Federal election could be a costly 'Groundhog Day' remake for Trudeau

How much he pays for his Groundhog Day pleasure we will start to find out Monday, as the election results unfold

There is good news and bad news. It concerns Groundhog Day, the charming 1993 film in which Bill Murray is stuck in a time loop. The film title has moved into our lexicon to mean a repetitive, monotonous situation. 

The good news is that it appears a sequel is in the works.

The bad news is that its title will be Groundhog Day: Federal Election 2021. 

It’s a big budget production, roughly $600 million, shot across the country during the pandemic with no apparent plot line or defined narrative. The actors repeat their lines day after day.

If the public feedback to the production today bears out Monday night, Justin Trudeau will have a box-office bomb on his hands. His studio bosses will be displeased that he did not find a new audience and he is likely to announce within a year or so that he is pursuing other creative opportunities.

This is a production no one wanted but the star of the show. He sensed a larger market for his brand. He misjudged the consumer.

To get away from the flogged film analogy, finally: the fact is that Trudeau appears at best to be a diminishing return as an electable commodity. The polls on the eve of the vote suggest the Conservatives under Erin O’Toole might get more votes but slightly fewer seats than the Liberals, which means the Liberals will get fewer votes and seats than in 2019 but enough to cajole the NDP back into a pact of mutual non-aggression.

This was certainly not the plan. The ambition was a four-year government that didn’t need the approval – confidence, as it’s more formally called – from political rivals for money bills or significant policy bills.

Including the 2019 vote, Canada has produced 14 minority administrations. The fun starts there for the opposition and ends there for the party forming the government. No matter what niceties are proffered about consensus building, parties are creatures of immense self-satisfaction they possess monopolies on the best ideas. They need no one else.

A bi-product of a narrow minority outcome for the Liberals could make a dozen or so of the 155 Liberal MPs furious in losing seats on the cusp of the six-year anniversary of their 2015 elections, the date they become eligible for their glorious pensions.

There were 92 Liberal MPs elected in 2015 who would only qualify for their pensions if the vote were held Oct. 19 or later, and 142 MPs in the Commons overall. At minimum those pensions would represent $32,000 annually, but would be more valuable depending on their years of service and status as ministers or parliamentary secretaries. All that the losing 2015 MPs would get now is a lump sum allowance to recover their pension contributions plus interest.

Trudeau was selected as Liberal leader for his electability, for his powerful public presence, and for the manufacture of an image of aspirational global leadership for Canada across a range of issues.

Non-wins in two consecutive elections, particularly if there is a further narrowing with the Conservatives, is troublesome when he next has to face the ranks at a convention.

One reason will be that in this election campaign it has become clear that he has not been afraid to vilify Canadians if it confers political advantage. Sunny ways have often become surly ways. To that end he is building a larger and larger stable of people who view him negatively. In politics, that is a haircut that rarely grows back.

Trudeau, like most in the Liberal camp, sensed it was no great gamble to use the polls to go to the polls. But the election notion never felt appropriate in the circumstances, and when coupled with largely a rehash of its ideas from six years in power and no new vision, this became a purposeless exercise.

How much he pays for his Groundhog Day pleasure we will start to find out Monday.

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Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.