How Hugh McFadyen saved the Selinger NDP from sure defeat.
In politics, the only thing better than winning is winning so decisively you can rub your opponent's nose in it.
Following the crash-and-burn campaign conducted by the Manitoba Conservatives in the last provincial election, Tory honkers are redder than Rudolph's from being rubbed in the dirt so much.
One of the chief architects of the crushing defeat handed to the PC Party is the NDP's campaign director Michael Balagus. He was in Vancouver last month taking another victory lap at the expense of the hapless, helpless and hopeless Conservatives.
The scene was the annual convention of the British Columbia NDP. Balagus was on a panel discussing tactics, strategies and innovation that he and two other campaign organizers across the country used to win elections.
Balagus got to tell the story of how the NDP used their greatest asset---Conservative Party leader Hugh McFadyen---to turn almost sure defeat into their fourth victory in a row.
We now know that for months before the election call, the NDP surveyed voters, and what they heard was worse than discouraging. People thought it was time for a change of government. Not even spinning their new leader, Mr. Personality himself, Greg Selinger, as a change from the old leader, Gary Doer, made any difference. The electorate wasn't buying it, said Balagus.
So the NDP reached deep down into their bag of tricks for a "hail Mary" play. It was easy now that the dirtiest politician in Manitoba was now their leader.
In their case it meant taking the low road. The NDP hammered McFadyen with attack ads.
"We redefined change as risk," he told the audience. And that risk was electing Hugh McFadyen.
"We went early and we went hard," he said. Not everyone in the Party was happy with the direction the campaign took. "I took a lot of heat.” admitted Balagus.
As you remember, the only response from McFadyen was a firm shrug as he imitated a walking human punching bag for the entire campaign. When he finally stood up on his tippytoes and issued a lame denial that he was going to do the evil things that the NDP said he was going to do, the Dippers knew he was toast.
So they piled on. For the last 10 days of the campaign, said Balagus, that became the entire focus of the NDP message. They were "relentless," he said.
And hugely successful. Winning an election they were poised to lose. Shattering the PC Party of Manitoba into Humpty Dumpty pieces. And earning bragging rights across the country for years to come.
“If we don’t believe there’s a difference, if we don’t tell people there’s a difference, they’re not going to get it,” Balagus said in defence of the NDP's mudslinging campaign.
He could have added that the McFadyen Tories ran an entire campaign without criticizing the NDP. In short, they told the electorate there was no difference between them and the government, except that the Conservatives would run deficits longer. That's why their campaign managers aren't giving speeches to PC parties across Canada.
And why they sport red clown noses.
Balagus, meanwhile, has learned why opening Pandora's box is a risky business.
It turns out that the NDP footsoldiers weren't the only ones listening to his pearls of wisdom on how to win an election.
Within 3 weeks of his sharing his secrets, Christy Clark's B.C. Liberal Party launched an attack ad on NDP leader Adrian Dix. The thrust? They're attacking him for his job as political advisor to the NDP---in the 1990's. Dix responded by calling the ad "sad and desperate."