options out there—having Canadians involved in that discussion is absolutely something that we’re going to be focused on.

Kory Teneycke: When we say having Canadians involved, in a democratic country, that means having them vote. The notion that one would fundamentally change the way leaders are selected, the way Parliament is selected, without going to the people directly on it is very, very troubling—that you would change the rules for campaigns in such a fundamental way without going to the people. I think that is why other provinces that have looked at doing this have chosen the path of going to the people. Why wouldn’t any democratically minded Canadian who wants democratic reform and to have a more representative form of government be afraid of taking that to the people? Is that not a fundamentally flawed argument?

Kate Purchase: With due respect, Kory, I don’t think there’s any party in Canadian history that’s changed the campaign rules and election rules more than your party without going to the people on it.


Kory Teneycke: So doing that to a much greater and more fundamental extent is somehow an improvement?

Kate Purchase: No, and I mean, it’s not off the table at all. But consultation first, talking about what the right model is, you can’t just go and say and which would you prefer. We do have to come together with Canadians and have that discussion about the various models before any steps can be taken.

Kory Teneycke: I don’t think anyone would disagree with fundamental changes like that if the Canadian public voted on it and chose to accept that. Like, how could you? The people would have spoken. I think what’s concerning is making those changes in a way that is not transparent and is not ultimately decided on by the Canadian public.

Anne McGrath: I think we’re getting a preview of the first question period here.


(L-R) Moderator Paul Wells from Maclean's, Conservative campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke, NDP campaign director Anne McGrath and  weigh-in on the results of the federal election during the Maclean's "Election 2015: What Just Happened?" panel debate at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario on Oct. 21, 2015. (Photograph by David Kawai)
(Photograph by David Kawai)

Paul Wells: I had electoral reform in the pool, so I win. Any other questions?

Question:  Just two quick ones. One for Kory, and then one for both Kate and Anne. Kory, can you talk a little bit about the early election call and if there was, if any, influence because of the independent expenditure campaigns that were happening by third parties in advance of the pre-writ period? And then for Kate and Anne, what do you make of the interventions of third parties, groups like Lead Now or labour organizations or other single-issue groups that weighed in as a third party? Eid they have influence on your campaigns in any way? But Kory, if you could speak to the early writ call first, that’d be great.

Kory Teneycke: I think it’s one of many factors. I think it’s secondary to the view that the campaign is on. It’s one of these things where I think the government was bound to be criticized if we didn’t call an early writ, and I think it was going to be criticized if we did. And so there was no avenue for the government to go where it wasn’t going to be controversial and criticized. Are third-party spending groups a factor? Yeah, they’re one of the factors. I wouldn’t say the driving motivation on it, though.

Anne McGrath: It’s always been the case that there have been third-party actors involved, obviously, in political campaigns in Canada, pre-writ and during the writ. I think that’s good. I think that there are groups that have interests that they need to be able to express and to put forward, and political parties need to be able to respond to those. In my view it needs to be done in a way that is governed by fair rules for everybody. Because it’s in the DNA, obviously, of the New Democratic Party to worry about money and influence in Canadian politics, and so —

Paul Wells:   It’s not labour money.

Anne McGrath: Oh, no, we have been very clear on that as well. We were fully supportive of the decision to not have union or corporate contributions, for instance, to political parties. So I think that, whether it’s unions or corporations or whoever it is, I think they need to be governed by a similar set of rules. Because I wouldn’t want, for instance, a corporation that had so much access to so much more money and influence to be able to have an undue influence on an election campaign.

Kory Teneycke: But you would be comfortable with having your communications director lead a third-party group with union money with an advertising message that’s identical to yours? I think there are ways that the system can currently win.

Anne McGrath: Our communications director was not involved in anything like that.

Kory Teneycke: Well, OK, former [communications director]. But I think the model of super PACs, etcetera, in the U.S. is not something that we should be aspiring to bring into Canadian politics. There are always ways of gaming rules, and I think there should always be an ongoing process of trying to tighten the seals on that to make sure that elections are fair and transparent, and that we don’t have undue influence by outside groups, regardless of which party they support or whether it’s corporate or whether it’s union.

