September 14, 2021 4:40 pm
In August, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was convinced of two things: the success of his vaccination strategy earned him the gratitude of Canadian voters, and his main opponent, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, oscillated between unpopular and the stranger.
So Trudeau organized early elections, scheduled for September 20, hoping to get a governing majority for his Liberal Party. Instead its numbers dropped immediately, confusing many people. Within 12 days of the vote, it is likely to end in a weakened minority government or even a humiliating defeat.
“The liberals probably called the elections thinking they would be able to monetize their management of the pandemic, building on the vaccination campaign and moving ahead of the necessary adjustments after the economic stimulus,” explains Nik Nanos, an Ottawa pollster. of the Nanos research group. “The thing is out of their reach now.”
Feeling of electoral exploitation
Analysts believe that a possible Trudeau downfall can be determined by a number of factors.
For many, the first point is the mood of the electorate, who may feel exploited by a politician who has turned a health crisis into a seizure of power. In a poll, nearly 60 per cent of people surveyed said that elections should not be held in the country at this time. Canadians are comfortable with a minority government and have no particular desire to help liberals gain full control of parliament.
Others point to tactical factors: Trudeau initially struggled to convey a clear message about his vision and the reasons for the vote. But soon after, O’Toole’s conservatives presented a program focused on the economy and dumped much of the party’s traditional ideological baggage.
Some discouraged liberals speak of pandemic fatigue and exhaustion in their party
After Trudeau’s lead evaporated, liberals began to focus on controversial issues – abortion, private health care, vaccine opposition, and gun control – with the aim of portraying conservatives as reactionaries. The conservative leader did not take the bait.
Some discouraged liberals speak of pandemic fatigue and exhaustion in their party. According to them, the government has failed to enrich itself with new talents and arrived in the elections all too confident of obtaining victory. There is talk of liberal officials returning from vacation just a few days before the start of the election campaign, and of local candidates short of volunteers.
“I don’t understand how they could have been so blind to the moods of the Canadian population, the great concern of the people about covid-19 and the desire to return to some form of normalcy,” says Peter Donolo, one of the vice presidents of the public relations agency Hill + Knowlton Canada, formerly head of communications to former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
The moves of the conservatives
Even the gaffes are not lacking. Trudeau said he did not see monetary policy as a top priority on the very day the National Statistical Institute reported its highest inflation since 2011. This turned into a footage used by conservatives against Trudeau in their advertisements. in which they denounce the cost of living. In the course of another embarrassing development, Twitter scolded Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland for posting a fake video of O’Toole talking about private healthcare.
O’Toole did better than expected. His program includes interventions in favor of employment and large expenditures, as conservatives have not done for decades, in the hope of being able to expand their electoral base.
It is also true that, although Trudeau has managed the pandemic well, for many voters there remains the feeling that, in his case, style is more important than substance, and that the premier is too in love with his own fame, in a country where the common sense and modesty are valued more than sex appeal.
Solar ways and racism
However, it’s too early to give Justin Trudeau a goner.
His mistakes are now less debated and media attention is shifting from liberals to conservatives. One of the thorniest questions raised by liberals – whether or not O’Toole will loosen the ban on assault firearms – seems increasingly popular.
The fluctuations in preferences between one and the other and perhaps the televised debate in English on 9 September could shift the balance.
In the past elections, Trudeau proved to be a formidable campaign animal. In 2015 he catapulted from third place to victory, mostly thanks to the image of a happy warrior capable of conveying the image of a more hopeful future: what he himself defined as “solar ways”.
Trudeau clung to power, with difficulty
In 2019, he overcame revelations that he more than once dyed his face black to make fun of non-white people (blackface) before entering politics: news that would have meant the end of careers for most politicians. Trudeau lost his majority in parliament and the popular vote, but he maintained the consensus of the urban voter groups needed to ensure a stable government with the support of smaller parties.
The difference this time around is that the focus is more on the core competencies of a leader in power for six years and whose second term was dominated by the pandemic. “The country is murmuring and wants someone to tell them when normalcy will return,” said Chad Rogers, a conservative adviser and founding partner of the Crestview strategy agency.
In a poll released by Abacus Data over the weekend, 71 percent of Canadians said they would prefer a change of government – almost identical to that recorded in the days leading up to the October 2019 election.
Trudeau clung to power, with difficulty. Two years later, it may be the best he could do. And it might even be enough. “If you come to the government after an election, it’s a victory,” said Tim Murphy, chief of staff to former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin. “If you are a minority, you remain a minority, but you are still in government.”
(Translation by Federico Ferrone)