Anything But Conservative

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A sticker on a telephone pole advertising the ABC Campaign

Anything But Conservative (French: À bas les conservateurs or N'importe quoi d'autre que conservateur), also known as the ABC campaign, was a political campaign in the 2008 Canadian federal election encouraging voters to support any party other than the federal Conservative Party. The campaign was established by Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams and was targeted particularly within that province in response to what Williams has termed a broken promise by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper regarding equalization payments to the province. The campaign has been estimated to have cost over $81,000.

The project was officially overseen by an organization known simply as "ABC Campaign", which was affiliated with the provincial Progressive Conservative Party of which Williams is leader, and which was registered with Elections Canada as a "third party" for the purposes of election expenditures.[1][2] The provincial government itself also paid for advertisements supporting the goals of the campaign.[3]

The federal Conservative Party does not have any formal affiliation to the various provincial Progressive Conservative parties (although there were ties with its predecessor, the federal Progressive Conservative). Nonetheless the federal and Newfoundland Conservatives generally got along well until the equalization issue, so the ABC campaign represented an unusual public rift. It has to be noted that Newfoundland provincial parties generally had a history of conflict with their federal counterparts; notably Brian Peckford's dispute with Brian Mulroney over Hibernia oil, and Roger Grimes' criticism of Jean Chrétien over a moratorium in the cod fisheries.[4][5]

The ABC campaign did not specifically endorse any alternative federal party, and PC politicians campaigned on behalf of candidates for both the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties.[6] The campaign was successful in the sense that the federal Conservatives were shut out of Newfoundland and Labrador in the 2008 election; nationally, however, the campaign had little effect for that election, as that party was elected to another, stronger minority government. The long-term effect was seeing the federal conservative government reach an agreement to help fund Hydro electric power in Newfoundland which help ensure the re-election of the Conservative Party on May 2, 2011.[7]

Strategic voting[edit]

The "ABC" slogan became commonly used throughout the country during the campaign. A number of unaffiliated groups opposing the Conservatives' policies, including an environmental group calling itself "Project ABC",[8] also used the slogan or similar sayings during the 2008 campaign. The anti-Conservative campaign also manifested itself in widespread promotion of strategic voting to minimize the number of seats won by the Conservatives. There were also online services organizing "vote swapping" to maximize the distribution of non-Conservative votes.


Danny Williams, former Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, initiated the ABC campaign in 2007

Williams attracted national attention on December 23, 2004, when he ordered all Canadian flags removed from provincial buildings during a dispute with then Prime Minister Paul Martin. Williams wanted the province to keep all of its offshore oil and gas revenues, along with equalization payments, an exception to the fiscal formula which rescinded equalization transfer payments to a province that had increased natural resources revenues. Martin largely gave into Williams' demands in late January 2005, supposedly due to an expected by-election (incumbent Liberal MP Lawrence O'Brien was terminally ill) that would hold the balance of power for the Liberal minority government. After O'Brien's death, Todd Russell retained the seat for the Liberals in the resulting by-election held on May 24, 2005, which helped to shore up the Martin government's tenuous position in parliament.

The agreement, known as the Atlantic Accord, was unpopular in the rest of Canada as it was considered unfair to other provinces.[9] It was particularly criticized by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. While Ontario was traditionally one of Confederation's "have" provinces, while Newfoundland was a "have-not", this has changed in recent years. McGuinty complained that his province - already sending more money to the federal government than it gets back in equalization payments - would get further shortchanged as the accord permitted Newfoundland to keep its oil revenues rather than sharing it with the other provinces. While the Accord did prolong the federal Liberal government's time in power, it was viewed as "short-term gain for long-term pain" as Paul Martin gained a reputation for doing or saying whatever was possible in order to stay in power, something that caused Ontario voters to become disenchanted with the Liberals.[10] [11] [12]

On January 4, 2006, during the 2006 federal election campaign, then-opposition leader Harper sent a letter to Williams with the following statement regarding equalization:

A Conservative government would also support changes to the equalization program to ensure provinces and territories have the opportunity to develop economies and sustain important core social services. We will remove non-renewable natural resource revenue from the equalization formula to encourage the development of economic growth in the non-renewable resource sectors across Canada. The Conservative government will ensure that no province is adversely affected from changes to the equalization formula.