Paul Wells:  So if I understand correctly, your concern is that clearer rules, more regulation of the outside-the-writ period is—

Kory Teneycke: I think it’s sensible.

Paul Wells:  So your objective was, to some extent, the get-under-the writ-umbrella so that there’d be a set of rules?

Kory Teneycke: That’s part of it, but also for parties as well. Everyone should be sensitive to the criticism of operating outside of a writ period where the rules are very clear and where the caps are very clear. Governments will change and adjust those things over time, but I think there’s a broad political consensus at this table. The initial reforms were brought in by the Chrétien government around contributions. They were adjusted by us and, I think, strengthened for the better. I’m sure there’ll be more changes that will go forward in the future.

But I don’t think the sort of super PAC model, of which we have now, as sort of a Canadianized version of it, is a particularly positive development for our electoral system. Political parties should be the ones doing the campaigning. It should be regulated. And if it’s illegal for you to make political contributions to a campaign, being able to make unlimited contributions to something that looks an awful lot like a campaign is problematic.

Kate Purchase: I do agree with Anne that bringing forward more regulations around these things, particularly pre-writ, is incredibly important. It’s something that we put forward in our transparency platform as well. It is a bit of a wild west right now, and nobody really knows the rules that they’re operating under. Putting forward that set of rules and making sure everybody knows them and plays by them is the right thing to do.

I also agree that there are involved Canadians who care very deeply about the political process, who care very deeply about the campaign, and so saying outright there is no place for third-party advertising is probably not the way to go here. Let’s all operate by the same rule book and make sure that everybody knows what that is.

Question: So much has been talked about turning points in the 11-week campaign and that decision to go into the deficit thinking versus the balanced budget thinking, people talking about the Maclean’s debate. What about the Munk debate and the moment when Mr. Mulcair raises the War Measures Act, and you see Mr. Trudeau wearing a black tie? What is going on behind the scenes with the campaign people to think that that is worth raising then? And were you prepared for the answer you got?

Anne McGrath: In terms of the position that we took on Bill C-51, it was very important to place that in the context of the history and values of our party. When the War Measures Act was introduced [in 1970], it was incredibly popular. We took an unpopular but principled position against the War Measures Act that years later I think many people would have agreed with. In the same way, when we took our position on Bill C-51, the bill was not yet being very widely criticized, and we took what we thought was a very values-based, principled position that was consistent with things like the War Measures Act and other things in our history. And so it’s important from our point of view to place that decision on Bill C-51 in the context of the kind of party that we are and what our position is on these things. So we didn’t just do it in a Munk debate. We have always placed that decision in the context of what we stand for as a party.

Paul Wells: Anne, what did you think when you saw the Google data that suggests that public interest in the salience of the C-51 issue just kind of went away over the course of the writ period? That’s got to be maddening for you. You kind of needed that to stay salient.

Anne McGrath: That’s the thing with such a long writ period, or one of the things. Like, two weeks ago, who remembers the Duffy trial? You know? And it was the dominant—

Kory Teneycke: I remember the Duffy trial.


Paul Wells:  Nigel [Wright] probably has a vague memory of certain moments.

Anne McGrath: Yeah. So on such a long campaign, to keep an issue like [C-51] alive is very difficult. But you’re right, it was important because it was a very important contrast with the Liberal party, which was very important for us. It was not helpful to us that it faded in significance as the campaign went on.

Paul Wells: Kate Purchase, I want to get back to the original question, which is essentially the place that Pierre Trudeau’s political record has in public discussions of Justin Trudeau’s project. If Stephen Harper can face questions about things that Brian Mulroney or John Diefenbaker did, surely Justin Trudeau can face questions about things that Jean Chrétien or Pierre Trudeau did. It struck me that he was protesting too much at that moment in the Munk debate.

