When the country erupted with Trudeaumania in 1968, by the time 1972 rolled around, the swinging 60s were over, and the honeymoon period for Trudeau had since ended.
The Liberals were still high in the polls, but the slumping economy was hurting the party. Trudeau was still seen as a hip and young leader in 1972, but his opponent, Robert Stanfield, had an honest and somewhat bumbling image endeared him to some voters. The Conservatives had gained in the polls since 1968, and the October Crisis of 1970 had hurt the Liberals in their implementation of the War Measures Act. The nationalists in Quebec were angry with Trudeau over the act, and if the Conservatives could have found a high-profile francophone candidate to run with Stanfield, it is likely the party would have made more inroads within the province. They would use Claude Wagner, which didn’t work, as he barely won his own seat. Stanfield would say later, quote:
“We were looking for the easy solution, the Quebec lieutenant who would bring in a lot of support. There was a certain amount of criticism from our Quebec people. Therefore, it became accepted that they had to go with me.”
There was a great deal of apathy in Quebec for the election, one Quebec voter was quoted by Macleans, stating quote:
“What’s there to get excited about? I don’t give a dam who gets in. Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, they’re all the same when it comes to Quebec. They’re all federalists, unsympathetic to our struggle.”
In a poll done in April 1972, among francophones outside Montreal, it was found that 38 per cent of voters were satisfied with Trudeau, but that 51 per cent would vote for him.
The Unemployment Insurance Act had come into place in June of 1971 and the Conservatives would state it weakened the work ethic of Canadians, which bothered some voters.
The economy of Canada was hurting and the decision by the Nixon government in the United States to give tax credits and breaks to companies making investments in the United States did not help.
The Conservatives would campaign on the slogan of A Progressive Conservative government will do better. While Stanfield was popular, he also had issues with the press who saw him as vague and often off-topic.
The Liberals campaigned on the slogan of The Land Is Strong, and television ads featured the scenery of Canada. The slogan was not popular in Canada and was quickly mocked.
Trudeau would say quote:
Many felt that the Liberals did not have an issue to campaign on, and overall, it is believed to be one of the worst managed campaigns in Canadian history.
Maclean’s would write, quote:
“The outstanding impression is that, with few notable exceptions, Trudeau has remarkably few political goals.”
Many criticized Trudeau and how he came across on television screens. Maclean’s would write during the election campaign, quote:
“Who is this withered man with the pale, tight face and thin sarcastic lips…Can it be the same young man who bounded smiling across the nation in 1968 with a carnation in his lapel, kissing pretty girls and leaping off diving boards?”
Peter Newman would reflect the change in the Trudeau image as well, stating quote:
The Liberals did make several promises including increasing bilingualism, a program to create new parks in Canada, incentives to reduce pollution and a reduction in unemployment insurance abuse.
The Conservatives campaigned on banning strikes for essential services, introducing price and wage controls, expanding training for unemployed workers, and eliminating three per cent in personal income tax rates.
The New Democratic Party were now led by David Lewis, who replaced the retiring Tommy Douglas who had left his post in 1971. The party promised to introduce rent controls, putting $4.3 billion into public works, increasing old age security payments and eliminating corporate welfare. Lewis would decry what he called the corporate welfare bums who benefitted from government policies of the Conservatives and Liberals, which gained him a great deal of popularity around Canada.
The platforms of the parties were summarized well by Peter Newman when he wrote, quote:
“Gamble on me that I can deal pragmatically with issues as they arise.”
The voting age had been lowered to 18, which would benefit the Liberals as many young people still saw Trudeau as a preferred leader to the much older Stanfield. Among the 18 to 24 voting bloc, just under 50 per cent preferred Trudeau, to 15 per cent for Stanfield.
Across the country, popular figures such as John Turner would push the image of Trudeau as the still young leader of the nation. He would say at one point, quote:
“The election issue is leadership and that brings us to Mr. Trudeau. We don’t have to compare him to the ideal. We don’t have to compare him to the almighty. We have to compare him to the alternatives.”
As Trudeau made his way around the country, gone were the days of Trudeaumania. In Manitoba for example, he was greeted by Canadian Postal Union workers who booed and jeered him.
Only two weeks before the election, a Gallup poll had the New Democrats rising six points to 21 per cent for the vote, while the Liberals were at 44 per cent, only two per cent less than where they were in the heart of Trudeaumania in 1968. The Conservatives remained steady at 32 per cent.
Unlike the 1968 election, there would be no television debate for the leaders due to Trudeau’s schedule being full up to election day.
The Liberals would win the Oct. 30, 1972, election, but they would finish with only 109 seats, well below what was needed for a majority. The party lost 38 seats in the election, while the Progressive Conservatives gained 34, finishing with 107 seats, only two back from the Liberals. The New Democratic Party won 31 seats, an increase of six, while the Social Credits stayed steady at 15 seats.
It was only in Quebec where the Liberals won the majority of seats, finishing with 56 to the two won by the Progressive Conservatives and the 15 won by the Social Credit Party. The New Democratic Party did well in British Columbia on Ontario, where they received 11 seats in both provinces. The Progressive Conservatives took 40 seats in Ontario, to the 36 won by the Liberals. The party also won every seat in Alberta.
On election night, neither the Liberals or Conservatives knew who won the election, and they would have to await a recount to find out who won the election. With the parties in a dead heat, there was speculation that Governor General Roland Michener would have to choose the next prime minister.
Stanfield would call for the resignation of Trudeau given the close election, stating that Trudeau had, quote:
“Lost the confidence of the people.”
