By David Yager
Justin Trudeau’s days as Prime Minister of Canada are numbered. His reign of error will end soon. His only salvation is if he and his Liberal Party somehow perform a miracle and win a majority government on September 20.
Even if Trudeau wins a minority government, his internal support will evaporate immediately. If he doesn’t resign he’ll be pushed. The Liberals are good at things like that.
To understand what’s going on in the 2021 election, go back to 1993 when the Progressive Conservatives under leader Kim Campbell elected only two MPs. She was not one of them.
Although slightly misquoted, Campbell, in the words of the Montreal Gazette in 2008, “…famously declared that an election is no time to be discussing complicated issues.”
The issues causing problems for the Liberals are not complicated, nor are they related to policy or campaign platforms. They have nothing to do with the regional divisions so successfully exploited in 2015 and 2019 that have been driving western Canadians and the oil industry crazy for six years.
Canadians from coast to coast are cranky because of multiple issues that cross regional and party lines: the Afghanistan debacle, COVID-19 and vaccine passports, the rising cost of everything from food to housing, Trudeau’s continuing blunders and mediocre leadership, and why he called an election nobody wants and the country doesn’t need.
This is a lethal combination as more Canadians conclude that this exercise is all about Trudeau and not about them. As a result, he is not going to be able to social justice, bank tax, oil bash, climate fear, gender equal, cash distribute and politically correct himself out of this mess.
Trudeau’s Liberals replaced Stephen Harper and the CPC in the 2015 election for a number of reasons. The most frequently cited are based on policy and politics.
For policy, Trudeau campaigned on cancelling the Northern Gateway pipeline, reforming the National Energy Board, climate change and a host of social justice issues including gender equity and Indigenous rights and reform.
And a guaranteed vote-getter for a certain portion of the population – legalizing marijuana.
The environmental and climate policies were infuriating to the oil industry and western Canada. Anti-oil and anti-Alberta positions like this had not been national campaign issues since his father was Prime Minister in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Politically, the Liberals successfully exploited the structural and mathematical distribution of Canadian votes. This means that a majority government can be formed with support in only six provinces and part of BC: Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, and the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
Put another way, the Liberals could win without a single seat on the prairies and the resource producing regions of BC. Not by coincidence, this is where the vast majority of Canada’s oil and gas is produced.
Over sixty-two per cent of Canadians live in urban centres with populations of 70,000 or more outside of the prairies and non-Pacific BC. Only a portion of these voters have a direct connection to resource development, be it oil and gas, minerals, wood or food.
The regions in which these resources are extracted, mined, cut or grown – and where primary processing occurs – are either rural or the parts of Canada that don’t’ elect Liberals.
Increasingly, too many Canadians don’t understand where the necessities of life come from. So they are able to trash the oil sands and obstruct pipelines while simultaneously complaining about high gasoline prices. Yet they expect ample supplies of everything from plastic to heat to food to be available on demand at a low cost.
This map from the 2019 election shows where the Liberals won, the areas in red. All the blue areas, which voted CPC, are a major source of resources and are home to the heavy industries that process them like steel mills, refineries, petrochemical plants and vehicle manufacturing.
Canada’s largest population concentrations elected Liberals. The detailed maps of greater Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal show the clear urban/rural voting wedge that the Liberals have exploited. In Montreal, the vote was split between the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois. Only east Montreal, which is where the industrial plants are located, voted CPC.
Western Canada’s perception that Canadians hate the oil industry has fueled massive discontent since 2015. Lots has been said and written about the utter hypocrisy of tanker bans on the west coast but not the Saint Lawrence River; consumers who claim to oppose oil but aren’t prepared to live with out it; and why Alberta should separate to escape economic and political persecution by our fellow Canadians.
But other numbers show the wide gap between what Canadians believe and what our federal government does. A national poll about pipelines conducted in late 2019 revealed that two-thirds of Canadians supported new pipe; 42% were strongly in favor and 23% were somewhat in favor. Only 30% opposed them.
You’d never know that from media reports.
Further, people forget that the CPC actually garnered more votes than the Liberals in the 2019 election. The number of Canadians that returned Justin Trudeau to office was quite small.
Canada’s population in 2019 was 37.1 million. Only 71.3% or 27.1 million were eligible to vote. Of those, 66% or 17.9 million actually cast their ballots. The Liberals got 33.1% while 34.3% voted CPC. This means that mathematically, only 16.2% of all Canadians elected the current Liberal government.