Stephen Harper, letter to Danny Williams, January 4, 2006[13]

Harper began to distance himself from the statement that October.[14] The subsequent 2007 federal budget ostensibly met this promise by introducing the option of a new equalization formula allowing each province to exclude its natural resources - but it also imposed a cap on the amount of equalization each province could receive, effectively negating the Atlantic Accord. The budget also gave each province the option of retaining the original equalization formula, meaning that no province would lose revenue due to the new formula. This budget was praised by Ontario Premier McGuinty, a critic of the Atlantic Accord.

Nonetheless, Williams said that, based on the restrictions imposed on the new formula, the province had been "shafted", and that "based on the fact that they've broken their promise and broken their commitment, [citizens] should not vote Conservative in the next federal election."[15]

The campaign began unofficially in May 2007, when Williams told the Economic Club of Toronto that the decision would cost the province billions of dollars, adding: "I am encouraging Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and Canadians, in the next federal election to simply vote ABC — easy to remember. Vote ABC — anything but Conservative."[16] Harper and Newfoundland opposition leader Gerry Reid criticized Williams' "overreaction", saying "this kind of confrontation is damaging the business investment climate of Newfoundland and Labrador". [17] Nonetheless in the provincial election held that year, Williams led the Conservatives to a resounding victory, capturing 44 of 48 seats in the legislature at the expense of the Liberals and NDP.[18]

Political parties have in the past mounted similar campaigns to sway voters against a particular party, such as that conducted during the 2001 Alberta provincial election when Stephen Harper led the National Citizens Coalition (NCC) in a "Vote Anything but Liberal" campaign.[19]

2008 federal election[edit]

At the start of the 2008 election, a campaign website was launched, while members of the provincial PC caucus campaigned on behalf of federal Liberal and NDP candidates.[6] All caucus members were expected to participate in the ABC campaign, with the exception of the backbencher (and one-time health minister) Elizabeth Marshall, who said she could not bring herself to support a Liberal or NDP candidate.[20] No provincial PC politician openly supported the federal Conservatives during the 2008 campaign.

A billboard advertising the ABC campaign on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto

On a campaign visit to the province, Harper responded that "no one can tell a Newfoundlander and Labradorian how to vote," and that the voters' choice should be "about your own best interests."[21]

Leo Power, a veteran of federal politics and the Conservative Party of Canada's campaign co-chair for Newfoundland and Labrador, said raising money and recruiting volunteers has proved difficult, and blames Williams's ABC campaign, saying it has cut deep into the federal election machine that was struggling to compete. Power has also said his party's best hope of winning a seat in the province was in the riding of Avalon with incumbent candidate Fabian Manning.[22]

While there was "anyone but Harper" activity stemming from a variety of sources across the country,[23][24][25] the ABC campaign's national presence was limited to media interviews and a billboard on the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto; Williams did not travel across Canada as he had previously suggested.[26] The Newfoundland and Labrador portion of the campaign was successful; of the province's seven seats in the House of Commons, the Liberals won six while the NDP won one, with the Conservatives being shut out.[27] Nationally, the campaign had little noticeable effect; the federal Conservatives were elected to a second consecutive minority government, with more seats than in the previous parliament, including gains in Ontario (whose politicians had been most critical of the Atlantic Accord). However, the shut out of Conservative MPs in Newfoundland and Labrador likely contributed to the lack of a majority government for the conservatives.[28]

2009 budget[edit]

Williams argued that the federal Conservative government's changes to equalization payments would cost Newfoundland $1.6 billion over three years, as it removes the ability of the province to choose whether to sign on to previously announced equalization policies. However, the budget passed in February 2009, with the support of the official opposition Liberals led by Michael Ignatieff.

Williams unsuccessfully lobbied the Liberals to remove the changes to equalization, but Ignatieff refused, saying "I'm not in the business of carrying Premier Williams' water. He has to understand that I have to represent Canadians from coast to coast to coast and from all provinces". St. John's mayor Dennis O'Keefe suggested that the Liberal MPs from Newfoundland would be committing "political suicide" if they followed the party line on the budget. [29] Ignatieff permitted the six Newfoundland Liberal MPs to break with party discipline and vote against the budget.[30]

Williams' position was supported by one other provincial premier, Prince Edward Island's Robert Ghiz. Williams was disappointed by the lack of support from other provinces, saying "This is a great country and I want to be part of it, but the country disappoints me when we don't rally to protect each other." [31] Williams retired from politics on December 3, 2010. In the 2011 federal election, whilst the Conservatives only gained a single seat Newfoundland and Labrador (likely as a result of the changes to equalization), they won enough seats elsewhere (particularly Ontario) to form a majority government.


