OTTAWA — Let’s get the obvious rant out of the way – the Sept. 20 federal election is not necessary, has no coherent rationale to justify Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s $500-million bid for a majority mandate and, worst of all, puts the federal government on hold at the precise moment when a fourth COVID-19 wave will hit the youngest the hardest.
Throw in the tragic Taliban storming of Afghanistan’s capital, leaving behind the hundreds of endangered interpreters and aid workers who helped Canada during its combat mission with no prospect of rescue, and there was a major wobble in the Liberal campaign rollout.
But election politics is a blood sport, not a tea party – and in Canada, a prime minister gets to act electorally when his opponents are weakest and his winning conditions the strongest.
Sure, it says something about the trustworthiness of a prime minister who joined a united parliamentary chorus against a pandemic election just four months ago to now call a vote amid a worrisome surge.
But it’s not the sort of ammunition which gives the opposition leaders enough high-calibre firepower to sustain a 36-day assault on Trudeau’s right to re-election.
Now, to the important question. Do the winning conditions actually exist for Trudeau to reclaim a coveted majority in what is undoubtedly his final election?
Possibly if not probably, but he’s off to a struggling start.
His response to the predictable barrage of ‘why now?’ questions from reporters at the election-triggering news conference was met with zombie-like scripted evasiveness.
Democracy is strong, he recited repeatedly, and Parliament has accomplished big things with vaccination levels leading the world. But, but, but, in his view this is still the right moment for Canadians to vote on the way forward, this just four months after his budget allocated $101-billion to fund a post-pandemic path.
That makes about as much sense as Trudeau making a far-too-late pledge to bring Afghans fleeing Taliban-taken Kabul to Canada now that our embassy has been abandoned and the last plane has left them behind. If they’re not out of Afghanistan now, they’re not getting out.
The most encouraging sign for the Liberal leader is that his primary competitor, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, has a vulnerability ripe for prolonged exploitation.
O’Toole is defending voluntary over mandatory vaccination and waffles on requiring vaccine passports for travel.
If, as some fear, the fourth wave of the unvaccinated goes tidal over the next five weeks, those positions will become increasingly untenable to the vast majority of Canadians.
But O’Toole’s steal from the Harper playbook of a five-point-plan of promises- a million jobs, anti-corruption laws, mental health support, domestic medical production and a balanced budget in the longer term – is a smart and easy-to-remember platform.
Still, the launch dynamics favour big surprises ahead.
Trudeau remains an irritant more than an asset, a plastic parrot breathlessly spewing scripted and sugary platitudes which have more and more voters doing eye rolls.
O’Toole is stronger than his weak public impression, but his true personality needs to escape pretzel-shaped positioning in a doomed bid to appease too many factions inside the blue Conservative tent.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh oozes more genuine sincerity than both of the above combined, but his bid is built on a pablum-in-every-pot platform which leaves his party as a potential spoiler and not a serious contender.
And the Bloc Quebecois, whose leader Yves-Francois Blanchet is hardly a campaign energizer bunny, has a fight on its hands to keep its seats following Trudeau’s recent fixation on buying Quebec votes.
Against that leadership backdrop, the only certainty of this campaign is uncertainty itself.
It’s a repetitive cliché to say campaigns matter, but it has the advantage of being absolutely true.
Few could’ve predicted the final election results of the last 21 years based on party positions at the starting line and it would be foolish to bet heavily on the outcome of this volatile vote.
Lousy debate performances, the unforeseen stink bombs that inevitably drop, dubious campaign tactics and even developments as far away as Kabul will have the needle bouncing around on party popularity polling over the next five weeks.
This campaign may be a colossal waste of time, effort and money, but elections are always the most exciting part of politics.
So fasten up Canada. It’s going to be a wild ride.
And that’s the bottom line.