What went wrong with Stephen Harper’s Conservative campaign?

After nearly a decade in office, through two minority governments and serving with a majority for the past four years, the Conservatives have been ousted and Stephen Harper will step aside as leader of the party he helped create and has led since 2003.

Before a packed room at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary, where he won his Calgary-Heritage riding, Harper said there were “no regrets” over how the campaign was run or the choices he and his team made.

“I believe his campaign was extremely ill run,” said one exuberant Conservative voter in attendance Monday night, who only wished to be identified by his first name Zach. “He made no effort to tout his good policies and he made too much an issue about divisive things such as the niqab.”

Trudeau, in his victory speech, said the Liberals “beat negative, divisive politics.”

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Jason Kenney, who was the Minister of National Defence and Minister for Multiculturalism when Parliament was dissolved 11 weeks ago, is one of the Conservatives who was front and centre in the debate over that issue.

But he thinks it was the party’s less-than-optimistic tone that contributed to Monday night’s outcome and he didn’t think the Conservatives’ downfall was all on Harper.

“I think where we went wrong is on tone,” he told Global News. “We have to accept collective responsibility for when things go wrong and I think what we need is a hopeful and optimistic Conservatism that talks about an opportunity society, that better explains what we’ve done and what we hope to do in terms [of] tax relief and fiscal discipline.”

He added Canadians’ “desire for change” and the “collapse of the NDP” ultimately led to the Conservative downfall and he wasn’t expecting Harper to stay on as party leader after failing to be reelected as prime minister. Harper didn’t make any indication he wouldn’t serve as a member of Parliament.

Kenney will return to Ottawa as part of the Official Opposition and the reelected MP for Calgary-Mindapore. He wouldn’t speculate on whether he would put forward a bid for leadership of the party.

An Election Day survey conducted exclusively for Global News found that among Conservative support, 17 per cent said they favour Jason Kenney as the next Conservative leader.

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Referendum on Harper

An Ipsos poll conducted for Global News, between Oct. 15 and 17, found 67 per cent of Canadians felt Harper deserved to go.

“This was a referendum on Stephen Harper,” said Ipsos’ Darrell Bricker. “If you look at the percentage of the population that says he deserves reelection (33 per cent), that’s almost the percentage that voted for the Conservative party (31 per cent).”

Trudeau and the Liberals beat Harper and the Conservatives beyond their worst expectations. The Liberals took 184 seats in Parliament to the Conservatives’ 99.

In the days leading up to Election Day, the Tories’ best bets were on another minority, while most polls agreed the minority would be theirs for the taking.

But from behind the scenes on voting day, a campaign insider told Global News the party expected the Conservatives would win 107 seats (off by seven) but the Liberals would take 171 (off by 13).

After walking through the crowd to hugs, handshakes and pats on the back, Harper let his supporters have their moment. They roared with applause as he heralded his party’s record on the economy. But he made no mention of the news that broke just moments before, that he asked Conservative Party of Canada president John Walsh to appoint an interim leader.

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He said the loss was “on him,” in what may have been a nod to the finger-pointing sources said was going on inside the Conservative war room as campaign team waited to see how bad the night was going to go.

With files from Andrew Russell and The Canadian Press

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