Several polls had already indicated that Canadians were content to leave the political situation in Ottawa alone for the time being.
A Nanos Research/CTV News poll conducted between June 30 and July 5 revealed that only 26 percent of respondents wanted a fall election. A Mainstreet Research/Toronto Star poll conducted Aug. 10 and 11 found that 35 percent wanted an election. Hence, Canadian support for an election had only increased by nine points during the summer, and nearly two-thirds remained opposed just days before the writ was dropped.
Holding an election during the covid-19 pandemic, when the focus should be on helping people who have suffered during the pandemic, had clearly made many Canadians feel ill.
The Liberals had also led in every single opinion poll (except one) for the past year. Trudeau’s 22-month-old minority government, while far from perfect to most discerning eyes, had functioned and passed legislation with the help of progressive parties such as the New Democratic Party and the Greens. While right-leaning Canadians obviously disliked Trudeau, and left-leaning Canadians had their concerns about him, no grand coalition was in the works to bring him down.
How could Trudeau and his senior advisers have misread the tea leaves so badly? Many political commentators strongly suspect it wasn’t a group effort that defied logic. Rather, it was the prime minister’s desire to regain his long-lost majority government status he had between 2015 and 2019 at all costs. As The Economist succinctly put it, “The country does not need an election now. But the prime minister does.”
So, he plunged the nation into an election that will reportedly cost around 610 million Canadian dollars, according to Elections Canada. That’s an increase of 107.6 million Canadian dollars over what was spent on the 2019 election. If the result ended up as a near-carbon copy of the previous Parliament or worse, it would have been a costly and pointless endeavor.
What Canadians didn’t expect was the surge of Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives as a credible political alternative.
O’Toole, whom I wrote about back in June, has been a formidable political opponent. He’s an intelligent, engaging individual with a military, business and legal background. He’s fiscally conservative when it comes to supporting small government, lower taxes and individual rights and freedoms, and a social moderate on issues such as abortion (he’s pro-choice) and same-sex marriage.
He has worked hard to make the Conservative political tent more open and inclusive. He wants to rebuild Canada’s diminished role on the international stage. He has proposed a carbon savings account to replace the money-wasting Liberal carbon tax. He also wants to help individuals and families affected by covid-19 in a fiscally prudent manner, first by boosting vaccination rates and then by offering programs to benefit small businesses directly.
The Conservative political machine has been working on all cylinders almost since the election was called. That has made it exceedingly difficult for Trudeau to score points. The usual Liberal approach during elections, which is to paint the Conservatives as extreme, out-of-touch and pursuing some sort of “hidden agenda,” isn’t resonating. Trudeau has also invoked the name of former prime minister Stephen Harper so many times that you’d swear he, and not O’Toole, were running the party. Since the current prime minister has held the office for nearly six years, this tactic isn’t working, either.
Nevertheless, the Canadian election looks as though it’s going down to the wire. Polling firms including Nanos and Mainstreet Research have alternated between the Liberals and Conservatives fractionally ahead at different points up to Sept. 16. Other firms, including EKOS, Ipsos and Leger, have called it dead even.
Why is it so close? It’s likely a mixture of higher-than-expected levels of undecided voters combined with soft Liberal and Conservative support in different regions. The last few days of the election could make the difference. Former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s book about her behind-the-scenes struggles with Trudeau and senior advisers over the SNC-Lavalin scandal (“In that moment, I knew he wanted me to lie,” reads one excerpt) didn’t do the Liberals any favors, either.
Canadians will choose their next prime minister on Sept. 20. O’Toole and the Conservatives may have received an unexpected gift due to Trudeau’s miscalculation, but they’re taking the opportunity to run a positive, effective and forward-thinking campaign. No matter the final result, they’re the big winners of an election that few Canadians wanted.