Kate Purchase: Obviously I don’t agree with you in terms of he was protesting too much in the Munk debate. I think questions are perfectly legitimate about past histories of any prime minister in any party, but I do think that he’s a very different man from his father. He has a very different philosophy. The values are ultimately the same, and that’s where it comes from, but we ran on a very different platform than I think his father would have in this election. So I don’t know that the comparisons are always particularly just.

With respect to the Munk debate and that particular moment, I don’t think that there’s a single child in this room who wouldn’t stand up for their father, particularly on the anniversary of his death. It is a legitimate public policy debate, and it’s an important debate to have happen, but I do think that, when faced with your parent’s being attacked like that, you’re probably going to stand up for it. Or at least I know my parents hope that I would.

Anne McGrath: I think what was being attacked there was the position of the Liberal party and the consistency with the positions on some of these measures.

Kate Purchase: Well, on the position of C-51, our positions are not actually all that different. We have always said that it was a problematic bill and that there were a number of amendments that needed to be brought forward to bring it more in line with respecting people’s privacy and respecting rights. I completely understand the reasons why you would want to set it up as a wedge with us. But I do think that, at the end of the day, the first position of the NDP was not dissimilar to the first position of the LPC on that one.

Paul Wells: Kory, you were interested in talking about the debates, and I’m always interested in talking about the debates. It seems to me that part of the objective was to have a lot of them so that the more experienced politicians could rise. Am I right in thinking that that didn’t quite work out?

Kory Teneycke: In terms of the campaign, they were largely a neutral factor for ourselves. It maybe fed more into the dynamic between the NDP and the Liberals. But I do think more debates, irrespective of which candidate you support, what party you support, was helpful. It was helpful to our democracy. It was helpful to engaging Canadians and allowing more people to get to see these leaders pressed in a way that they can’t be at a press conference or at a party rally.

I also think it’s interesting that what has widely been viewed as the most substantive of the debates—no offence to my friends at Maclean’s—was the Munk debates, which wasn’t actually hosted by a media organization at all. It really opens up a whole lot of possibilities for future elections in having other organizations, be them universities, be them think tanks, be them whatever, in terms of putting forward debate proposals. I think it was a bit haphazard how it came together, and Rob Silver and I and Anne debated this many times on TV. I think some form of commission or some sort of look between the parties at how to manage that process would be a positive thing, with an eye of doing more debates. They are hard. Like, they aren’t easy for anyone. Anyone who thinks that for Stephen Harper or any of these other candidates, that going into one of those debates is an easy thing, that’s not correct. They are hard for everybody. But it’s precisely because they are hard that they are valuable.

Anne McGrath: I like neither model, to be honest. I don’t like the consortium model, and I didn’t like this one either. I do agree with Kory on this. I think some kind of an arm’s-length commission or something with the goal of having more debates—I like that idea, but I also think that there’s a responsibility for them to be televised, and widely accessible to viewers. So the consortium model, I don’t like that because I don’t think that the networks should have that much control over the debates. But this model, which led to more debates, which may be good and I think is good, had much lower viewership.

Kory Teneycke: The amount of viewership depends on whether they’re broadcast or not. That’s a decision of each of the broadcasters. I think there should be a pretty close examination of some of those decisions that were made, especially by the broadcaster that gets a billion dollars a year from the Canadian public to not televise things like the Munk debate, which are so clearly within their mandate. Politics of broadcasters and petulance that they’re not being a consortium debate is not a good reason to not broadcast.

Paul Wells: We have to wrap it up. I’m going to invoke moderator’s privilege and say that of course I really like the way it worked out this year. But whatever happens, whether we hand this over to a commission or not, I certainly hope that the trend will be toward a broader variety of contexts and a broader variety of host organizations so that leaders can be tested in different ways. I do agree that the Munk debate was only a very limited glimpse at what’s possible once we break away from a sort of a rote orthodoxy. But that’s a discussion for another time. The discussion for today is done. Thank you for sticking with us for a long period. Thanks to our panel guests. It was very generous of you to share your time in this busy week.