Election 2021: O’Toole grabs the lead!

This is the third article by the Hon. Sergio Marchi on the federal election. His pieces appear weekly.

Campaigns do matter.

Trudeau enjoyed a solid lead going into the election but two weeks on, he now quickly finds himself on the defensive.

At the conclusion of my last article, I asked if anyone was paying attention to the election in the dead of August. Well, someone was, because Nanos Research, one of the country’s leading polling firms, has picked up considerable movement in its nightly number crunching.

On Saturday, his data showed the PC’s in the lead. They are at 33.5 per cent, while the Liberals sit at 30.8 per cent. Trudeau has gone from majority territory in the first week, to a statistical tie at the start of the second week, and by day 14, he finds himself trailing. Quite the rollercoaster!

The tracking of leader preferences provides another major headache for the PM, as O’Toole has shot up some 12 points, while Trudeau dropped three points. The gap between them stood at 18 points before the election, and now it’s only three points.

Clearly, Canadians have liked what they’ve seen in the new PC leader, and he has the momentum. The largely unknown O’Toole has successfully used the campaign to introduce himself to Canadians. By comparison, Trudeau has had a poor start. He has yet to release his platform, as strategists are still welcoming and incorporating ideas. Strange and unorganized, for a party who controlled the timing of the campaign!

Moreover, the PM has failed to frame the election with an overarching theme, which only fuels public cynicism about the call in the first place. It also allows the other leaders to define themselves and the issues.

At the same time, O’Toole has managed to blunt attacks from both the Liberals and the NDP. Among other things, he has pronounced himself pro choice regarding abortion; has committed to implementing the Indigenous Reconciliation Commission report; has offered a package for Unions; and believes in climate change. He has been able, thus far, to shake off the charge that he leads an extreme right wing agenda. He is actually campaigning from the left!

Meanwhile, Singh continues to impress voters with a people-friendly style, and campaigning on traditional, party issues. So, Trudeau is being squeezed from both flanks.

The Greens have declined in support. Their leader is not travelling across the country, as she is concentrating on winning her seat in Toronto. Accordingly, she has not made much of an impact nationally.

When it comes to the Bloc, they are exclusively vying for votes in the Belle Provence, and their pronouncements have not had national repercussions.

The election is now a horse race, with Trudeau spiralling downwards. Libéral candidates — the nervous nellies type — have begun calling Libéral HQ’s, distressed over the management and direction of the campaign.

There is still an eternity of time left. But make no mistake, the Liberals must immediately work to stop the bleed and regain lost momentum, which is never easy in a short campaign. They need to go on the offence, and roll out nationally, coherent messages. And Trudeau, rather than turning to desperate, negative speeches, must regain his composure and ‘sunny’ ways. In this election, it is O’Toole, who is coming across as calm and disciplined.

Introducing a national vaccine passport, I believe, would offer the PM a potential life jacket. More and more organizations, like businesses, airlines, police associations, entertainment venues, and sports clubs, are all mandating proof of vaccines. Plus, Quebec, Manitoba, and BC have announced the implementation of provincial vaccine cards. I predict these initiatives will prove to be extremely popular with a majority of voters, as they are concerned about the Delta variant and frustrated by the irresponsibility of the anti-vaxxers.

In addition, Premiers Ford and Kenny both reject passports. This gives Trudeau the golden opportunity of tying O’Toole to his two unpopular provincial cousins. Not sure what Trudeau is waiting for.

By the end of the second week, Trudeau promised financial support to provinces who institute a vaccine passport, and there were rumblings that Ford is finally prepared to drop his opposition. This should put renewed focus on O’Toole’s position of free choice when it comes to vaccines.

Canadians continue to be preoccupied with the future of the economy and their jobs. These are the ‘bread and butter’ issues of every election. People often vote with their pocket books. But during a  pandemic, when so many businesses have been ravaged, economic security takes on additional importance.

Towards this end, matters of deficits and debt are likely to play less of an advantage for the PC’s, as Canadians are grateful for the programs that the government has introduced during a time of Corona. This gives Trudeau a chance to remind voters of his government’s generous assistance.

On other fronts, Afghanistan continued to make big waves. The PM participated in a G-7 call, but he and his fellow leaders were unable to persuade Biden to extend the end-of-August deadline for evacuations. The Kabul airport has been a scene of constant chaos, and on Thursday, a suicide bomber killed over 180 people, and injured more than 200. On the same day, the Canadian government formally ended their airlifts.

This has led all the political leaders to unload on Trudeau, alleging that his government was much too slow and bureaucratic in bringing Canadians and Afghans who supported our mission, home. It remains to be seen whether and how this issue will influence voting intensions.

The fallout of the Haitian earthquake continues to make news as well. But any impacts will largely be restricted to Quebec, given the large Haitian-Canadian community in Montréal.

In regards to the controversial timing of the election call, the Leger Polling Research firm released findings that reveal 70 per cent of Canadian respondents opposed the election. That’s a huge slice of the electorate! Trudeau is skating on ultra thin ice here, and he’s desperately hoping that this issue will fade away.

Affordable housing hit the radar during week two. The parties issued their respective proposals for cooling the housing market and coming to the aid of home buyers, especially for young first timers. Canadians will need to sift through the details to better understand the different proposals. But one of the critiques levelled at Trudeau that might stick, is that he has failed, during six years in power, to find a remedy.

After 14 days on the hustings, O’Toole has grown significantly, while Trudeau has stumbled. Singh has also elevated his game, while Blanchet hopes to increase his support in Quebec at the expense of the Liberals. As we near September, when most Canadians will begin to focus on the election, the Liberal brain trust must make some immediate and meaningful adjustments, if their party is to recapture their mojo. As well, the two leaders’ debates early next month promises to be a high stakes affair.

At this juncture, calling an early election appears to have been questionable, to say the least. Week three can prove to be a very pivotal moment in the campaign.

Bring it on.

The Hon. Sergio Marchi served as a City Councillor, MP, Minister, and Ambassador.

Photo: twitter.com/CPC_HQ