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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks as Conservative Party of Canada leader Pierre Poilievre listens during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Sept. 18, 2023.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

There’s no immediate federal election on the horizon in Canada, but it feels like a mean-spirited campaign is already in progress. Last week, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was in Kitchener, Ont., where he spent nearly 30 minutes attacking the Prime Minister on issues ranging from the ArriveCan app scandal to the carbon tax to “screwing over the middle class.”

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau was in Edmonton to deliver a housing announcement and a narrower, more defensive criticism of federal (and provincial) Conservatives. He reiterated his long-time charge that Conservatives in the country are instrumentalizing rage and stoking anger without offering any real solutions.

Mr. Poilievre, who just as easily could have sparks flying out of his mouth rather than actual words, is certainly stoking anger, and he hasn’t laid out much in the way of actual, workable policies. But he’s also harnessing the fury that is already there – flourishing, one might say – without much prodding.

Canadians are an irate lot. Despite strong employment figures and an economy that is in some ways managing decently coming out of the pandemic, there have been economic shocks to the system when it comes to bedrock issues such as housing and food affordability, and the long-term outlook for younger generations. It’s part of the reason that support for carbon pricing has eroded the way it has.

This isn’t all the Liberals’ fault. But it also isn’t reflected in the positive, pre-pandemic messaging coming from the governing party. Earlier this month, for instance, the Liberal Party posted an ad with a picture of the Prime Minister talking to a smiling nuclear family with the quote: “The economy is not numbers. The economy is people.”

But that’s political toxic positivity. What people are feeling right now is the numbers.

Greg Lyle, a pollster who is the president of Innovative Research Group, has also been asking some of the same questions since 2007, and has found people to be far less satisfied with their standard of living than they once were. Net satisfaction on that question is down 44 percentage points from 17 years ago, a tough time when losses on U.S. mortgage-related financial assets were threatening to collapse the global economy. The number of people who agreed that they would be able to afford a better standard of living than their parents has dropped, too, and this trend has accelerated this decade.

Climate gloom and comparisons made to others on social media could all be contributing to the angst. But Mr. Lyle argues that what economists have been saying about stagnant or weakening per-capita GDP – a key part of measuring one’s standard of living – is showing up in his polling numbers.

“A Liberal would look at Conservative ads and say they are pessimistic, because they have a negative view of the status quo,” Mr. Lyle said of the political battle. “But what we are seeing is that typical voters see them as hopeful, because they frankly address the reality many voters experience, and offer a change agenda to make things better.”

That question of what is negative and what is productive can be applied to the rules-based international order, too. This month, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis explained why he looked so grim at the Munich Security Conference. “Well, somebody has to tell it like it is, so here’s how it is: Things are not going well,” he said. “It is good practice to evaluate things honestly, with all their gloominess. And if we don’t shock ourselves back into action it will get worse.”

Mr. Landsbergis was speaking of Ukrainian forces starved of ammunition and a Russia emboldened by a lack of unified will in the West. He certainly wasn’t thinking of Mr. Poilievre, who seems increasingly willing to bow to the isolationist voices in his party.

But a need for that type of assessment of the situation could just as easily apply to the problems Canada is facing. If there is an answer to gloom and a purpose for anger, it’s action. In Canada, for one, it’s critical we regain some kind of real control over our housing market on the demand side, rather than just focusing on the supply side.

Last week, Mr. Poilievre laid out some of what he would do to address the “staggering” immigration-driven population growth that economists have linked to the housing crunch. “We’ll have a mathematical formula that links population growth to the growth in the supply of housing. The only way to eliminate the housing shortage is to add homes faster than we add people,” he said.

The combative Conservative doesn’t have all the answers. But Mr. Poilievre will continue to ride high in the polls if the governing Liberals continue to sidestep the big, painful issues.

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