Election 2021: It’s now over to voters

This is Sergio Marchi’s sixth article, in a weekly series of election analysis. He will provide one more wrap-up piece, reviewing the decision made by Canadians and how the leaders managed the 35 day campaign.

Finally, the time has arrived for Canadians to speak — with their votes. But before they do, the last week of the election saw a flurry of issues, events and political attacks.

Gripped in a tie with the Liberals, O’Toole opened the final stretch with a decidedly negative set of messages against the PM’s character. He asked voters to “punish” Trudeau for calling an unwanted election, and added that the Liberal leader is “entitled, selfish, and cannot be trusted”. O’Toole obviously wants the vote to be a referendum on the PM.

Trudeau was quick to counter that the Tory leader and his caucus would take Canadians “backwards” on the critical issues of vaccines, child care, climate change, gun control, and abortion. Which explains his campaign motto, “Forward, for Everyone”.

By contrast, the NDP plateaued, the Greens dipped, and the People’s Party grew in strength, thanks to the anti-vaxxer community. This all leads to more questions than answers, including;

  • Are some Singh and Paul supporters now moving to the Liberal Party camp? If so, how big is the bleed?
  • Will Maxime Bernier grow at the expense of the Tories, and act as a spoiler?
  • Is O’Toole’s negative turn a reflection that his momentum has stalled?
  • With the undecided vote at roughly at 10 per cent, where will these voters eventually land?
  • And, what will the relationship be between the popular vote and the actual seat distribution?

The answers will undoubtedly impact the dynamics of the final result.

In regards to issues that animated the last days of the contest, the protests by anti-vaxxers at hospitals hit a real nerve with Canadians. Harassing health care workers and patients is so repugnant, so ‘un-Canadian’, and more reminiscent of Trumper tactics down south. In response, Trudeau promised to amend the criminal code, to prevent such conduct. Continued images of these snarly protests could have the effect of moving votes towards Trudeau and Singh, who have taken a harder position on mandatory vaccines.

Trudeau also tied O’Toole and his vaccine policy to Conservative Premier Jason Kenny and the horrible Covid emergency in Alberta. Guilt by association is the name of this tune. In one media scrum, O’Toole refused ten times to comment about Kenny’s mishandling of the virus. The reason for this is that Kenny has become politically toxic. Some 70 per cent of Albertans are dissatisfied with his performance.

The Liberal allegation definitely struck a nerve, and it could garner significant votes in the process. Moreover, Saskatchewan, also under Tory rule and with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, just re-entered dangerous Corona waters. And Tory Premiers, one at a time, have now accepted the logic of vaccine passports, which Trudeau and Singh have long advocated.

Clearly, Covid has been the over-arching election issue.

The increased cost of living also continued as a top-of-mind concern. Some have categorized it as a crisis of affordability. A report released in the dying moments of the election outlined that inflation grew by 4.1 per cent in August, the biggest jump since 2003. This clearly places the incumbent government on the hot seat.

In Quebec, the Premier continued to whip up anger in his province over the allegations made by the moderator in the English debate. Namely, that Quebec’s secularism and language laws are “discriminatory and racist”. This week, Legault upped the ante, as the Legislature unanimously passed a motion against “Quebec bashing”. Personally, I feel this is much to do about very little. Yet, this backlash has provided wind in the sails of the BQ, mostly at the expense of the Liberal Pay.

Earlier in the campaign, O’Toole invited union members to vote Conservative. This week, the largest unions in Canada said thanks-but-no-thanks. The union bosses are urging their members to vote for anyone but him. They also encouraged their rank and file to vote strategically, choosing the best placed person to win the riding, between the Liberal and NDP candidates. This is but no means a new strategy. We have seen these edicts before. In fact, this week, Trudeau has predictably been urging “progressives” to vote for his party, in an attempt to prevent the Conservatives from winning.

Meanwhile, Jody Wilson-Raybauld did her best to keep the SNC Lavalin file alive, through media interviews and penning op-eds with her version of the story. As someone who was in public life, I am sure there are many sides to this complex story. As well, anyone who tapes a telephone conversation with the Clerk of the Privy Council without his knowledge or permission, as she did, is character revealing.

We also saw the Liberals and Tories reach into their political bullpens for additional support this week. Former Prime Ministers Chretien and Mulroney joined their respective party leaders at rallies. The common denominator? Both still retain a healthy popularity among their partisans, so they offered a jolt of pizzazz to the campaign. However, Stephen Harper, O’Toole’s former political boss, has been nowhere to be seen.

As this election draws to a close, it has been a much more nasty and polarizing affair than previous battles. Trudeau was the principal target, with gravel and obscenities being hurled his way. However, he was not alone. Many candidates have reported an uptake in verbal abuse and in some instances, physical altercations. A few days ago, a northern Ontario Libéral MP was assaulted in his campaign office. The police had to be called in, and the assailant was charged with assault with a weapon.

One wonders what the root cause is for this elevated level of incivility in our politics. Is it the unease and tensions caused by the pandemic? Do the media, including the prolific and vile social media rants, bear some responsibility? Are tensions being incited by statements made by some candidates? Maxime Bernier, for example, often repeats the quote, “When tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty”, which happens to be a well-used battle cry of far-right militia organizations. Or, have we imported the ugliness of the Trump culture, where violence seemed to be a more common occurrence?

Following  the election, this unsettling turn in our politics merits some thoughtful reflection and discussion among the parties and relevant civic stakeholders, in an effort to take steps towards toning things down in the future.

National polling numbers were tight all week between the Liberals and Tories. The two parties exchanged leads, but by only the tiniest of margins.

Regionally, the breakdown was more mixed. In Quebec, the numbers tightened between the Bloc and Liberals. In seat-rich Toronto, Trudeau holds a commanding 20 point lead, while the rest of Ontario is much closer. In the Atlantic provinces, Liberals lead the pack, while in BC, top honours is between the PC’s and NDP. And in the Prairies, the Conservative brand is still strong.

By the weekend, all polling organizations had the Liberals and Conservatives in statistical tie, with the NDP in third place. However, the seat distribution breakdown  — the real determinant of who gets to govern — favoured the Liberals by some 30 seats over the Tories.

Monday night promises to be a nail biter. The numbers point to another minority government, either Red or Blue, unless the pollsters have it all wrong. And that is always a possibility when trying to decipher public attitudes. We have seen past predictions where the  number crunchers weren’t even close.

Today, the campaign will finally go quiet. The speeches are over. The curtain to the debates has fallen. No more polls. The hoopla of party rallies is behind us. The political ads are done with. The pundits are almost silent.

All that remains is the exercising of our civic duty.

Yes, it’s time for Canadians to make their way to their polling stations where, with the stroke of a simple pencil, they will render their decision. A collective verdict that will shape the future of Canada, and impact the political fates of our leaders. A verdict that comes from the wonder of our democracy.

Happy voting Canada!

The Hon. Sergio Marchi served as an elected Toronto City Councillor, Member of Parliament, Minister, and Ambassador.