Let the games begin

The Hon. Sergio Marchi was a successful politician, municipally and federally. He was a candidate in five separate elections, all winning ones, so he knows a thing or two about campaigns.

During this federal election, Marchi will contribute a series of articles, analyzing the emerging issues and events that will define the fate of the different contenders and determine the final outcome. We’re pleased that our readers will be exposed to his views and insights.

Below, is the first installment.

And they’re off!

Following a visit on Sunday with the new Governor General, Prime Minister Trudeau has triggered a federal election for September 20th. An election which many see as unnecessary, as it comes only two years into his current mandate. To further complicate matters, the call coincides with a  threatening fourth wave of COVID-19. After being trapped in their homes for most of the last 18 months on account of the pandemic, Canadians are desperately trying to enjoy their summer, notwithstanding renewed health concerns. Their minds are far removed from election issues.

This political cocktail can prove tricky for the Liberals. Trudeau is rolling the dice. While he leads in the polls, the Liberals could possibly face a public backlash for forcing an early election, and at a time when the corona virus is still haunting Canadians. Many people believe that the PM’s principal rationale is to translate his current public standing into a majority government. The Liberals will need to develop a convincing agenda during the next five weeks, otherwise they will look self serving, and that is a dangerous proposition. Citizens expect elections to be about the future of the nation, and not the political health of any leader or party.

Recall the early election call in 1990 by then Ontario Premier David Peterson, who was three years into his term. His own caucus was nervous and very much opposed, as they sensed that the public was not amused. Peterson countered that this frustration would abate after the first days of the campaign. It never did. As an MP at the time, I went door to door with provincial Liberal candidates, and the voters were grumbling about the timing of the election right until the last day of the election. The result? The Liberals lost to Bob Rae and the NDP, with Peterson losing his own seat and resigning the leadership. He paid a huge price.

Will Trudeau also face a reprimand, or will he get away with it?

Going into the election, the Conservative Party is beset with leadership questions. Their new leader, Erin O’Toole, is largely unknown, and he has been unable thus far to create a favorable impression with Canadians. Furthermore, he faces challenges within his caucus on a number of emotive policy issues, where the battles are between moderates and extremists. An unpopular leader and a disunited party can be crippling in any campaign.

The upside, however, is that the election offers O’Toole an opportunity to define himself and grow on the national stage. With some luck and possible help from the governing party, he has the chance to shine. In 2015, that is exactly what Trudeau managed to do. His party was in third place when the election was called, and very few expected him to excel. Yet, on election night, he was rewarded with a majority government. Can lightening strike again, this time for O’Toole?

The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh is hoping to grow his party’s standing in the House of Commons, and perhaps eclipse the PC’s as the Official Opposition. He ran an impressive campaign the last time, and came across as the most authentic of all the leaders. People seem to like him, but they wonder about his party. The NDP has never won at the national level. Plus, the unspoken fact of him being a baptized Sikh Canadian could quietly hurt him. I personally welcome and celebrate his religious convictions. But in a number of regions, including in the key battleground of Quebec, many conservatively-minded voters are more set in their ways.

Is this the moment that Singh can make a significant breakthrough, or will Canadians once again take a pass?

When we consider the Green Party, what can one say about all the public infighting that has taken place between the leader, Annamie Paul, and senior party officials over the last several months? It has been ugly, and untimely to say the least. So much for it being a kinder, gentler party! The vicious squabbling is bound to make voters question how the Greens can possibly deal with the challenges facing the nation, when the Party can’t manage their own affairs.

Moreover, why is Paul again running in a Toronto riding, against the former high profile broadcast journalist Marci Ien? Why battle her own party, only to face a virtually guaranteed loss in her own district? Seems all for not.

Finally, there is the Bloc Quebecois, a regional rump party that has a singular focus on Quebec’s place in Confederation. The Leader, Yves-Francois Blanchet, will champion Quebec issues as he strives to keep the 32 seats his party currently holds in the province. Outside Quebec, not many will care about what they say or propose. Yet, his fortunes in the seat-rich province will influence the fate of the other parties.

No doubt, this election features fascinating dynamics. And like every election, it will test the politicians and party strategists alike. How will the respective leaders fare? How will the parties navigate the ups and downs of the election? What issues will dominate the public discussion? How will the leaders’ debates affect political momentum? Will there be last minute surprises?

And of course, what will be the voter’s verdict on election night?

We won’t have to wait long for the answers. September 20th will arrive quickly. But how it will end, at this stage, is anyone’s guess.

Buckle up for the ride.

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