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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Don Martin: Liberal majority hopes melting away, but far too early for Conservative giddiness

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OTTAWA — Now, now Conservatives. Don’t go getting all giddy about governing again this fall.

True, Justin Trudeau’s bid for a majority is in a meltdown as the Liberal leader’s scare tactics miss their mark on Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s forehead, his policies fall far short of wow-worthy and his bad luck gets worse on the Afghanistan evacuation crisis.

But despite today’s gushy headlines – ‘Is Canada on the verge of O’Toolemania?’; Liberal MPs getting ‘nervous’; ‘Is a Conservative minority even possible?’ – there are still 100,000 campaign kilometres ahead, vote-deciding debates to survive and many gaffes to endure before talk of regime change can get real.

Besides, lousy leadership luck fluctuates – which likely means Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s worst days are still to come when vacationing Canadians are back home and actually paying attention.

Still, this is a real race now – a campaign where a knocked-back Trudeau looks more scripted (if that’s possible) than usual and less prime ministerial than O’Toole, who has confounded expectations by projecting a picture of calm while unveiling a bizarre policy tilt left into union-wooing and business-bashing policies aimed at eliminating fear factors about him being leader of a knuckle-dragging party.

On Tuesday the Liberals attempted to reset after a lousy weekend where cabinet minister Chrystia Freeland was flagged by Twitter for spreading manipulated media in a video misrepresenting O’Toole’s position on private health care.

They unveiled a plan for Trudeau to be riding to the rescue of wanna-be homebuyers struggling to buy obscenely overpriced houses they won’t be able to afford once interest rates rise.

Alas, it was all staging and no sale.

Giving young buyers a tax break to close purchase deals and slapping a curb on foreign ownership won’t boost housing construction now going flat-out to ease the chronic supply shortage. And the welcome move to criminalize blind-bidding, which is driving the price spiral far over asking prices, falls squarely inside provincial jurisdiction.

The details also seem less than the grand announcement seemed to indicate. Trudeau tweeted that his plan would build, preserve or repair (emphasis mine) 1.4 million new houses. Whoa-oh. This wasn’t the clear drift of the script where he pledged to increase the housing supply without mentioning that it might simply involve repaired siding or replaced roofs.

But the day’s new developments in Afghanistan poses the most daunting leadership headache for Trudeau now that U.S. President Joe Biden – who has yet to do a single favour for Canada – refused to extend the U.S. pullout deadline beyond next week even as the Taliban are shutting down Kabul airport access.

This will leave Trudeau smack in the middle of the campaign when the Taliban start taking serious revenge on those who helped their Canadian enemies during our combat mission there.

And make no mistake. The interpreters and fixers who helped Canadian troops and reporters need and deserve a ticket out now because their lives are in extreme danger under Taliban rule.

I know this from some personal experience. When I was on patrol with troops in 2007 in the wilds outside of Kandahar, the soldiers suddenly moved far away from me as we entered a valley a sniper distance from a series of boulder-strewn hills.

I jokingly asked them why the sudden separation because, after all, none of us had showered for days. They gave me a serious look and said my press attire made me look a lot like an interpreter. And given the huge bounty given to any Taliban who killed an interpreter, they didn’t want to be between a sniper and the patrol’s most lucrative target. Specifically, me.

With the window of opportunity closing to get them out, this coming seven years after our combat mission ended, Trudeau’s failure to act when evacuation action was still possible could leave him with blood on his hands before election day.

In some ways, this overdue response is the norm for a Trudeau government that usually acts only under extreme pressure if it acts at all. And being fronted by a leader who has become an irritating cliché-o-matic machine in justifying a pandemic election call during a foreign affairs crisis without a coherent re-election rationale has knocked the party back on its heels 10 days into the campaign.

If this Trudeau leadership wobble continues to worsen for another few weeks, the Conservatives may have the right to get giddy about governing.

That’s the bottom line.

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