A summary of the 2019 election on Wikipedia reads, “With 33.12% of the vote for the Liberals, the 2019 election set an all-time record for the lowest vote share for a party that would go on to form a single-party minority government.”
The Liberals have proven to be masters at finding and delivering committed, single-issue voters. Climate change, tanker bans, opposing pipelines and cutting Alberta down to size are proven vote-getters in the major urban centres of central Canada and the west coast.
Playing the climate fear chip and how strict controls on Canada’s oil industry will save the planet has worked well for the Liberal, NDP and Green parties at the ballot box.
Trudeau unveiled the 2021 version of his pro-climate/anti-oil platform on August 29 in Quebec, promising to legislate accelerated caps for oil and gas emissions. The Globe and Mail reported, “Mr. Trudeau’s plans for the oil and gas sector will likely be the most contentious of his climate plan and risk fanning regional divisions.” It included a 75% cut in methane emissions from 2012 levels by 2030.
Analysts are already crunching the financial impact if this becomes law.
But to assume that the words coming out of the Prime Minister’s mouth reflect what most Canadians really want, need and believe during this election is a mistake.
Going back to Kim Campbell’s candid (but ultimately regrettable) observation that elections are a poor time to discuss policy, Canada has an electoral history of style overwhelming substance. There is no better example than the election of Liberal leader Pierre Elliot Trudeau in 1968 and the defeat of Robert Stanfield and the Progressive Conservative party.
Like Justin, Pierre was handsome, flashy and erudite. Stanfield was a businessman turned politician who was smart, capable and a proven manager but was, by comparison, wooden, staid and boring.
The Wikipedia summary of that election reads, “The Liberal campaign was dominated by Trudeau’s personality. Liberal campaign ads featured pictures of Trudeau inviting Canadians to ‘Come work with me’, and encouraged them to ‘Vote for New Leadership for All of Canada’. The substance of the campaign was based upon the creation of a ‘just society’, with a proposed expansion of social programs.”
Trudeau Sr. faced a very challenging economy in the 1970s due to the OPEC-induced world oil price spike. To win elections, he pitted the oil consuming voters of central Canada against the oil producing voters of the west. Inflation and interest rates were high. Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Program of 1980 would later be regarded as the single most divisive economic policy in history.
Looking back on Trudeau’s record, Robert Stanfield would be fondly remembered by many as, “the best Prime Minister Canada never had.”
In 1984, when Brian Mulroney’s PC government clobbered the Liberals, the Canadian economy was in tough shape. Oil prices were down so the issue of transferring money from central Canada to the west went away. The prime lending rate was 12%, huge compared to today. But it had been over 19% three years earlier.
Voters were weary and angry, so the Liberals were punished at the ballot box.
The parallels to the rise of Justin Trudeau in the 2015 election are significant. Incumbent CPC leader Stephen Harper was in his 10th year as Prime Minister. While Harper was regarded as having a steady hand on the nation’s economic tiller, the economy was doing well, and Harper was seen as “unprogressive”. The woke and social justice movements were gaining traction thanks to social media, and all the “millennials” (the offspring of “baby boomers” born from 1981 to 1996) had reached voting age.
Justin Trudeau was young, handsome, flashy and photogenic. He embraced all the important social issues of the times including climate change.
But the Trudeau persona magic isn’t working in 2021. Darrell Bricker is the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, a national polling and public opinion company. In a Twitter post on August 28 Bricker provided his summary of why the 2021 campaign is unfolding the way it is.
“In 2015 voters were inspired by Trudeau. In 2019 they were disappointed by him. Now, many previous supporters are done with him. His negatives are highest and he leads O’Toole on most likely to have hidden agenda. Further underscored by when and why election called.”
After six years of demonstrated gaffes, blunders, incompetence and flagrant contradictions of his own self-defined moral superiority, it turns out more Canadians are realizing that Trudeau is all style and no substance.
And you only campaign on legalizing marijuana once.
The way the polls are trending, it appears that Trudeau has made so many egregious mistakes on so many issues that asking for a stronger mandate when he already has one is proving to be too much to ask from a growing number of previous supporters.
Trudeau’s version of international diplomacy – the Prime Minister representing Canada in India, 2018
As pollster Bricker noted, in the 2019 election Canadians’ infatuation with Trudeau was already on the decline. CPC leader Andrew Sheer was from Saskatchewan and was branded as a social conservative, a big red flag in 21st century urban Canada. But he outpolled Trudeau anyway.
