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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Tom Mulcair: Voters sent a chastened Trudeau back to his job with a stern warning

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SAINT-SAUVEUR, QUEBEC — Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver have just sent a message loud and clear: “we don’t trust what was hiding behind the backdrop of Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole”.

All of Canada has just repeated a message sent loud and clear to Justin Trudeau two years ago: “we don’t trust you with a majority”.

Jagmeet Singh improved the NDP’s performance and will not only live to fight another day, he will play a key role in propping up Trudeau’s minority Liberals. What he gets in return will determine how his members view this new marriage of convenience.

In a summer of heat domes and uncontrolled forest fires, instead of breaking through, the unfortunate Green Party saw it’s leader “lose her deposit” in Toronto Centre by polling under the required 10%. Elizabeth May is musing about returning as party leader, stifling any hope of renewal.

The Bloc Québécois’ Yves-Francois Blanchet saved the furniture. A misguided question from the “moderator” in the English debate giving him much-needed oxygen. Trudeau performed admirably well in La Belle Province under the circumstances, having connected with many in his heartfelt rant against Blanchet, whom he admonished against claiming to be the only Quebecer in Ottawa.

Legault’s pretentious claim to be able to tell Quebecers not to vote Liberal became a lesson in humility for him. Good luck negotiating with Trudeau now.

In an exchange with a former Harper Cabinet minister in the wee hours after the election results were in, I asked simply: “What happens to O’Toole?”.

The answer was a laconic: “Not good”.

I know Erin O’Toole. I have occasion to travel with him and learn a bit about the man. He’s a good person. His resolve to haul the ideological right-wing of his Party to the Center was heartfelt.

O’Toole did his best, in his early-morning speech, to scare his troops about the election he saw just over the 18-month horizon (no time to dump your leader, eh!?)…

I’m not sure it’s going to work any better for him than it did for Andrew Scheer who used that same argument to try to hold onto his job after his own defeat.

O’Toole had ignored his party’s knuckle-draggers on climate and tried to finesse his way through on complex issues like gun control. As his reward, O’Toole saw many “true blue” Conservatives drift towards Maxime Bernier’s Looney Tunes fringe.

When he pulled a full Scheer and went into hiding, ducking key interviews and refusing to answer on his erstwhile support for the catastrophic pandemic plan of Jason Kenney, the writing was on the wall. O’Toole had won the first four weeks of the campaign but just couldn’t find a way through the last one.

The NDP was true to its base in insisting that it would make the rich pay. As the campaign wound down, Singh made it clear that he was in fact auditioning for the role of “conscience of Parliament.” In the GTA, his hopes evaporated as Trudeau managed to convince “Progressives” that he was one of theirs, despite having bought a pipeline and breaking his key promise on democratic reform.

The “don’t split the vote” argument saved the day for Trudeau and allowed him to siphon off enough NDP votes in Canada’s largest cities to shut out the Conservatives. They’ll be a price to pay and it won’t be cheap. Trudeau will have to resolve to work with the NDP that will come with a long list of demands to lock in their support.

Trudeau will have to be wary of his own deep-seated reflex to try to run things in areas of pure provincial jurisdiction. During the campaign, he was busy determining salaries for orderlies and hiring doctors for the provinces! That is just not on with the premiers.

Singh goes even further and wants to dictate to provinces the ownership structure of the daycare and long term care systems. If the goal is actually having these systems, then ideological preferences should come second. In Québec, the only province with a full affordable childcare system, the private centres were included from the start and it allowed the whole thing to be put in place rapidly and efficiently. A generation later it still works.

No sense arguing about the colour of the carpet in your new house when you’ve yet to buy a house but it’s the type of fight for ideological purity the NDP likes, having never yet been in power federally. Lots of heart-to-heart discussions between Singh and Trudeau in store.

“Vox Populi Vox Dei”…the voice of the people is the voice of God. That may be a bit high-sounding in this day and age but the people have again spoken and sent a chastened Trudeau back to his job with a stern warning: keep your promises and accept that you have to work with others.

We’ll soon see whether he got the message. 

Tom Mulcair was the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.

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