Painful Truth: Not about the economy, stupid

The conventional wisdom in western politics for years has been that you win or lose on the economy.

The famous “The economy, stupid!” quote, written as a reminder to Bill Clinton’s campaign team during his 1992 presidential run, has been repeated so often it seems like a law of nature.

Gravity means things fall down. The sun is hot. The economy rules elections.

But if it was only the economy, the Conservatives would still likely be running Canada today. Maybe with a minority – we’ve had some shaky economic times over the last four years. But we aren’t exactly fighting over water and gasoline in a frigid northern version of Mad Max.

There are a lot of specific things people have pointed to that led us to the rather stunning upset and the Liberal majority government.

There’s the raw desire for change. There’s the Conservatives’ tone-deaf handling of the Syrian refugee issue. There was the government’s handling a host of files – murdered aboriginal women, the environment, veterans.

But the Conservatives went into this campaign, if not confident, at least acting like they were. As all the parties jockeyed together in a tight three way race early on, they kept hammering away at just a few key messages, over and over and over. They were:

• The economy

• Justin Trudeau’s hair

• The economy

• Terrorists!

• The economy

• Taxes. And the economy

That was it. They expressed contempt for their rivals (who would be terrible for the economy) and they would keep your taxes down.

The only sub-theme they explored was terrorism, which veered sharply off course when they tried to make a fight out of the niqab and found that it wasn’t a big enough issue for anyone to win an election on.

Some commentators are saying that the result was inevitable, or at least the loss by the Conservatives. The landslide of support from the NDP to the Liberals does have the appearance of the “anyone but Harper” camp finding a home.

But I think Harper could have won. It would have been tough – he would have needed all 11 weeks of this ridiculously long campaign – but he could have pulled it off.

He just needed to believe in something other than money.

There were two key Harper photo ops in the final stretch before the vote.

The obviously disastrous one was his meeting with Rob and Doug Ford, grubbing for votes in Toronto’s suburbs with Canada’s most notorious ex-crack-smoking former mayor. The hypocrisy of buttoned-down, law-and-order Harper rubbing elbows with the Fords hurt him.

But I think he suffered another self-inflicted wound with his “cash register” photo ops, in which his supporters slapped down money to illustrate how much they would allegedly lose under the Liberals.

Canadians watched Harper count out cash, and in the last week of the campaign, they had to ask themselves, is that all a prime minister is? Just an accountant who is a successful leader if we go home with an extra few bucks in our pockets?

Canadians are less self-interested than Harper believed. Yes, one job of any prime minister is to protect the economy. But Canadians voted on Monday that there are other things that matter.

It’s not the economy, stupid. It’s not just the economy.



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