Stanfield would also state he was ready to form a government if called upon, saying quote:
Upon winning and remaining in prime minister, Trudeau would look back on the past four years and state his government was, quote:
He would officially state he would run the country as a minority government on Nov. 3.
An interesting note on the election was that in the previous 15 years, the country had elected five minority governments, in 1957, 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1972. That had never happened before in Canadian history, and it showed the growing fragmentation of the political sphere for the country.
Following this near loss for Trudeau, he would adjust his tactics. He would slow down on the bilingualism program, he would appear less provocative in public and become warmer and he would be joined by his wife Margaret and Justin more often in public, and he would court the favour of the New Democratic Party to remain in power.
Over the next two years, he worked to repair the damage from the 1972 election. Once he felt that the time was right, he would orchestrate the government’s defeat on a budget bill so that he could call a new election on May 8, 1974. The party had also set up its own in-house advertising agency, rather than relying on other companies.
This time, the Liberals adjusted their campaign. Trudeau would campaign relentlessly around the country, and his wife Margaret was often with him. Trudeau would also campaign on the budget that had been defeated, stating quote:
“It’s there, it’s in the bills, it’s written, plans, not dreams. These aren’t campaign promises I’m giving you. They were written right there in the budget, and they voted against them.”
The addition of Margaret on the campaign trail had an immediate effect and she was described as his secret weapon. She helped soften his aloof image and arrogant view, and she would praise him as a husband and father in several speeches. She would state quote:
The Trudeaus rented a nine-car train that was called the Trudeau Express and spent four days in the campaign whistle stopping through the Maritimes and Quebec. Their son, Justin, remained at home but Sacha was on the train with them.
On the campaign, Margaret advised Trudeau to throw away his prepared speeches and talk to people from the inside. Trudeau took the advice, and his speeches began to be called gentle and compassionate.
At the time, Margaret was the youngest ever wife of a prime minister and also the youngest woman at present married to any world leader. One person would remark, quote:
“She is so genuine; you can’t stand it.”
Critics of Trudeau stated she was being exploited for her appeal to gain votes, which was not far from the truth.
Many referred to Trudeau as Pierre the Jolly Populist of 1974, compared to Pierre the Pious Autocrat of 1972.
The Conservatives, who had done so well the previous election, stumbled almost immediately on the 1974 campaign trail. Stanfield stated that inflation should be halted by a wage and price freeze, which Trudeau mocked with the phrase Zap, you’re frozen. This won him votes among the many workers and New Democratic supporters who worried about wage controls. Of course, one year later, Trudeau would introduce his own wage and price control system, which would lead to the resignation of Finance Minister John Turner.
Another issue for the Conservatives was that despite projections saying they would win a minority, after the government fell, Stanfield could not name a single Tory policy for the upcoming election. Soon after, a photo op was bungled when a football was thrown to Stanfield, which he fumbled and dropped. The resulting photo caused ridicule across the country. Truth was, Stanfield had caught several passes before that and those photos were taken, but the press chose to run the fumble instead. In fact, the media seemed to compete with each other to publish unflattering photos of Stanfield, who they saw as awkward. One photo showed him awkwardly wearing his trousers inside his cowboy boots. Another photo showed him with a Liberal sticker on his back.
In surveys done during the election, it was found that 48 per cent had a positive view of the personality of Trudeau, while only 33 per cent had the same of Stanfield. When it came to leadership and style for Stanfield, it was two and 16 per cent, compared with 12 and 36 per cent for Trudeau.
The Conservatives would bring out John Diefenbaker to speak at various spots around the country due to his appeal to small town voters. It would prove to backfire when he stated in Prince Edward Island that he did not favor freezing wages until they catch up with prices. Diefenbaker would state quote:
“In view of the fact prices are rising faster than wages, and month by month, they gap is widening, wages should be allowed to rise to the same level as prices before a freeze of 60 to 90 days is brought in.”
The New Democratic Party was once again led by David Lewis, who stated that if there was a minority government, he would support Stanfield over Trudeau, which angered many New Democratic Voters.
Inflation was the key component of the election campaign, with many worrying about the cost-of-living outstripping wages as the economy stumbled.
Days before the election, Trudeau would host a rally at Valley Stadium in Toronto, which was expected to be the biggest rally of the election campaign for him. Unfortunately, only half of the expected crowd showed up, fare below a similar event in 1972 at Maple Leaf Gardens that brought out 18,000 people.
A poll the day before the election by CBC found 34 per cent of voters supported the Liberals, while 23 per cent supported the Conservatives.
On the July 8, 1974, election, the Liberals gained 32 seats, to finish with 141 and a majority government once again. The Progressive Conservates fared much worse, losing 11 and finishing with 95. The New Democratic Party lost 15 seats, including the seat of their leader Lewis, to finish with 16, while the Social Credit Party fell by four.
The Progressive Conservatives once again carried the west, taking the majority of seats in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and all of the seats in Alberta once again. In Ontario, the party collapsed, winning only 25 seats to the 55 won by the Liberals. In Quebec, the Liberals once again dominated with 60 seats, while the Conservatives finished with three.
Stanfield would state quote:
By this point, Stanfield had been in politics since the 1940s and after three election losses in a row, he was feeling his age in politics. When asked if he would stay on, he would say, quote:
“I think, if I were 10 years younger, it might be different.”
Stanfield would stay in the House of Commons until 1979, and as leader for the Conservatives until 1976 when he was replaced by a young and dynamic new leader named Joe Clark.
Information from Biographi, Dynasties and Interludes, Wikipedia, Macleans, Ottawa Citizen, National Post