Recent polls have Jagmeet Singh’s NDP doing relatively well and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals likely still short of a majority government, despite the government’s solid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Why?
The answer might lie in Mr. Trudeau’s loyalty to his friends.
To everything there is a season, and we are entering the season of horse-race stories. Just about everyone expects the Prime Minister to seek the dissolution of Parliament this summer for an election in the fall.
Mr. Trudeau clearly hopes to win a majority government. But there is good reason to suspect he might not.
An Abacus poll released Thursday shows the Liberals with 37-per-cent support, compared with the Conservatives at 27 per cent. The NDP sits at 18 per cent. (The online survey of 2,070 Canadians has the equivalent of a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)
A recent release from Leger tells a similar tale: Liberals, 34 per cent; Conservatives, 30 per cent; NDP, 20 per cent. (The online panel of 1,542 Canadians would have a comparable margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.) These numbers are above the 16 per cent the NDP earned in the previous election.
Since the Grits are already dominant in much of Ontario and Atlantic Canada, while the Tories own the Prairies, the path to a Liberal majority would most likely come at the expense of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec or the NDP in British Columbia. But the Bloc vote is about where it was at the 2019 election, and the NDP appears to be holding steady in B.C.
Although Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives seem to be going nowhere in the polls, a strengthening NDP could help the Tories keep what they’ve got and maybe even make a few gains by exploiting NDP-Liberal vote splits.
In short, the path to a Liberal majority appears uncertain.
How can this be? The federal government’s response to the pandemic has been effective. Yes, there were big mistakes at all levels of government in acquiring personal protective equipment and, tragically, failing to protect people in long-term care.
But the vaccination program, after an uncertain start, is going well. The economic supports have worked for individuals, employers and the overall economy. In deaths per million, surely the most important metric, Canada ranks ahead of the United States and every country in Europe, apart from Denmark, Finland and Norway.
The Leger survey reports that 56 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with how the federal government has responded to the pandemic. So how can Canadians approve of the Liberals’ handling of the biggest crisis to hit this country in generations, while being lukewarm to the government over all?
Perhaps it is because of things that happened outside the pandemic. For example: Mr. Trudeau was an ardent feminist, until the complaints of women in the military jeopardized his Defence Minister. Then the party rallied round Harjit Sajjan.
He was for open government, until Parliament demanded explanations for the firing of two scientists at a Winnipeg lab. Then he treated Parliament with contempt.
A year ago, we learned that Ottawa had given the WE Charity, run by Craig and Marc Kielburger, a multimillion-dollar contract for a student volunteer program, and that members of the Trudeau family had received generous speaking fees from WE.
This week, The Globe’s Robert Fife and Steven Chase revealed that Liberal MPs were sending a portion of their office budgets to a company founded by Tom Pitfield, a buddy of Mr. Trudeau since childhood who helps run the Liberals’ digital election operations.
Justin Trudeau stands for open, honest and ethical government. But friends are friends.
Jagmeet Singh remains visibly apart from all of this. Unlike Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole, he is not the son of a politician. He is the son of immigrants, a kid who used both his brains and his fists to survive growing up in Windsor, a young lawyer and activist who could have joined the club, but who decided he was happier on the outside. Maybe voters get that.
If so, then Liberals may have a harder time winning that majority than they expect.
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.