The Liberals’ key attack line against the Conservatives in this election is that their leader, Andrew Scheer, is simply the second coming of Stephen Harper. It’s a standard line from the political playbook: tie the new guy to the unpopular old guy. But the Conservatives seem to be doing their best to make their point for them: a good chunk of their platform seems to be the restoration of a lot of policies, credits and benefits that were brought in during the Harper years and subsequently scrapped by the Trudeau government. As Andrew MacDougall writes in the Citizen this morning, “by picking up many of the Harper planks discarded by Trudeau in office—transit, sport and arts tax credits, small business tax changes—Scheer is literally promising to be Harper 2.0.” One wonders whether they’ll shut up the scientists and cancel the long-form census again, too.
If status quo ante as election platform—we’re going to put things back exactly where they were—strikes you as a bit strange, it shouldn’t: “returning things to normal” is what you campaign on when you think the other guys have broken things irredeemably. It wouldn’t be out of place in the U.S., for example. But in this case it seems a bit more brazen and a bit less self-aware: as though the Conservatives haven’t quite encompassed the fact that they lost the last election for real; that Trudeau shouldn’t have won, or didn’t deserve to win, or his win was a result of some random cosmic accident. (The NDP indulged in this sort of thinking after the last election as well.)
What this is, I think, is an example of a phenomenon I’ve observed in Canadian political parties before. When a governing party is defeated at the polls, it seems to take two electoral defeats to beat the entitlement out of them. One can be dismissed as an exception, an aberration—the electorate taking temporary leave of their senses. It takes a second drubbing at the polls to make a party reflect and take stock. Not for nothing did the Liberals lose in 2006, 2008 and 2011: not only did they deserve the time out, they needed it. Only when a party accepts its defeat can it regroup and sort itself out so that it can be electorally viable again. In fact, this process is almost essential to a party’s long-term health.
It’s one reason why most governments are re-elected to a second term: the opposition hasn’t accepted the fact that it lost the first time.