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Federal Politics

Trudeau Streaks for the Gold

Opponents hobbled by self-inflicted injuries, the PM aims for a big win. But who’s cheering?

Michael Harris 16 Aug 2021 |

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly awarded journalist and documentary maker. His investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

There is an old saying in boxing: to dethrone a champion, you have to knock him out. If the bout is decided on points, the champ usually prevails.

And so to Justin Trudeau and this fall’s 36-day political rumble that will end on Sept. 20. The PM is putting his championship belt on the line. That means that there is a chance, technically speaking, someone else could win. But that is only a logical possibility, not an active proposition. Here’s why.

For starters, most of the people entering the ring against the PM are untried lightweights — the very thing Trudeau himself was once accused of being, but which fate and experience have significantly changed.

Trudeau’s poll vault

By the numbers, the Conservatives are being led to slaughter by a man half the party likes, and the other half would like to push in front of the political Go Train. That’s because the party so desperate for a victory seems headed for yet another defeat, the third at the hands of Trudeau.

In a recent poll for Maclean’s, the Innovative Research Group showed the Liberals with a 14-point lead over the CPC, 41 to 27. It showed the Liberals with higher numbers than in 2015 which gave them their first majority government.

Two other polls, from Abacus and Ipsos, also recently showed a double-digit Liberal lead. Erin O’Toole was even polling under 40 per cent in Alberta in both the latter polls. For a Conservative politician, that’s like not being able to sell hot dogs and beer at the ballpark.

Between O’Toole’s doomed attempt to drag his followers closer to the middle of the political spectrum, and widespread CPC nostalgia for ex-PM Stephen Harper’s divide-and-conquer brand of conservatism, this party is partly enthused and partly confused, a recipe for certain electoral disaster.

If the numbers hold, O’Toole will end up making Andrew Scheer’s 119 seats from 2019 look like winning a gold medal. Of particular significance is the result of a recent Ipsos survey which showed the Liberals with an 11-point lead over the CPC with voters 55 and older. Normally, that demographic is a lock for the Conservatives. This time around, the CPC will likely lose seats in Ontario and maybe Alberta, where cities like Calgary and Edmonton are polling well for the Liberals.

There is even a chance, albeit slim, that the bottom could drop out of the party’s vote the way it did when Brian Mulroney handed Kim Campbell the poisoned chalice of the Conservative leadership back in 1993. The party has recently polled at 26 per cent, the worst number of any leader in the party’s history, including Arthur Meighen.

A June 2021 Ipsos poll put O’Toole’s personal popularity at just 23 per cent, lagging behind Trudeau by 18 points.

The one poll which gives heart to the CPC is the most recent Nanos survey which showed the Liberals losing support because a significant number of voters don’t want an election. But at best, the Nanos numbers show the Liberals winning another minority, not losing.

Tories trip themselves

But it doesn’t help the CPC cause that as the country slides into a fourth wave of the pandemic this autumn, O’Toole is gassing about putting the country back to work — a million jobs within a year.

Someone needs to tell this man that there is a reason that when you step on a rake, it bangs you in the head. Everyone now knows what happens when you try to prematurely return to business as usual with new variants of COVID still lurking; children get sick; hospitals groan under the pressure of new cases amongst the unvaccinated. You turn into Florida, Mississippi or Texas. People die.

So O’Toole’s political myopia here is stunning. This is an especially foolish attempt to engineer an ABC ballot question (anything but COVID), when O’Toole’s political cousins in Canada and the U.S. are making asses of themselves with their anti-vaccination, anti-masking hogwash while their citizens are filling up hospital ICUs. Some of these opportunistic political pricks are still saying that putting masks on kids is child abuse.

And the CPC has already made what may be the first blunder of campaign 2021. Conservative Party headquarters has launched an attack ad against Justin Trudeau that its own members of Parliament have called “dumb,” “tasteless” and “embarrassing.”

The 37-second video shows Trudeau’s head superimposed over the body of Veruca Salt, the spoiled brat from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. At one point in the movie, Salt throws up her hands and screams, “I want it now.” The inference is that Trudeau is just a spoiled brat who wants his majority government now.

Greens’ lousy locker room

The Green party heads into this election offering Canadians not much more than a nasty internecine lawsuit, a chasm between its leader Annamie Paul and the party’s national council, and a complete faceplant on its founding issue, climate change and the environment.

