Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau makes a campaign stop during the Canadian federal election campaign in Montreal.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

At Justin Trudeau’s campaign events, demonstrators on the far right have looked rabid and fanatical, as if they’d been sent here by Donald Trump. The bullheads are not great in number but may be enough to have a significant election impact.

The languishing Liberals need something to alter the arc of the campaign. Thus far, distressingly for them, it’s been a referendum on Mr. Trudeau. Given the degree of discontent with his persona and his performance, it’s a dubious proposition.

But if the campaign is turned into a culture war, one which alerts Canadians to potential risks of electing a party with ties to reactionaries and wingnuts, recalibrations maybe be in order.

Story continues below advertisement

Progressives don’t scare Canadians. The left in Canada is relatively tame. You don’t hear talk of antifa here. The far right are the frightening lot and while it’s true that the Conservative Party under the most recent incarnation of Erin O’Toole distances itself from its more radical elements, it resides in the same area code as anti-vaccine campaigners, climate-change deniers, gun lovers, race baiters and the violent protesters.

Not all in the Rogue’s Gallery are on the right, but certainly the lion’s share. The People’s Party, headed by former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier, is their natural habitat. It is seeing an uptick in support, which will take some votes from the Conservatives.

Mr. O’Toole has been running a strong campaign, but ridding himself of the reactionaries is no easy task. He won the Conservative leadership a year ago by pandering to social conservatives. Key to his win was his catering to gun-rights advocates, particularly those in Quebec. Mr. O’Toole’s success in beating Peter MacKay hinged on his being the second choice of social-conservative candidates Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan.

They may differ (slightly) in what they say, but in what they don’t say the two main parties are very much alike

Why Maxime Bernier and his noxious views should be at the leaders’ debates

He had lost his first leadership bid in 2017, running a moderate campaign and changed gears the second time around. There’s vulnerability here. Nasty-minded opponents could find justification for running an ad entitled “The Two Faces of Erin O’Toole.”

His new moderate ways aren’t necessarily shared by his party membership, an example being its vote at its spring convention not to recognize the climate-change threat as real.

It was the perception of the party as being too much in league with hard-right populism that helped turn the tide against Stephen Harper in the 2015 beating he took from Mr. Trudeau; as a final act in that campaign he had cozied up to former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and his supporters. In the 2004 election, Mr. Harper felt it was bozo eruptions by far-right caucus members that led to his defeat.

A tightening of the race in recent days has coincided with the appearance of the fanatics at Trudeau rallies and with Mr. O’Toole’s remarkable acrobatics in respect to his previous support for assault weapons.

Story continues below advertisement

The New Democrats have seen growth in their support and Conservatives are hopeful they will siphon off votes from the Liberals. But if it’s a tight race, many NDP voters could hold their noses and vote for Mr. Trudeau to prevent a Conservative victory.

The NDP, which is being helped as perhaps are the Liberals by a plunge in support for the Greens, would also be served well if the ballot question was one of leadership.

Jagmeet Singh scores much higher in leader approval ratings than do Mr. Trudeau and Mr. O’Toole. He comes across as genuine, sensible and fair-minded – not your typical out-for-himself politician. He has been helped by a very uncritical media.

In this campaign he could have a greater effect if his platform was more imaginative. There’s little to demarcate it from his policy book in the last election nor to deeply distinguish it from Liberal priorities. The party’s chances of a big breakthrough are limited by Mr. Singh’s weakness in Quebec. In the 2019 campaign the party went from 16 seats under Tom Mulcair down to one under his leadership.

But both Mr. Singh and Mr. O’Toole are on target to make gains. If the election was held a few days ago, the Conservatives could well have scored a victory. If they can keep making Mr. Trudeau the issue, there’s a good chance it will happen.

In the English-language debate Thursday, Mr. O’Toole must convince voters that Trump-styled reactionaries have no place in his party. That could lose him more support to the People’s Party but it would pull in moderates and help prevent the Liberals from capitalizing on a culture-war campaign.

Story continues below advertisement

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies