We have said it before and we will say it again: This election was unnecessary. Not illegal, not illegitimate, not unconstitutional – just profoundly unnecessary. Undesired by Canadians, and undesirable for Canada. A Liberal minority government was governing, and in no danger of falling; until the triggering of an election campaign, an election was the main thing the opposition parties were campaigning against.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called an election anyhow, and the result has been five weeks of what has often felt like either a dangerous distraction from the issue of the moment – the pandemic, and all its consequences – or a cynical attempt to use the crisis as a partisan weapon.
The Liberal Party and the People’s Party of Canada don’t have much in common, but they do share one thing: Both have sought to make the pandemic, and vaccinations, campaign issue No. 1.
Maxime Bernier’s PPC has grown from somewhere beyond the fringe all the way to the fringe, by being the champion of all things anti-vax. They are campaigning on doing absolutely nothing to mitigate COVID-19, and they can’t stop talking about all that they believe shouldn’t be done about the pandemic. Some frustrated and misguided Canadians are going to vote for that, which is sad.
But the Liberal Party, with the opposite message, has also sought to capitalize on the question of vaccinations.
As prime minister, Mr. Trudeau had earlier in the year declared his discomfort with vaccine mandates and domestic proof-of-vaccine certificates. But in mid-August, the polling having presumably evolved, vaccinations became the issue with which to wedge the Conservatives.
Mr. Trudeau kicked off the campaign with a plan, or more of a half-developed notion, about bringing in a vaccine mandate for federal workers, encouraging federally regulated companies such as banks to do likewise, and requiring air travellers to show proof of vaccination. On the campaign trail, he said that, if re-elected, he’d create a $1-billion fund to help provinces with vaccine passports.
All of which are reasonable ideas. This page has been banging the drum for months on the need to raise Canada’s vaccination rate, including by nudging things along with vaccine mandates for schooling and certain jobs, and vaccine proofs for entry to certain non-essential businesses.
But remember, until Aug. 15, the Liberals were the government. They had the power to do all that, and then some. Instead, they launched an election on a promise to do in the future what they hadn’t done in the past. They devoted five weeks to talking about what they’d do about COVID-19 if re-elected, five weeks hence, which absent the election call they could have done five weeks (or five months) previous.
It was the campaign equivalent of the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat. It had the Liberals at times coming across like someone who had urged their boss to post an ad for their job, just so they could apply for it. It’s what made the election unnecessary. And that election also turned out to be surprisingly less informative and substantial than it might have been.
The Liberals largely ran on how awful the Conservatives would be. And the Conservatives largely ran on how they wouldn’t be too radically different from the Liberals.
Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader, never stopped telling us that he had a plan. Yet he changed it on firearms regulation halfway through the campaign, even rewriting the platform, albeit in a way that made an unclear promise less clear. He also released his platform’s costing weeks after the platform, which changed the look of his child-care plans, after which he hinted – in a letter to the Premier of Quebec – that if elected he might change them so more.
The most influential person in this strange campaign may have been the moderator of the solitary English debate. For reasons unknown, Shachi Kurl decided to open proceedings by treating the Leader of the Bloc Québécois as the ambassador from La Belle Province. And instead of asking him a straight question, she hit him with a conclusory indictment.
The head of a political party whose entire reason for existence is the discovery and mining of alleged insults from English Canada could not believe his good fortune. Nor could Quebec Premier François Legault, who’d been looking for a way to wrap himself in the flag against opponents federal and provincial. For them, Christmas came early.
An unnecessary election? Yes. Inconsequential? Hardly.
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