  1. ^ "Registered Third Parties – 40th General Election". Elections Canada. September 16, 2008. Archived from the original on September 16, 2008. Retrieved September 17, 2008.  The organization was registered by John Babb, the current president of the NL PC party
  2. ^ "WHOIS search results -". Canadian Internet Registration Authority. September 2, 2008. Archived from the original on September 21, 2008. Retrieved September 17, 2008.  The domain in question was registered in the name of the NL PC party.
  3. ^ "Harper denies claims in N.L. attack ads". CBC News. March 28, 2007. Retrieved September 16, 2008. 
  4. ^ michael sean morris (August 27, 2010). "Pop Culture Institute: Happy Birthday Brian Peckford". Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Nfld. Premier Roger Grimes heads to Ottawa to express anger over cod closures -". Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Strange bedfellows: Williams's ABC campaign heads to trenches". CBC News. September 16, 2008. Archived from the original on September 23, 2008. Retrieved September 16, 2008. 
  7. ^ Developing the Lower Churchill
  8. ^ "Play Online Casino – anything but conservative :-)". Retrieved September 11, 2011. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ Tandt, Michael Den; Leblanc, Daniel (December 13, 2005). "Rival parties seize the day with Liberals' first gaffe". Toronto: The Globe and Mail. 
  11. ^ Soupcoff, Marni (May 23, 2008). "Conrad Black on equalization: McGuinty is right to demand its end". National Post. 
  12. ^ "McGuinty ramps up equalization rhetoric". CTV News. February 17, 2005. 
  13. ^ Stephen Harper (January 4, 2006). "Letter to Danny Williams" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on September 20, 2008. Retrieved September 16, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Rift widens between Harper, Williams". CBC News. October 16, 2006. Retrieved September 16, 2008. 
  15. ^ "N.L. 'shafted' in federal budget: Williams". CBC News. March 20, 2007. Retrieved September 16, 2008. 
  16. ^ "Defeating Harper easy as ABC, Williams tells Toronto audience". CBC News. May 3, 2007. Retrieved September 16, 2008. 
  17. ^ "Williams, Harper trade fire over attack ads". CTV News. May 28, 2007. 
  18. ^ "Heartbreak for Liberals as Grit vote collapses". CBC News, October 9, 2007.
  19. ^ National Citizens Coalition, "NCC Ad Campaign Urges Albertans Not to Vote Liberal", Canada NewsWire, February 13, 2001, 11:45 report.
  20. ^ "No appetite for ABC campaign: Marshall". CBC News. September 8, 2008. Retrieved September 16, 2008. 
  21. ^ "Harper takes swing at N.L. premier's 'ABC' campaign". CBC. September 13, 2008. Archived from the original on September 16, 2008. Retrieved September 16, 2008. [dead link]
  22. ^ Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (October 3, 2008). "Tory organizer blames ABC campaign for party's woes". CBC News. Retrieved October 3, 2008. 
  23. ^ "Anyone but, the homepage for the movement". 
  24. ^ Amber, MacArthur (September 8, 2008). "Oct. 6 - Anyone But Harper". CP24. 
  25. ^ Maccharles, Tonda (September 10, 2008). "Newfoundland premier says: 'Anyone but Harper'". Toronto Star. 
  26. ^ "'Goose egg' not essential for ABC success: Williams". CBC News. October 8, 2008. Retrieved October 15, 2008. 
  27. ^ "Goose egg: Conservative vote collapses in N.L.". CBC News. October 14, 2008. Retrieved October 15, 2008. 
  28. ^ "Conservatives re-elected to minority government, CBC projects". CBC News. October 14, 2008. Archived from the original on October 16, 2008. Retrieved October 15, 2008. [dead link]
  29. ^ "'Political suicide' for Liberals who stick with budget: St. John's mayor". AOL News. February 2, 2009. 
  30. ^ "Ignatieff allows N.L. MPs 'one-time' protest vote against budget". CBC News. February 3, 2009. 
  31. ^ McGregor, Roy (February 7, 2009). "Danny's dukes are up - who's with him?". Toronto: Globe and Mail.