Politicians cover millions of kilometres in buses that act as offices, transportation and advertising during campaigns. But the prominent visibility of these workhorses can make it very obvious when something goes wrong. The Wildrose Party’s embarrassing gaffe this week is just the latest in a long string of breakdowns, crashes and suspect branding choices. A look at five campaigns undermined by bus problems:
London, England mayoral campaign
Last week, candidates for the mayoralty of London, England, unveiled their campaign bus designs. It’s an important election, with the country facing financial difficulties and social tensions, and Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone are starkly at odds on the issues. But despite all the material from which to choose, their branding teams stumbled into amateur territory by both settling on “Better off with xxx.” Each team claims they thought of it first.
It was a small bump in the campaign of U.S. presidential candidate John McCain, which was about to get much more tumultuous. In August of 2008, only weeks before he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, his bus crashed into another vehicle in Miami. Reports from Florida suggested that the bus driver tried to make too tight a right turn, crunching the side of a parked minivan. That Mr. McCain’s campaign had dubbed itself the Straight Talk Express just added to the comedic potential.
Anxious not to give pundits the chance to call it emblematic of the campaign, staffers for Tim Hudak, Leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, kept secret for weeks the fact that his 2011 campaign bus had broken down. The information was shared with journalists only after election results rolled in last fall. Even more remarkably, the staffers had been able to keep secret the fact that a replacement bus that had belonged to Wayne Newton – and featured a stage, complete with stripper pole – had been brought in.
Michael Ignatieff and his team left Ottawa in the summer of 2010 with ambitious plans to meet the country and get the federal Liberal Party’s fortunes back on track. But en route to a barbecue in Cornwall the bus stopped cooperating. Delays initially appeared temporary. Several times passengers disembarked, re-boarded and were driven a short distance. Eventually another bus was dispatched and, to the delight of Conservative partisans, the temperamental bus was towed away by Harper Diesel. The former leader, his wife and a few others were shuttled to the event by car.
During the 1999 Ontario election, the buses of both the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties broke down. The driver of the Grits’ bus, who was alone and on his way to the provincial legislature, thought the brakes felt a bit off and pulled over to investigate. One day later, the generator on the Tories’ bus caught fire at an event. In the same campaign, the Tories drew criticism after youth recruited from high schools reported smoking and drinking while being driven by bus to an event.