Liberal leader Justin Trudeau did not seem to entirely believe his own arguments when he spoke with reporters on Sunday August 15, following the official launch of an early federal election.
The vote will take place on September 20, less than two years after the last one. There is a fixed election date law in this country, which would have it that the next vote should not be until 2023. But on launch day, nobody even mentioned that law.
During his press conference, Trudeau repeatedly said Canadians “deserve to have their say.” Other party leaders, he said, will have to explain why “Canadians should not have a choice.”
When asked specific questions, the Liberal leader bobbed and weaved and doggedly returned to his rehearsed talking points.
Why have an election when the Liberals have had no trouble getting their legislative agenda passed by Parliament?
“Canadians have a right to pronounce themselves.”
Why hold a vote that could cost upwards of $500 million during a pandemic, when that money could go to better purposes?
“Canadians need the opportunity to choose.”
How about calling an election on the same day as Canada announces it is closing its embassy in Afghanistan, while thousands of Afghans who worked with the Canadian Forces worry any chance of help from the Canadian government is fast evaporating?
Trudeau responded with platitudes about how terrible he and his government feel about the current situation in Afghanistan, where the Taliban will soon assume near-total control. Then he tried to convince reporters the government could walk and chew gum at the same time. Ministers could campaign actively while somehow discharging their governmental duties in the midst of a severe and challenging crisis.
Indeed, the Liberal leader almost seemed to suggest he believes the elected part of government is a mere decoration, with little practical purpose. The real work is all conducted by civil servants, who will remain on the job throughout the campaign.
As for the hazards of campaigning while COVID-19, in its new and more virulent Delta form, is entering a fourth wave, Trudeau single-mindedly returned over and over again to one word: vaccinations. Now that so many of us are vaccinated, he said, we have been able to return to normal social activities such as backyard barbecues. Ergo, he argued, campaigning will be a piece of cake.
The current steep increase in COVID cases did not seem to faze the Liberal leader one bit. Nor did the fact that millions of Canadians younger than 12 years in age cannot get vaccinated. And most of that latter group are about to go back to in-person schools, in some cases in a matter of days.
It did not help the Liberal leader’s cause that just as he was showering his listeners with political clichés, news media were revealing that in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, necessary ventilation improvements to schools might not be ready by the fall.
There is a federal-provincial fund to pay for those upgrades, but the implementation has been slow, and months behind schedule. Improved ventilation is a key ingredient for an as-safe-as-possible re-opening of schools for a largely unvaccinated population.
If there is anything additional the federal government might do to help on the ventilation issue, in the short term, don’t expect it from this federal government. Its political leadership will be out-of-the-office, on the hustings.
Whatever the Liberal leader might say, the fact is that for the next few months the federal government will be on auto-pilot. Domestic and international crises can rage all they want. Canada’s federal leadership will be focused on campaign rhetoric and tactics, not doing their jobs.
When his turn came to speak, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole showed why Trudeau thinks he can win now, and, maybe, win big.
O’Toole tried to sound moderate, reasonable and respectful of medicine and science. He pointed out that after suffering bouts of COVID-19 themselves he and his wife were very publicly vaccinated. He encouraged all Canadians to follow suit.
But O’Toole ducked when asked if, like his NDP and Liberal counterparts, he would require all Conservative candidates to be vaccinated. Nor was he particularly clear as to where he stands on the Liberal plan to oblige all 300,000 plus federal employees and many others who work in federally-regulated industries to get their jabs.
Watching O’Toole squirm you could almost hear Liberal strategists rubbing their hands in glee. Just days ago, former senior Liberal back-roomer Peter Donolo suggested his party should make obligatory vaccines and the vaccine passport its casus belli for this otherwise pointless election. Liberals appear to have embraced that advice with enthusiasm.
Justin Trudeau and his colleagues will try to frame this election as a choice between their enlightened progressive-ism versus the backward obscurantism of the Conservative party. At this point, it seems Trudeau and the Liberals would like to act as though the main party to their left, the New Democrats, does not even exist.
Based on his performance throughout the pandemic and on election launch day, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh will not make that easy for the Liberals.
Singh had the best line of the day when he pointed out all Canadians are not, as Trudeau tries to argue, “in the same boat.” We are all in the same storm, Singh said. But some have coasted through the storm in yachts while others are in leaky lifeboats.
The NDP leader then hammered on left populist themes, such as housing and a tax on wealth, that should have particular appeal for his youthful supporters.
Singh also mocked the idea that an election is necessary to allow the government to pursue its agenda. He told reporters a good part of that agenda has come straight from the NDP, citing increases to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the wage subsidy as examples.
Singh and his party want Canadians to believe a parliament in which New Democrats have significant and influential representation is one that will work for them. You cannot count on the Liberals to do the right thing if they have all the power; in other words, their coveted majority, Singh said.
That is a classic New Democratic electoral pitch. The party typically pushes for influence and leverage, not power.
Perhaps, as the campaign advances, Jagmeet Singh and his party will get more ambitious.
Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble’s politics reporter.
Image: Jagmeet Singh/Twitter