John Ibbitson makes a sound political case in the Globe and Mail. “The 2019 election,” he suggests, “is shaping up to be a referendum on Justin Trudeau’s leadership, which is odd … [because, he suggests] … After only a few years in power, the Prime Minister should not be such a polarizing figure that this fall’s vote is All About Him. Stephen Harper successfully skated through three elections before he was faced with a referendum on his leadership in 2015, which he lost.” It was the same, he says for Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney ~ both got at least two full terms before it became All About Them.
“But,” Mr Ibbitson says, “the Liberal Party has become so synonymous with Brand Trudeau that deciding whether the Prime Minister deserves four more years will be the inevitable question on Oct. 21 … [and he reminds us that] … People often forget that the Liberal Party of Canada was an empty shell when Mr. Trudeau won the leadership in 2013 – out of money, out of energy, out of ideas. He re-energized the party, but he also consumed it … [and he says that] … Something like this happened in 1968, when Pierre Trudeau won Liberal leadership and instantly called an election. Trudeau-mania swept the party to a majority government, subordinating party to leader in a way the Liberals had never experienced before … [but, he says, offering a vital lesson to Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives] … by 1972, inflation was high, economic confidence was low, the government’s focus on bilingualism was unpopular. “The Land is Strong,” the Liberal slogan, may have been the worst in history, making the Prime Minister look insufferably arrogant. In that referendum election, former Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield, despite being seen as dull and colourless, came within two seats of forming government.“
Right now he says that while, “Opposition leaders have had no success trying to define Mr. Trudeau in their terms, said Lori Turnbull, a political scientist at Dalhousie University, because “he already has his own brand. He was branded the day he was born.” But “that doesn’t mean the brand will keep selling, if people are associating it with things they don’t like” … [thus, he says] … voters will cast a ballot based on whether they support or oppose the federal carbon tax, even as they choose to renew or reject Mr. Trudeau as prime minister, because your view on the one dictates your view on the other .. [and he says that] … Justin Trudeau’s brand in the chill winter of 2019 is not what it was in the sunny autumn of 2015,” and John Ibbitson then lists several scabs at which the Conservatives can pick:
- The foreign policy bungles in India and in relations with China;
- An uncontrolled and potentially dangerous, to our own internal security (individual and national), flow of
illegal migrantsrefugee claimants crossing the border (see yet more, tomorrow);
- Pipelines, which Justin Trudeau has disallowed, by fiat or sabotaged or bungled;
- The carbon tax;
- Our of control deficits; and
- The failure at electoral reform.
To which I would add:
- The ongoing case of Vice Admiral Mark Norman, with its suggestions of partisan political interference and, perhaps, even actual wrongdoing by officials and officers in, at least, the Department of National Defence, and, very possibly, in the Prime Minister’s Office, itself, as well;
- The ongoing CF-18 fighter replacement fiasco;
- Souring relations with First Nations;
- Strained relations with the USA under Donald Trump (see more in couple of days)
- Growing Western alienation; and
- Double standards, as evidenced by the Kokanee Grope case which suggests that, while a relative unknown like Hunter Tootoo can be banished, the prime minister, himself, and his close friends, like Seamus O’Regan will always be held to much, much lower ethical standards, so that they need never answer for their own misdeeds.
Let me be clear: Andrew Scheer, as John Ibbitson says, “fares poorly in any charisma comparison” with the current prime minister, and “Jagmeet Singh has failed thus far to make much of a positive impression as NDP Leader,” despite the high hopes that many, me included, had for him. But it is also important to remember the Robert Stanfield case. Mr Stanfield was, indeed, as dull as dishwater, and the mainstream media worked in tandem with the first (1970s) Team Trudeau to make him look like a stumblebum … in fairness, his own campaign team didn’t help, and he was hurt, in his own party, by the battle to unseat John Diefenbaker. But, despite all that a dull, colourless, but fundamentally decent man about whom its could, very honestly, be said, back then, “fares poorly in any charisma comparison” with Pierre Trudeau came very, very close to unseating the elder Prime Minister Trudeau … he did so because, despite the fumble, despite the lack of charisma, and despite the internal divisions in the old Progressive Conservative Party, Canadians saw that he was the better man with some better policies. It may be true that Andrew Scheer lacks rather a lot in the charisma department but he too is a fundamentally decent family man who actually understands Canadian working and middle class families and who leads a first rate team that can come up with a good, attractive suite of policies … in contrast to Justin Trudeau, who is just a rich, trust fund kid who never had to work a day in his life and who leads a team of, mainly, campaign team tokens and who is, it seems to me, just a sock puppet in the hands of Gerald Butts and the now disgraced Kathleen Wynne team from Ontario. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, ‘no contest‘ in 2019, but the Trudeau brand is not unbeatable.
Mr Scheer needs to come up with a suite of policies that resonates with hard working and middle class families in the suburbs and then he needs to energize his whole team and get them all out on the hustings, selling those policies.
Mr Ibbitson says that “The Brand Trudeau question is part of a trend of personality trumping policy in election campaigns … [and, public perceptions about] … Leadership may work in Mr. Trudeau’s favour. Contrasting him with Mr. Scheer and Mr. Singh, voters may decide to go with the leader they know … [and some observers believe that] … progressives may also cast a vote for the collective Liberal leadership, which includes such strong female cabinet ministers as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould … [but, Mr Ibbitson concludes] … the election of 2019 will mostly be a referendum. Once voters have said yes or no to Brand Trudeau, we’ll see where the other chips fall.“