Last October I was invited to a small event featuring new CPC leader Erin O’Toole. I didn’t know much about him except that compared to Trudeau he had an outstanding CV which included the Canadian military, law school and his own legal practice. He was from Toronto and had won the CPC leadership August 23, 2020, in part by learning enough French in a hurry to attract the votes of Quebec party members.
Without notes or a teleprompter, O’Toole spoke completely unscripted about the state of Canada, the challenges it faced, and what he would do about it if elected Prime Minister. He talked about the economy, the balance of trade, international capital flows and the rising deficit. It was refreshing to hear a national political leader talking about the things that really affect ordinary Canadians instead of the moralistic platitudes that Trudeau has passed off as good government for the past six years.
Trudeau recently stated he paid no attention to monetary policy. Based on his economic record, nobody was surprised.
With the pandemic and vaccinations dominating the headlines, it has been difficult for O’Toole to garner media attention since he became leader. So he remained largely unknown. His critics, seemingly endless in modern politics, provided most of the commentary.
Meanwhile, Trudeau retained a very high profile as he talked almost daily about vaccines and federal financial support. After two years his government finally tabled a budget that reported a $354 billion deficit for the 2020/21 fiscal year, another $155 billion in planned new spending, and a federal debt heading for $1.4 trillion.
The rumors of a snap election began early this year. Polls indicated it was a slam dunk for the Liberals – a majority government all but assured. There were even news reports about how Alberta was going to elect more Liberals.
Perplexed, I phoned a long time and trusted CPC insider in Toronto and asked him if central Canada was really going to re-elect Trudeau. He was significantly less confident about a Liberal coronation. He said that everyone who voted for Sheer in 2019 would vote for O’Toole, and that there were no skeletons in O’Toole’s closet that would derail his campaign. He was a good speaker and energetic campaigner and would deliver a strong and positive message during the campaign. The CPC was well financed.
The wild card was Quebec. The Bloc Quebecois won 32 seats in 2019, a big factor in denying the Liberals a majority. What would happen in Quebec in the next election was unknown.
I have been steadfast for months that a Liberal majority is not assured; that when the campaign began and the media and voter spotlight was on O’Toole he would perform well; and that after six years of watching Trudeau in action, most thinking Canadians would consider carefully before giving him another and possibly even larger mandate if there was a credible alternative on the ballot.
Accurately predicting the outcome of the vote on September 20 is risky. One thing is certain. It won’t be determined by Liberal or CPC campaign pledges on housing, climate change, health care funding or universal day care.
When British Prime Minister Harold McMillan was elected in 1957, he was asked what would determine the success of his government. He responded, “Events, dear boy. Events”. It was the Suez Crisis in 1956 that helped get him into office and a sex scandal that helped remove him in 1963.
The 2021 election campaign is heavily influenced by external events like the pandemic, Afghanistan and rising costs for food, housing and fuel. The economy is doing poorly. The massive public debt means higher taxes are assured. Nobody wants an election right now, but Trudeau did it anyway.
“Events, dear boy. Events”.
That of course applies to the upcoming televised debates and the rest of the campaign. There’s still a chance for the CPC and O’Toole to do something really stupid and change voter sentiment.
Conversely, Trudeau and the Liberals could do something really smart. But after six years you’d think they’d have done that by now if they could.
My “take it to the bank prediction” is that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will not win a majority government. If Trudeau wins his seat and ends up as Prime Minister of another minority administration, there will be so much pressure for his replacement he might actually figure this out on his own and resign.
My less certain prediction is a CPC Minority government under Prime Minister Erin O’Toole. The polls are certainly headed that way. Stephen Harper governed with a parliamentary minority for five years before winning a majority mandate in 2011. The possibility that the Liberals, NDP, BQ and Green Party (if any) MPs will plot to force another election anytime soon is remote.
My aspirational prediction, and not without historical precedent, is a CPC majority government. This is because the country realizes they have been conned by a former drama teacher supported by radical environmentalists for six years, and that the Liberals must be replaced before the Canadian economy suffers even more damage.
David Yager is an oil service executive, energy policy analyst, oil writer and author of From Miracle to Menace – Alberta, A Carbon Story. More at www.miracletomenace.ca