… so wrote Cole Porter in a witty 1928 song ~ actually his original lyrics were quite racist and offensive and the modern version (sung by the great Ella Fitzgerald in the link) didn’t emerge until the mid or late 1940s. Now, in a recent column in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson asks if Erin O’Toole can do it? The “it” in this case is to topple a still popular prime minister within just a few months of having become leader of the opposition.
Mt Ibbitson uses John Diefenbaker as the model. Mr Diefenbaker won the Progressive Conservative leadership in late 1956 and unseated Louis St Laurent’s Liberals in 1957 ~ I wasn’t quite old enough to vote but I remember the next election (1958) in part for the “Follow John” signs that were spray painted on sidewalks ~ with a pair of footprints ~ in many Canadian towns and cities. Prime Minister St Laurent certainly wasn’t unpopular, but Canadians were tired of the Liberals who had been in power for over 20 years, and the use of closure (now refined into time allocation) to shut down the Pipeline Debate struck many Canadians as being unfair and they saw the Liberals, especially C.D, Howe, as being both dictatorial and too close to the Americans. John Diefenbaker won a weak minority in 1957 and then he converted it into a huge, tub-thumping majority in i958.
It’s worth noting that Brian Mulroney did something similar in 1984. He had about a year to prepare, but after a bruising leadership campaign in which he was accused, fairly, I think, of undermining Joe Clark from within, and in an election in which John Turner was a weak opponent and in which Canadians were again tired of the Liberals who had been in power for most of the preceding two decades (Pearson (1963-68), Trudeau (’68-84), Turner (1984)), he won another HUGE majority.
The point is that “it” can be done.
Mr Ibbitson lists the problems facing Mr O’Toole:
- He “faces a reasonably popular government in a year when voters are rewarding incumbents in elections. Provincial votes in Saskatchewan, British Columbia and New Brunswick all returned incumbent governments. People want their leaders to work together to contain and overcome the pandemic. There is no reason to think Mr. Trudeau would become the exception;”
- “The pandemic has also made it possible for the Liberals to take the biggest political risk in a generation: offering a credible plan to meet Canada’s carbon-reduction commitment. The Chrétien, Martin, Harper and first Trudeau governments all recoiled from that challenge, because of the financial costs and political risks.” I disagree that the Liberals have any plan, credible or not, to do anything meaningful about climate change, but proposing to axe the carbon tax and ignore global climate change is NOT an election winning strategy; and
- “Equally important,” he says “in the fight for the loyalty of the all-important suburban Ontario voter, the Ford factor appears to have been neutered.” While Premier Ford achieved a lot, in status, for his swift and decisive actins in the Spring, he (and Health Minister Christine Elliot and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr David Williams) are all looking a bit tired and shopworn now and many, many Ontarians are questioning their judgment. Ontario’s Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney looks, to me, to be the emerging popular leader and it’s her support that I think Mr O’Toole wants and needs.
John Ibbitson concludes that “Mr. O’Toole is a much stronger leader than was Mr. Scheer … [and] … He has put together a solid team who are working hard at offering a coherent conservative alternative to the Liberals on fiscal policy, the environment, global trade and relations with China … [plus] … Their emphasis on supporting middle-skilled workers challenged by the knowledge economy could resonate with suburban voters … [and, he says] … looking at the electoral map across Canada, it’s hard to see where the Liberals could make substantial gains. From the Bloc Québécois? That seems unlikely. In Greater Toronto? They already own most of it. In the Prairies? Hardly. A Liberal victory is likely in the next election; a majority government, not so much … [but] … By limiting the Liberals to a minority and biding his time, Mr. O’Toole could become prime minister. But the odds of him actually winning in 2021 are long.“
I think that another minority is the last thing Justin Trudeau wants. He wants and he needs a majority for two compelling reasons:
- The people who pull his strings have an agenda that is good for the Laurentian Elites even if it is destructive (not too strong a word, in my opinion) for our country; and
- He seems, to me, to really be desperate to bury, not just cover up, his role (and that of his family) in the WE Charity Scandal. He has improperly redacted documents, prorogued parliament and ordered his MPs to filibuster committees in order to try to cover up the details. It is, as I have said, a Watergate level coverup attempt which I, sadly I hasted to add, guess must be an effort to hide Watergate level criminality.
The indisputable fact that Justin Trudeau has been a miserable failure, in almost everything to which he has turned his hand, since 2015, does not mean, as John Ibbitson says, that Canadians will turn him out. Despite all of his strategic, economic, social, ethical and policy failures he remains popular with the Liberal base and with many urban voters. As I have noted, nothing seems to stick: not ethical breach after ethical breach, not LavScam, not blackface, not the WE Charity coverup. A generally (not exclusively) compliant media and public disinterest in the Conservative Party work together to make another Liberal minority government, led by a failure, very possible, even probable in 2021.
But, I think that “it” can be done. I believe that there is a route to a Conservative government; it leads through the suburbs in the Greater Toronto Area. It needs to enlist Blue Collar Conservatives, who, I suspect, are out there in very large numbers, living in those very same suburbs. I think that Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives can make some modest gains in BC, MB and Atlantic Canada and they can hold their own, maybe even make a tiny gain in QC ~ so maybe 5 to 10 additional seats over all, bringing them up to 125-130 seats. They need to gain 35+ more seats and they are mostly in the Greater Toronto Area, and, as these maps show, it has been done before and we must conclude that it can be done again:
If I knew how to do that, how to turn 40± seats from Liberal red to Tory blue in and around Greater Vancouver, Greater Toronto and a few other metropolitan areas, then I would likely be a campaign manager, not a tired old blogger, but I suspect that some of the pieces in the puzzle include:
- Mr O’Toole’s own roots in Souther Ontario and his personal résumé;
- A campaign to attract the blue-collar voters who, I said, “are just as Conservative as the church-going folks from Orangeville;”
- An environmental/climate change policy that is practical and is not going to be branded as “climate-change denial;” and
- Support from some top-level Ontario politicians other than Doug Ford.