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Trudeau's reputation not as imperiled as Conservatives presume

Justin Trudeau at a rally. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

Is the SNC-Lavalin Affair really the Trudeau crusher Andrew Scheer and his strategic team obviously think it is?

No sooner had former justice minister Jody Wilson-Reybould completed her startling testimony last week before the House of Commons Justice Committee -- replete with detailed allegations of political interference in the justice system by Justin Trudeau and other senior Liberals -- than the Conservatives were going full-throttle after the prime minister.

He must resign, Scheer insisted, a sentiment immediately echoed by his caucus and their many friends in media.

This was, of course, predictable and overwrought. Reasonable people -- at least those not in the throes of fanatical Trudeau hatred typical of Scheer's retreaded Rebel Media strategic brain trust -- are likely to see this demand as too much, too soon.

Instead of pulling the fire alarm, newly elected NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh urged a public inquiry. "Jagmeet and his advisers were smart because they've now got a vehicle in which they can keep dropping evidence to argue for a public inquiry step by step," NDP strategist turned high-zoot lobbyist Robin Sears told the Toronto Star.

What are the Conservatives going to ask for now that they've demanded the PM step down in a fit of hysteria, Sears wondered. "Jump off a cliff?"

At least the NDP strategy -- let's wait and see, and ratchet up the pressure as we move along -- is likely to resonate with voters who actually think about the real implications for the rule of law in a country that continually and sanctimoniously advises the world that's what matters most around here.

That, of course, does not describe every voter. But what if sufficient numbers of Trudeau's supporters just don't care?

This may be a reality the Canadian Conservatives enthusiastically helped to create and now are forced to confront.

To a greater extent than at any point in recent history, voters in Canada, and other Western democracies, live in silos. If they pay any attention at all to what people they disagree with are saying, it's only to trade angry memes on social media, dismiss unfavourable reports as "fake news," and shout abuse.

Do potential Trudeau voters even care if he interfered with the Canadian justice system? I'm not talking about his core supporters, but the larger universe of voters needed to tilt an election. How many voters think pushing Wilson-Reybould to protect Canadian jobs was the right thing to do regardless of the murky rules? How many thought, "so what?" We don't know the answers to these questions.

Naturally, whatever Trudeau did, and we don't really have a clear picture yet, drives the Conservative base crazy. But, remember, these are people who simply hate Trudeau. This is a group, indeed, that was almost driven over the edge by the fact Trudeau used to be a drama teacher.

Never mind there's a range of possible credible interpretations of Trudeau's actions, from prudent leadership all the way to outright corruption. Is it possible sufficient numbers of Canadian voters think what the PM did was reasonable, and don't really give a hoot about the implications, if any? I'd say yes.

Consider Donald Trump, president of the United States, pilloried daily by the New York Times and the Washington Post. Yes, his popularity is down to about where you might expect it to be in a U.S. president's first term, but the Republican base and the party's legislators are unshaken in their determination to stand by their man. His approval rate is higher today than Ronald Reagan's was at this point in his first term.

No need to go south of the border to observe this phenomenon. How much did Canadian voters care about the sins of Stephen Harper, the man who pulls Scheer's strings? No very much, if his electoral record is anything to go by.

Found in contempt of Parliament? Didn't matter. Prorogued Parliament to avoid a no-confidence vote? Didn't matter.

Deliberately falsifying documents? Misleading Parliament? Giving ministerial staffers immunity from testifying before Parliamentary committees? Turning Question Period into a Vaudeville show? Defaming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when she wouldn't do what he wanted? Tolerating corrupt cronies? Requiring public employees to swear loyalty oaths? Using federal civil servants as stooges for partisan purposes? Destroying science libraries and burning their books? Borrowing money without Parliament's permission? Ignoring their own fixed-election-date law when it was inconvenient? Using G8 security funds to build gazebos for Tony Clement's riding? Exceeding election spending limits in the in-and-out scandal?

There's much more, but readers get the picture. None of these things harmed the Conservatives' re-election chances during Harper's decade in power.

Paying off Mike Duffy, sending non-Con voters to the wrong polling station with robo-call dirty tricks, and using Revenue Canada to attack charities that opposed his energy policies might have hurt a little. Then again, Canadians may have tired of Harper for completely different reasons -- too long in the tooth, didn't wear colourful socks, hated his haircut, whatever.

None of this bothered his core supporters, and didn't bother a lot of other voters very much either.

Trump appears to be coated in Teflon. For a long time Harper was too. Why not Mr. Trudeau?

Seriously, what makes anyone think voters will react to Trudeau's alleged transgressions much differently that they did to Harper's?

It's not as if they who are without sin are casting the first stones! Many voters, in fact, will take the record of Scheer's party into account when they cast their ballots.

Perhaps this is to Singh's advantage, if he can turn around his recent image as a bumbler. Perhaps it will work out to Scheer's, his party's horrible record notwithstanding.

But no one should assume on the basis of Postmedia's coverage of the SNC-Lavalin Affair that Trudeau and his Liberal government are done for, any more than anyone should reach the conclusion Trump is finished just because of something they read in the New York Times of the Washington Post.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: David Climenhaga

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