Defending himself from running out of ideas, Justin Trudeau promises that the platform he will unveil shortly will reflect a “vision for the future” that will contrast with the “smallness” of Erin O’Toole.
The Liberal leader has always defined himself as opposed to his Conservative opponents. In 2015, the “sunny paths” he shone were meant to be the antithesis of the obscurantism he accused Stephen Harper of.
After nine years of Conservative rule, that was enough to secure him a majority. The next four years demonstrated his inability to articulate a true vision for Canada’s future on his own, but Andrew Scheer’s ineptitude allowed him to save the furniture in 2019.
It would be grossly overkill to call Erin O’Toole a political beast, but he’s still more talented than his predecessor – or less bad, if you prefer – while Mr. Trudeau remains hopelessly equal to himself. The present campaign is still very young, but one can already wonder if the recipe of the last two elections can still give results.
Over the past few years, the Prime Minister has made a very convincing demonstration of his limits and those of an essentially image-based policy. The time for learning has long passed. There is no reason to believe that a new Trudeau can yet appear. He should look at himself in the mirror before talking about the smallness of others.
It is true that the last term was monopolized almost completely by the pandemic, so the government’s policy has been largely to spend lavishly. Moreover, even before the pandemic, the concepts of debt and deficit were totally foreign to Mr. Trudeau, as they were to his father.
Obviously, he has no intention of going back to being more parsimonious. Day after day, it continues to rain billions, for daycares, senior care, hiring of doctors and nurse practitioners, and more.
This liberality – with taxpayer dollars – had seemed refreshing in the face of the stinginess of the Harper government, but Mr. O’Toole clearly understood that Canadians do not want a Scrooge or a Seraph for prime minister. To hear a Conservative leader postpone the return to balanced budgets for ten years is almost a revolution.
This new pragmatism even makes Mr. O’Toole say some amazing things. He would agree to hand over to Quebec the management of a single tax return while promising to maintain some 3,000 jobs in the processing centers of the Canada Revenue Agency in Shawinigan and Jonquière. Would a Conservative government keep employees we no longer need? No wonder their union is sounding the alarm. This is reminiscent of Jacques Parizeau who promised that a sovereign Quebec would repatriate all federal civil servants while eliminating duplication.
Foreign policy issues generally do not have a great impact on the outcome of elections in Canada. In 2015, many were nonetheless saddened by the bad reputation that the Harper years had brought to Canada and they were happy to hear the new Prime Minister declare that the country was “back” on the international stage.
To say they were disappointed would be an understatement. After a brief period of euphoria, during which Mr. Trudeau appeared abroad as a kind of antidote to Donald Trump, we quickly became disillusioned. Amateurism and insignificance, beautifully exemplified by the particularly awkward “fashion show” in India, quickly became the hallmark of Canada. From China to Afghanistan to Africa, Canadian politics have often seemed like a haystack. In this grayness, the victory of Joe Biden appeared as a real gift from heaven.
Did anyone seriously believe that the arrival of Mr. Trudeau would usher in a new era of collaboration between Ottawa and the provinces? The passage from the intransigence assumed by Mr. Harper to the kindness of facade of his successor has not changed much in practice. After the COVID break, the new intrusions into the areas of provincial jurisdiction announced by the Liberal promises point to new storms.
Without taking his merits away from Yves-François Blanchet, it is no coincidence that the Bloc Québécois was resuscitated in 2019, despite the decline in sovereignty. Seeing its platform, we even forget that the party is still pro-independence. Obviously, many Quebeckers know what to expect with the Liberals.
Over the next few weeks, politicians and commentators will work to frame the famous ballot box question. In the end, it might just be this: Would it be really worse with Erin O’Toole?