At the outset of most elections, you can usually find voices declaring that it’s one of the most important elections ever. The country is at a crossroads, they’ll say; this is a defining moment. That sort of thing.
Let’s hope we’re not fed that kind of poppycock for the election that potentially looms. Since its only raison d’être would be political opportunism on the part of the governing Liberals, it would be a bore at the core that could result only in status-quo ante.
It’s not as if the Liberals can argue they’ve been blocked by the minority Parliament from passing vital legislation and therefore need a new majority mandate. It’s not the case.
It’s not as if the country is in turmoil with the people itching to get to the polls. They’re not.
It’s not as if, as we saw with the U.S. election, the parties present diametrically opposed visions on the course Canada should follow. They don’t.
The country is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic with relief. Canadians faced a common enemy and the fight brought them together. Now they’ll be thrown into a needless political mud fight.
It’s what minority governments do: cynically exploit the political calendar to increase their standing. With poll after poll giving them a big lead, the Liberals see an opportunity for a power grab.
Pollsters I’ve talked with see an unusual degree of calm in the country. Nik Nanos said that it’s because “the minority Parliament, though ugly at times, worked in helping Canadians weather the economic storm and the pandemic.”
That the minority has been working, he warned, makes the Liberals’ prospective election call dicey. But if the writ is drawn up, the party would be making a bet that public anger at forcing a needless election will subside in a week or so, as it often has in the past when other governments have done it.
The country’s relative tranquility is evidenced in unusually quiescent Quebec. The province has been bought off, the critics say. Western discontent is still palpable, but it doesn’t appear to be as heated as in other periods.
Canadians haven’t fallen victim to the ravages of right-wing populism, as has happened in the United States. Political polarization is nowhere near the American level. Under Erin O’Toole, the Conservatives aren’t as ideologically driven as under the cold-blooded Stephen Harper. Neither Mr. O’Toole’s policy book nor that of the New Democrats is radical. They have to cope with the reality that the middle way is the Canadian way.
The Liberals see the ballot-box issues as tilting in their favour. The emergence of China as a big one could cause them problems, but the Trudeau government scores well on how it handled the pandemic. The hurdle now will be the steady number of Canadians who refuse to get vaccinated. They are primarily on the political right, supporting Mr. O’Toole’s party.
On the climate crisis, the urgency of the issue – as evidenced by the deadly heat waves and fires this summer – works to the Liberals’ political advantage. Their record on climate change is nothing to write home about, but it doesn’t have to be given the lean of the Conservatives, whose members incredibly voted down a resolution in March that dared to even acknowledge that climate change is real.
Climate-change skeptics are looking more foolish by the day. Given Mr. O’Toole’s plan to put a carbon price on consumer fuels, the Conservative Leader seems to take the issue seriously, but likely not seriously enough for the average voter.
The Liberals also benefit from the tenor of the times in respect to the economy. Big-spending, activist government is still seen favourably. Down the line, when inflation and deficits ominously accumulate, it won’t be, which is just another reason why Mr. Trudeau wants to go to the polls now.
Where the opposition leaders have an opportunity to score is on personal performance. The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh is held in good regard. Mr. O’Toole has been stymied by his party’s divisions, but he has much more potential than many think. As a Liberal strategist reminded me, there’s a possibility he could do what Mr. Trudeau did during the 2015 campaign in overcoming a poor image to emerge a star.
And campaigns, of course, are full of surprises. Though pollsters don’t see it, there may be all kinds of pent-up anger out there, which can be unleashed over the course of election season.
But Mr. Trudeau’s opponents need to find a weapon that arouses public ire and makes the case for change. If the campaign’s a snoozer, as the Liberals will try and make it, the opposition will be the loser.
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