Interesting election. Both leaders with a real shot at power — Trudeau and Scheer — have lost popularity. They’re under where they were at the start, while lesser figures — the Bloc’s Yves-François Blanchet and NDP’s Jagmeet Singh — are rising. I know little about Blanchet so let’s consider Singh.
Actually start with Steve Paikin, TVO’s clinically neutral interviewer. He’s so impeccable he survived Ontario’s privatizing Mike Harris years as a public TV pillar. He interviewed Singh as a rookie MPP seven years ago. He was surprised that Singh “didn’t know much about Ontario politics” or historic NDP concerns, which, Paikin says, puts it “generously.” Singh readily copped to it. Paikin says he felt Singh would never engage with policy. Now, it’s seven years later and — this story should end with Singh becoming a diligent policy wonk. Instead, says Paikin, he hasn’t “changed one iota.” Loves attention; lacks curiosity.
That unnervingly resembles Justin Trudeau — in the narcissism. Both adore dress-up: Singh for GQ, Justin — well, you know. I’m not disparaging narcissism; it’s almost a necessity in politics and, differently, in real life. Singh has portrayed his own searing experiences growing up Sikh in Canada. While campaigning, he describes “getting a lot of love,” which reverses the focus onto him. He seemed to fade between his leadership victory and this election, suggesting it’s the spotlight that draws him out. His lack of curiosity is unusual; successful politicians often possess it because it’s useful for pursuing power.
In his actual practise, I see a cheerful hypocrisy, which makes him much like a Liberal, even a Trudeau Liberal. Which Trudeau? Take your pick. Pierre created a charter of rights with an opt-out (“notwithstanding”) clause. You have human rights till someone in power declares you don’t. Singh is 100 per cent for diversity, except in the worst violation of it this century, Quebec’s Bill 21, which means he couldn’t be premier of Quebec because of his turban. But he says he wouldn’t block it, instead he’ll “go to” Quebec and discuss it. Maybe he’ll get a Canada Council grant to research his position. Or he’s like Justin, who bought a pipeline but says climate change must be fought, and sort of believes in both.
For voters who’d like to vote Liberal sans Justin, Singh has now reduced the NDP to soppy Liberal sentiments like “trust your heart.” Even Jack Layton rarely went that vague because he had nagging historical memories of the NDP. Singh is for a coalition, then next day he isn’t. I used to buy used cars for $100 every year from a dealer: “How many kilometres are on it, Frank?” “How many d’you want?” Singh says Justin’s in it for power, but “I’m in it for the people.” Reporters asked, “How do we know that?” “Because it’s true,” he chirped.
This has an eerie similarity to Doug Ford’s, “You all know me, I’m for the little guy.” We do? How do we know it? Because it’s true, you doofus.
I fear I’m sounding hostile and I doubt Singh will feel much love from this column so let me extend the argument to a larger context. We’re in a situation where over two-thirds of Canadians agree broadly on a “progressive” agenda in areas like climate and diversity. That’s a big consensus but it’s spread across three, maybe four, parties and due to our antique electoral system, the remaining 30 per cent or so can easily acquire power and rule anyway.
Trudeau had a chance to fix this, as he’d promised, but what the hell, he decided not to, and the NDP colluded by insisting on its reform or the highway. So we’re screwed by, in effect, the narcissism of minor party differences. (Apologies to Freud.)
If I had to bet, I’d say the key to the outcome won’t be the NDP, it’ll be the Bloc, and there’s little other leaders can do about that. It’s rooted in history and if you forget it’s there, it’ll come along now and then and bury you.
On the other hand, there’s been a remarkable rise in awareness of what’s widely called strategic voting, which didn’t even used to be a thing. So who knows how that will affect the outcome? Good luck, everyone, on Monday.
Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
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