I suppose someone has to be prime minister. I suppose some party has to win the October 21 federal election.
I’m just not sure who, what or why.
As the campaign commences, it is hard to recall any election with party leaders perceived so negatively and with no obvious ballot-box question. If anyone tells you today how the election will go, worry that someone would so readily lie to your face.
Campaigns matter, but this one will more than most. Its ill definition carries the same danger as does a fluke goal in playoff overtime hockey – that a seemingly benign event will be defining, that a spontaneous misstatement will be crushing, that an issue we haven’t even considered will be considerable in the outcome, or even that a Donald Trump tweet will ignite some absurd wildfire.
This will be the first campaign in which Canadians are seasoned in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and I’m trying to figure out how that might be anything but unhelpful.
Usually in a campaign there is a villain. In this one, there appear to be three. If someone were named Noneof Theabove, we’d likely have our front-runner.
Justin Trudeau has an approval rating of 33%, Andrew Scheer has an approval rating of 30%, and Jagmeet Singh has an approval rating of 24%. So think about this for a moment: no national party boss with any chance of forming a government starts the election campaign with more than one-third of Canadians approving of his leadership.
Their negatives (Trudeau at 55%, Scheer at 42%, Singh at 34%), their trend lines (none surging) and their comparables (Trudeau and Singh at half their approval highs, Scheer at two-thirds of his) are holes with no obvious available ladder.
It is shaping up as a victory for whoever ends the campaign as the least dislikable.
Let the records show that the top-ranked leader is Elizabeth May. She has sagged from her 2015 high of 60% to today’s 38-point rating, but she has risen steadily since her 26-point rating in mid-2018. Of course, about the most hopeful prognosis would be some sort of say in any minority government, which polls suggest today is a distinct possibility.
But solemn polls at the start of a campaign are usually chucklers by the time we vote. Remember Tom Mulcair, the man who was deemed ready, and Trudeau, the man who was deemed not.
Regrettably, the leader-focused nature of how we scrutinize politics typically leaves aside serious discussion of issues. Even if theoretically a campaign might be the best time to debate matters when we give more attention to politics, Kim Campbell was correct in saying that “an election is no time to talk serious issues.” It was her largely misconstrued way of saying it isn’t practical to think we can take a deep breath and have deep discussions in the vicious climate of minute-to-minute combat. She said that, by the way, before we had the internet.
That all being said, what we have as top issues as we start are three Es: the economy, the environment and ethics. Each will be vulnerabilities for at least one party, but the ethics issue is what I’d call the early-stage wild card of the bunch, because it’s a broad category that provides a platform for every party to be at its most hellacious while professing to be on the side of the angels. We will set a campaign record for the use of the word “trust,” I suspect.
Few one-term governments are shown the door, and usually by now it is evident they are on the way out. But if I can guess – and what are these columns, if not guesswork? – Trudeau will not continue to dine as prime minister if he cannot clear trust issues from the table. His first-day dynamics with reporters suggest he will be hounded on promised standards of office he has not met, on crossed constituencies on electoral reform and reconciliation and climate change and on educating many of us reluctantly in the arcane sphere of deferred prosecution agreements.
In all these cases he has been politically beastly, exactly what he was not elected to be. He was elected to make us feel good about ourselves, not bad about him. If I can guess again, the campaign will not be about Scheer’s personal social views but about Trudeau’s capacity to catch his snap.•
Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, at Glacier Media.