John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail, about a week ago, suggests that the “ballot question” for October 2019 is shaping up to be: Which of these two guys do I dislike or mistrust more than the other? He says that “The end of the Labour Day long weekend – when people reluctantly bid farewell to summer and turn their attention to the coming fall agenda – signals the real beginning of the campaign, which is marked by an unpleasant reality: Most Canadians don’t want either Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau or Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as prime minister. Both of them are unpopular.“
M Trudeau has been shown, over and over again, to be charming but wholly and completely unethical in his personal and political affairs. He’s a fake feminist, at best, and possibly even a criminal in that he is alleged, by some, to have conspired to obstruct justice. Mr Scheer is alleged, by some others, to have a deeply social-conservative, religious right, “hidden agenda.” Even nice pictures of him and his smiling family are said to suggest that he is opposed, on religious grounds, to gay rights and abortion.
Mr Ibbitson says that recent polling data say that we have already sorted both leaders into our own, personal “hate” piles: “An Angus Reid poll released Thursday shows that 63 per cent of Canadians hold an unfavourable view of the Liberal Leader, twice the 31 per cent whose view is favourable. (The remainder are not sure.) … [but] … Mr. Scheer is hardly more popular; 52 per cent have an unfavourable view, 38 per cent, a favourable one* … [and] … That perception of unpopularity is buttressed by an August poll from Ipsos that showed only three in 10 Canadians believe that Mr. Scheer (32 per cent) or Mr. Trudeau (30 per cent) would make the best prime minister.“
I, personally, find it astounding that Elizabeth May, a woman with some obvious alcohol problems who leads a non-party might Canada’s most popular political leader.
Melanee Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, is cited by John Ibbitson as saying that “the strong dislike for both leaders suggests that the phenomenon known as partisan sorting, or cleavage politics – in which voters sort themselves into one values-based camp or another along such lines as age, gender, education and geography, and then demonize those in the other camp – is accelerating … [and] … This cleavage has been deepening in the United States for decades, she noted in an interview. Now, in Canada, “We have, very quickly, in the last decade, started to move in this direction as well … [and, she added] … It becomes ‘us versus them’ and it becomes really quite charged.”” I do not think any of us should be in any way surprised that American socio-political attitudes spread, seamlessly, across the border.
But Mr Ibbitson notes that voters in both BC and Ontario have, more or less traditionally, swung in opposite directions, “in one election coalescing with downtown progressives; in another lining up with rural conservatives … [and] … in Quebec, having embraced and abandoned first the Bloc Québécois and then the New Democrats, voters appear to be splitting their vote several ways, at the NDP’s expense.“
Issues, he says, might still matter and he wonders “how economically secure do middle-class, car-commuting suburban voters feel? How worried are they by the floods and forest fires associated with global warming?” Is this, another expert asked, going to be an election between the “green energy” parties and one that wants to restore Canada’s resource-based industries?
Canadians have, very often, been “economically retrospective,” one expert said, making the ballot question: “am I better off than four years ago?” But this year there seems to be anxiety about the future: “growing economic uncertainty, catastrophic fires in the Amazon and increasing tensions between Canada and China … [may mean that] … “our anxiety this time around may lead us to be less concerned about personalities and leaders, and more about leadership”.” If the issue is leadership then previous polls suggest that Justin Trudeau is very vulnerable. But Andrew Scheer has been unable to persuade enough Canadians that he, unlike Justin Trudeau, can be trusted.
“This time,” John Ibbitson says “China might be the flashpoint. As the violence escalates in Hong Kong, Canada’s troubled relations with the regime in Beijing – which is holding Canadians captive and imposing bans on Canadian agrifood exports, in retaliation for extradition proceedings against a Huawei executive undertaken by Canada at the request of the United States – could rapidly worsen if the Communist government sends in troops to quell the pro-democracy protests … [that action would favour] … The Conservatives [who] advocate a stronger stand in opposition to Chinese actions …[while] … the Liberals prefer a more balanced approach. If police violence worsens, or China sends troops into Hong Kong, how Canada should react could become an election issue …[but] … With the Conservatives and Liberals each campaigning on the other party’s unfitness to lead, disenchanted voters may turn to smaller parties. The NDP under Jagmeet Singh appears seriously disorganized. Many ridings still haven’t nominated a candidate, fundraising is weak and Mr. Singh has not made a positive impression on voters. To what extent, if any, will Green Party Leader Elizabeth May be able to capitalize on the NDP’s troubles? In this campaign, the Greens will be closely watched.” I think it’s a pity that Ms May could not have persuaded Dr Jane Philpott to take over the leadership of the Greens. It’s not that I wish the Greens well, but I think the political left of centre is getting confused and crowded. The NDP is not, any longer, the party of the Big Labour; it and the Greens and the Liberals are all competing, it seems to me, for the same (mostly urban and suburban) votes in about 120 to 220 of Canada 338 ridings. The other 120 to 220 ridings are being contested, mainly, by the Liberals and the Conservatives. I think Canada has room for the NDP and a European style Green Pary, but not both. (I also think there is room, on the right, for a small but effective (20± seats in the House of Commons) socially-conservative (Trumpian) party.)
Mr Ibbitson concludes by saying that “The election is seven weeks away. Given the strident tone both the Liberals and Conservatives have adopted, things could get choppy … [one expert says that] … If the ballot question “does boil down to ‘the other guy is even worse,’ I think we’re going to see even greater numbers of Canadians expressing disappointment with the system as a whole,” leading to increased polarization … [and that expert added] … “Our problems are big ones, and this is usually the time when party leaders and platforms must rise to the occasion, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen” … [thus, John Ibbitson says] … If this election proves that we are living in a time when Canadian politics becomes increasingly factional, partisan and extreme, then that will be everybody’s loss.“
* The online survey was conducted among a representative randomized sample of 1,534 Canadians. A comparable probability sample would have a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.