Who’s having a mid-life crisis – Justin Trudeau or the Ottawa press gallery?

Nov 17th, 2017 | By | Category: In Brief

Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump at press conference in the White House, Washington, DC, Monday, February 13, 2017. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP.

A week or so ago John Geddes at Maclean’s posted a heavyweight piece headlined “Justin Trudeau’s mid-life crisis.”Â  The crisis, it seemed, had become a favourite theme for assorted journalists and pundits covering Canadian federal politics in Ottawa.

There also seemed to be at least some obvious enough weight behind it. When Éric Grenier pondered his CBC polling studies in early October – more than a month ago now – he reported “Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are sliding in the polls, but it’s complicated.”

Much more recently (just yesterday in fact) no less liberal a newspaper than the Toronto Star published an article headlined “The economy is booming, but few Canadians are ready to give Trudeau credit, poll says … Canada’s economy is on pace to lead the G7, but just 25 per cent of Canadians describe the Prime Minister’s performance as an economic manager as good or better, and 36 per cent call it poor or worse.”

Justin Trudeau with Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest during his appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Monday, June 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Lynett.

Much more recently as well, however (again just yesterday), Bruce Anderson and David Coletto reported on a new Abacus poll : “Last month we saw a four-point slip in Liberal Party support; in our latest survey the Liberals have stabilized and would win 40% support today. The Conservatives are at 32%. Both these numbers are identical to the results last election day in 2015.”

Abacus has also reported some intriguing regional variation in responses to the question : “Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the job the federal government led by Justin Trudeau is doing?” In Quebec (51%) and Atlantic Canada (a whopping 69%!) a majority of poll respondents answered “Approve” to this question. And in BC and Ontario the Approve number was 46%. As Anderson and Coletto put it, “Approval of the government” is at least “the plurality view” everywhere in Canada but the three Prairie provinces. And only in Alberta did a majority of respondents (56%) actually Disapprove of the federal government led by Justin Trudeau.

Justin Trudeau lights a candle for Diwali in this image shared on his Twitter account, Monday, October 16, 2017.

And now just today  Éric Grenier’s CBC poll tracker (reporting “Weighted Federal Polling Averages (%) … As of Nov. 17, 2017”) is suggesting broadly comparable results. (His current averages are Liberal 37.9%, Conservative 32.8%, NDP 17.1%, Green 6.0%, and Bloc Québécois 4.9%. On his model’s assumptions these numbers would give the Liberals 177 seats in the Canadian House of Commons – seven more than a bare majority.)

Moreover, if you ponder the individual poll results that Éric Grenier has used to calculate his current averages it is hard not to notice that the Trudeau Liberals have been reported at close to their 2015 election levels of popular support on various occasions over the past few months.

(Nanos had the Trudeau Liberals at 41% cross-country late this past summer. Ipsos had them at 39% late September. Campaign Research reported 38% early October. Abacus said 39% later October. Léger reported 42% for somewhat later October. Ipsos said 38% for somewhat later October. And Nanos reported 38% for mid October to mid November!)

* * * *

Justin Trudeau leaves after casting his ballot with his wife Sophie and their children Hadrien, 8 months, Ella-Grace, 5, and Xavier, 8, in Montreal on October 19, 2015.

There is no doubt that the current Liberal lead in most polls is not as intoxicating as it was for a time in the more or less immediate wake of Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2015 election victory.

As long ago as this past March, residents down under in the exotic Land of Oz heard about all this (to take just one suitably modest case in point) in “Greg Barns speaks with Randall White on the state of Canadian Politics & Justin Trudeau.”

Yet for the past number of months it also strikes me that the Ottawa press gallery (and of course the politicians and operatives who feed its vast appetite for what an earlier age called good copy) has gone somewhat overboard on the mid-life crisis of Justin Trudeau.

I could go on. But I think the sharpest point was revealed in some 2016 year-end meditations from Chantal Hébert in the Toronto Star.

Justin Trudeau and his Minister of Finance Bill Morneau. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP.

“When I came to Parliament Hill in the late eighties,” Ms Hébert noted :  “It was impossible to keep up with the [democratic political] narrative at a distance from the capital. The members of the [parliamentary press] gallery truly were the ears and eyes of Canadians on Parliament Hill for more than a century.”

Now, however, she went on : “The press gallery has become more diverse but polls suggest its output has tended to become less germane to the priorities of voters.” (And, somehow, the obvious great engine of progress or whatever else it may be here is the new digital information technology in the age of the internet and all that!)

Chantal Hébert concluded : “It is impossible to imagine national political coverage without a parliamentary component. But regardless of their number, the daily reporting of Parliament Hill media insiders is probably no more likely to be restored to pride of place in the national conversation than the cosy fireside chats of the not-so-distant past.”

Somewhere in here, I’m at least guessing for the moment, are the seeds of a deep and meaningful  explanation of the – to use a kind of not entirely fair but unavoidable terminology – 2017 Ottawa press gallery (and opposition MP s and a few non-hockey-playing Senators too) mis-reading of the appeal of the eldest son of Pierre Trudeau (& his lovely wife & family) … and failure to just recognize a good Liberal finance minister when you see one … etc, etc, etc …

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