The week that wasn’t.
“Events, dear boy, events!” — Rt. Hon. Harold McMillan, OM, PC, Earl of Stockton
Well that wasn’t what we were told to expect!
One would struggle to remember a more surprising first week to an election campaign.
The federal vote in 2000 is the one that comes to mind but in that instance it was the challenger – not the caller of a quickie vote (I refuse to say “snap” given the months of discussion) – who shat the bed of conventional wisdom so quickly.
A number of us have been saying for ages that Erin O’Toole is a far more dangerous opponent for the PM than Andrew Scheer ever could have been.
O’Toole is not a social conservative – he’s much more mainstream than even Harper was. He’s a veteran (something he seems to be… embellishing, but it’s a helpful fact nonetheless). And despite being almost exactly the same age as Justin Trudeau, O’Toole looks more like what a large swath of middle Canada thinks a Prime Minister should look like.
But O’Toole’s performance over the last year (almost exactly a year, in fact) has made this position almost untenable. In short, he and his people have been incredibly unimpressive.
The universal political wisdom was that Trudeau would take some flack for calling the election now but that would pass within a day or two and then waltz to a majority victory.
Well, that was then and this is not.
What’s clearly come out of the first week of #elxn44 is that O’Toole and his campaign team were very ready for the writs. They have massively over-performed against expectations.
Beyond that, while the election itself was necessarily going to be described as “unnecessary” – an idea I have always deplored as fundamentally anti-democratic – it was assumed Team Trudeau would have new ideas to offer Canadians.
Again, that’s not what this week has suggested.
While I’m not opposed to Liberals reminding people that Conservative MPs are far more open to limiting access to abortion than their current leader or that there is large range where increased NDP support results in more CPC seats, not fewer, to see the Grits dragging out both of those arguments in week one is… disconcerting.
It feels a bit like the director knows the script is so weak he needs to show the shark in the first reel.
Now, that’s not to say all is lost for the LPC – far from it.
They have smart people who, when faced with a crisis, will certainly make some smart choices. Lots of time to turn this around. And there’s one area I’d bet they concentrate on.
While O’Toole is an improvement, his caucus, candidates, MPs and brand have not changed one iota.
Add to that the premierships of Doug Ford and Jason Kenney and Liberals should have no trouble painting a picture of what an O’Toole government might actually look like – and the picture wouldn’t be flattering.
Moreover, the CPC’s own members have given the Libs lots to work with: just a couple months ago they voted against recognizing climate change as a real, man-made issue. Given heat waves, forest fires and other natural disasters Canadians are experiencing this year, an ad campaign focused entirely on this wouldn’t be amiss.
Futurecasting is never more pointless than in the first week of an election campaign but I will offer this prognostication: by the middle of this week the Liberals – both in terms of ads and talking points – will be aggressively focused on painting O’Toole in broad swaths with the same brush as Kenney, Ford and the basest elements of his base.
Not just on abortion and euthanasia, but on how those governments have acquitted themselves during COVID and what the recovery will look like.
O’Toole took a big risk by putting out his entire platform on day one – and so far it has paid off.
But believe me when I tell you, the Liberals will not hesitate to steal every good idea and repeatedly highlight the bad ones, all while offering very few new targets of their own.
So, while we’re only 1/5th of the way into the election campaign, it would be strange if no one on the Trudeau plane (dubbed “NecessAIR” by the media) wasn’t looking back on week one and thinking Harold McMillan may have been on to something.