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Guy Giorno, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, appears before the Commons ethics committee on April 13, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Guy Giorno, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, appears before the Commons ethics committee on April 13, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Harper won by targeting economy over 'pseudo' issues, Giorno says Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper won the federal election by focusing on the Canadian economy, avoiding the kind of "grandiose schemes" voters disdain in their leaders and ignoring issues that matter only to the "elites," a top Conservative campaign official says.

The "pseudo" issues that dominated much of the news coverage during the campaign - the number of questions Mr. Harper answered at media events, who got turned away from Conservative rallies - were irrelevant to ordinary voters, Guy Giorno, national campaign chairman for the Tory Party, said Monday in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada.

Mr. Harper, he said, instinctively understood that the pundits, the pollsters, the press - the so-called elites - did not speak for ordinary Canadians. The Conservative Leader connected with voters by tapping into the one issue of greatest concern to them - the economy.

Mr. Harper tuned out the political commentators and members of the media and instead used campaign stops to talk directly to voters about his economic action plan and how it was helping Canada weather the global economic recession, Mr. Giorno said.

The Conservative Leader's message resonated with voters, he said, because what they wanted to hear was how the Tories were spending billions of dollars on stimulus programs to create jobs. Voters were not at all interested in the fact that Mr. Harper had become the first prime minister in the history of Canada to be held in contempt of Parliament, he said.

Elections are usually won by the party that is most in touch with voters, Mr. Giorno said. What they saw in Mr. Harper was a "practical, no nonsense" leader, he said. "He's the leader who will keep Canada strong, safe and secure."

The only ones looking for "bold initiatives and grandiose schemes" from government were journalists, Mr. Giorno said. "Yet voters respond with disapproval when politicians get caught up in grandiose plans, especially when big ideas obscure what really matters to ordinary families."

As for former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, Mr. Giorno said, he is the author of his own misfortune. The Liberals were reduced to a 34-seat rump in the May 2 federal election and Mr. Ignatieff himself lost his Etobicoke-Lakeshore seat.

Mr. Ignatieff, a Harvard professor and renowned journalist before his entry into politics, has said the relentless onslaught of Tory attack ads defined him in the campaign. For many Canadians, he was the man characterized in the ads who returned to Canada after a 30-year absence to take over the party and grab power for the sake of power.

Mr. Giorno said Mr. Ignatieff has no one to blame but himself for not taking the time to respond to the ads. The issue was not the fact that Mr. Ignatieff spent so much time living and teaching abroad, he said. Rather, it was his failure to explain his reasons for returning to Canada.

"Ordinary Canadians said, 'it looks like he came back just to run for prime minister,' " Mr. Giorno said. "You can agree or disagree with the sentiment, but that was a real-person reaction. His failure to define himself was his choice."

Mr. Ignatieff spent much of last summer travelling the country to meet with Canadians and trying to remove the "just visiting" tag hung on him by the Tories. But those overtures were not enough to counter the attack ads.

Mr. Giorno said the Tories simply let Canadians draw their own conclusions by presenting Mr. Ignatieff's own words in the ads.

"Voters deserve full credit," he said. "They're sharp and insightful."

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