Proof politics is always a ‘mugs’ game’


By Skip Hambling

POLITICS IS ALWAYS A MUGS’ GAME. Luck makes it that way.

Forget authentic commitment to principle and policy, deep research, brilliant analysis, outstanding campaign game plan design and execution. They do not matter most. Luck does. What just happened here in Nova Scotia proves it.

The Progressive Conservatives lucked into their majority win. The fact nobody saw a PC win coming only proves my mugs’ game point.

The PC victory didn’t come because they went toe-to-toe with the favoured Liberals and scored a knockout with a brilliant strategy and execution. It came because the Liberals could not, or would not, make a fight of it. And because an old man fell down in his driveway, broke his hip and waited for an ambulance that never came. That’s not brilliant planning, that’s luck.

Liberals content to coast

The Liberals thought they had re-election in the bag—with good reason: their government had made Nova Scotia the covid-fighting champions of Canada, three other sitting provincial governments had called, and won, covid elections, they had something new to offer in Iain Rankin, a young, fresh-faced leader/premier—and they had a 28-point lead in the polls!

What could possibly go wrong? Well their dead-in-the-water campaign for a start.

Rankin and the Liberals ambled out of the blocks to start their campaign with all the energy and urgency of Olympic race walkers. Then they just pin-balled around the province, in their big shiny bus, stopping here and there, to talk abstractly about this possible priority and that not-quite-burning issue.

Their where’s Waldo theme seemed to be “keep a good thing going” captured in the eminently anodyne slogan: “Nova Scotia, this is our time.” They might just as well have said ”Nova Scotia, the place where the lobsters are” for all the difference it would have made.

(I once had a reporter friend, Dave, who would snort with delight in pointing out the lazy thinking and obvious vacuousness of some version of the “now’s the time” slogan every time some party or other used it. “Of course now’s the time,” he would say “now is always the time. That’s what they want people to vote for?

BTW The NDP had their own entry in the vacuousness Olympics with their slogan: “It’s time for something better.” “Isn’t it always” I can hear my friend Dave snort.)

The Liberals just seemed like they were content to rest on their oars and coast to victory. And they just might have if it hadn’t been for Ross O’Brien

The old man in the driveway

Ross is 86-years-old. He fell down in his driveway in Dartmouth on August 10 and broke his hip. His wife couldn’t help him. She called 911 for an ambulance. No ambulance came. Ross lay there in pain waiting and waiting and waiting. After more than three hours of agony the police took Ross to the hospital, less than five minutes away. Ross' wife Janet was happy to share her cell phone video of the whole ordeal with all the TV stations.

The worst kind of luck for Ross turned into a great stroke of good luck for the PCs.

The election was just seven days away. The PCs had made their own bet. They were all in on the need to immediately fix the perilous state of health care in Nova Scotia: 69,000 people on a waiting list for a family doctor, extra long waits for hip and knee replacement  surgeries, emergency room closures and waits of five or six hours for treatment, a chronic shortage of nurses, seniors the least cared for—and long, long, long waits for ambulances.

What happened to Ross in his driveway was an in-your-face moment. The way the photo of the little drowned boy on the beach in Italy was for the refugee crisis. It made the Nova Scotia medical care crisis as real as the old guy next door. It tugged at everyone’s heartstrings. It got everyone’s undivided attention. It was a wrong that no self-respecting population could tolerate.  

It gave PC leader Tim Houston his most memorable campaign moment. He said Nova Scotia should not be a place where “it is easier to get a pizza delivered than an ambulance.”

The aimless Liberal campaign went into freefall. Their 28-point lead just melted away.

Insiders say the Liberals knew this. But they could not, or would not, do anything about it. They had their campaign game plan and they were sticking to it. They did pretty much hide Rankin for the last four or five days of their campaign. It didn’t help. They did not offer any fire-breathing surrogate to rally the troops.

The inexplicable and unwavering self-confidence of the Liberals was a good part their undoing. It did not leave them even in defeat. Iain Rankin, in his concession speech, repeated that he was proud of the Liberal campaign and would not change a thing given a chance to do it over.

It was this Liberal blind indifference to reality and blind good luck for the PCs that once more proved politics is always a mugs’ game—no matter how much political professionals want to pretend they are smart enough make sure it isn’t.

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