There is only one thing I know for sure about the outcome of this federal election: There will be millions of Canadians who will be thrilled when it’s over.
All election campaigns are imbued with a certain amount of hostility and deception. But this battle for hearts and minds has recorded off-the-charts levels of antagonism, with parties openly lying about the intentions of their opponents with little consequence for doing so.
This week, the Liberals held a news conference to talk about the devastating cuts to the public service planned by the Conservatives; there aren’t any. Before that, it was the Conservatives distributing flyers in Chinese and English saying the Liberals would legalize all drugs; this is an utter falsehood. Before that, it was the Tories again, saying the Grits planned to tax all home sales – a total fabrication. All the parties have been guilty of distorting the positions of their adversaries to varying degrees.
Throw in the poisoned partisan cocktail of social media – and sights such as the Liberal Leader wearing a bulletproof vest at a campaign stop – and one is left to wonder: What is going on here?
“I voted in the advance poll because I just wanted this thing over with,” a friend told me on the weekend. “A group of us all did. It’s been the most depressing election campaign I can remember.”
With less than a week to go, the result of The Most Depressing Election Campaign Ever is more unclear than ever. An election that not long ago seemed to be Justin Trudeau’s to lose has become an election in which Justin Trudeau could lose, quite easily. The Tories sense this.
There are a few explanations for what we are witnessing. The obvious one is that this time, Mr. Trudeau has been weighted down by a new role – the incumbent – with all the travails and disappointments and broken promises that come with it. Throw in self-inflicted setbacks like blackface and brownface and some surprisingly low-key debate performances, and you have a leader and party that has been unable to move the dial in their favour.
The other factor is the unexpected rise of Jagmeet Singh. His highly competent, charismatic campaign is not one many saw coming. In a chaotic, disjointed and often acerbic English-language leaders’ debate, Mr. Singh’s optimism and coolness shone through. In talking about his party’s progressive plan around climate change, he uttered a line that resonated: “I want to say this directly to Canadians: You do not need to choose between Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny.”
It hurt Mr. Trudeau far more than it did Andrew Scheer.
There is no doubt that the New Democrat voters who had previously been unimpressed with Mr. Singh, and who were leaning toward voting Liberal this time around, are thinking again. The NDP Leader is ascendant, possibly orchestrating a late orange surge that can only spell trouble for a Liberal Party hoping for a clear-cut mandate.
That ambiguity on the centre-left has fired up the Conservatives and Mr. Scheer, who seems to have toughened his tone with Mr. Trudeau in recent days.
In the final countdown to Election Day on Oct. 21, the Conservative Leader has a couple of central tasks. First, he needs keep his base fired up. Despite supporters’ traditional reliability on election day, there were concerns that some of that support might not be as solid as usual, largely because of the indifference many Conservatives feel toward Mr. Scheer’s leadership. It didn’t help that last week, party members were openly speculating in The Globe and Mail about a possible leadership campaign by Peter MacKay if Mr. Scheer fails to finish the job.
But with polls suggesting that the Conservatives have a real shot at victory, there is a far greater chance that supporters will show up to vote regardless of any reservations they may have about the current leader.
Secondly, and as importantly, Mr. Scheer has to continue the unrelenting attacks he has unleashed on Mr. Trudeau’s credibility. The Conservatives know a highly negative campaign could help suppress voter turnout, which would hurt the Liberals more than their own party.
Attacking Mr. Trudeau on the basis of untrustworthiness (see: reneging on electoral reform) and a lack of integrity (see: the SNC-Lavalin scandal) could be a strategy that resonates with hundreds of thousands of Canadians who voted for the first time in 2015, swept up in the promise of a new way of doing things that the Liberal Leader was then offering.
But Trudeaumania 2.0 seems like it was a long time ago now – much like the election campaigns we once knew, which were battles of ideas among political combatants who actually respected one another.
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