This should be the climate change election the Greens were meant to contest. Instead, with half the world flooded, parched, polluted, melting or on fire, the Greens are consumed by backbiting and disunity. Two more Greens recently left the party: Paul’s interim chief-of-staff, Phil Spidle, and Doug Tingey, who until he suddenly stepped down, handled the party’s finances. Those finances now are in shambles.

It is doubtful that a leader who took her own party to court to stop a confidence vote, while all this is happening, will lay a glove on Justin Trudeau. It is also doubtful that the Greens will win any seats as a party, except where it might involve a personal loyalty vote for former Green party leader Elizabeth May or Green MP Paul Manly. Even that is not a done deal.

NDP’s big weakness

The New Democrats pose a more serious challenge to Justin Trudeau than any other party, and may be the beneficiary of orphaned Green voters. Jagmeet Singh excels in front of the cameras, has consistently nudged the Liberals in the right direction on COVID-19 relief, and has the chops, and the French, to go toe-to-toe with the PM in the debates.

But Singh has a fatal weakness. Voters will remember that he supported the Liberals at every turn, so how can he criticize what he so consistently enabled? Voters will also have to ask themselves what more Singh could, or would have done, to confront the pandemic?

There are already those who think Trudeau has spent the numbers off the national credit card in battling the pandemic. With a $354-billion deficit racked up in the year just ended, and debt in the country crossing the trillion-dollar mark for the first time in history, that case can certainly be made.

But one thing Trudeau can’t be accused of is stinting anyone in the midst of a national emergency. Money for students, money for small and big business, money for airlines, money for the cultural industries. Really, it’s been cheques all around. And vaccine for all, at least for all who want it. Just 50 per cent of eligible Americans have been fully vaccinated. In Canada, that number is 70 per cent. Not bad.

The point?

On the compassion and caring meter, where the NDP usually has an edge, Trudeau doesn’t give anything away to Singh. And the electorate has displayed what pollster Frank Graves described as “unblinking support” for Ottawa’s unprecedented spending during the pandemic. Look for the NDP to hold their own and maybe pick up a few more seats than the 24 Singh won in 2019. The key question for Singh is can he gain enough seats to prevent the Liberals from gaining a majority.

That is also the question for the Bloc Québécois, which has seen a surge in fundraising leading up to the election call. Although the Bloc only runs candidates in Quebec, a strong showing there could have a big influence on the kind of mandate the Liberals get.

Trudeau’s unfolding game plan

All Trudeau needs to secure a second majority government is 15 seats to take them to the magic number of 170 in the 338-seat House of Commons. The last few weeks have shown a party assiduously working to find those new seats with crowd-pleasing policies on a range of issues besides the pandemic.

For example, the Trudeau government has made deals with several provinces and territories, including Quebec and Saskatchewan, to increase the availability and lower the cost of daycare.

Those provinces will be able to draw down some of the $30-billion Ottawa will provide over the next five years — a deal that could save families as much as $3,900 a year by bringing daycare costs down to $10 a day.

Premier Doug Ford of Ontario, still a holdout, is taking heat for not getting in on the deal, perhaps because he doesn’t want to further hurt O’Toole’s electoral prospects. If so, a very bad move that could have unexpected consequences for both Ford and O’Toole. What parent doesn’t want to save a bundle on their child-care bill?

Trudeau has also repaired some of the damage he had done to his reputation on the Indigenous file. His government recently concluded an $8-billion out-of-court settlement with First Nations who had sued the government for being exposed to unsafe drinking water.

The deal includes $6 billion to provide safe water, and $1.5 billion in compensation to those who have been deprived of clean drinking water. The Liberals haven’t been able to meet Trudeau’s 2015 promise that all water advisories would be lifted by now, but the deal is a serious step in the right direction.

Seniors aged 75 and over have recently found a top up, $500 in their bank accounts courtesy of the federal government.

The final piece of stage management for this election was the recently announced deal between Ottawa and drug-manufacturer Moderna.

Under the terms of the deal, Moderna will build a “state-of-the-art facility” in Canada to manufacture anti-virus vaccines against COVID and seasonal influenza. The deal guarantees that Canada will never again have to rely on uncertain supplies of vaccine from foreign countries, as it did for much of 2020.

The only real drama in this election is whether the PM wins by a knockout, or a split decision. When all the huffing and puffing by pollsters, bloggers, political insiders and journos trying to inject some drama into this mismatch is over, the same guy will be wearing the championship belt.  [Tyee]

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