What’s behind early Conservative surge in the Canadian election campaign (and how long will it last …)?

Aug 25th, 2021 | By | Category: In Brief
Five Canadian party leaders 2021 – l to r : Erin O’Toole (CON), Justin Trudeau (LIB), Annamie Paul (GRN), Yves-François Blanchet (BQ), Jagmeet Singh (NDP). Left out : Maxime Bernier (PPC). Photo : Globe and Mail, Canadian Press, and Reuters.

SPECIAL FROM THE DEMOCRATIC DESKTOP OF CITIZEN X, BUCKHORN, ON. K0L 0C1. COUNTERWEIGHTS ELECTION REPORT, II, 25 AUG 21. [UPDATED AUGUST 26]. What does one ordinary voter adrift in the multitude (and still half-immersed in summer at the lake) make of the 2021 Canadian federal election campaign, so far?

That is what the editors have asked me to grapple with, as Part II in the ongoing counterweights Canada election report 2021. I preface my remarks by noting that the Nanos Daily Ballot Tracking (on the CTV News site) is just today showing a fresh % increase for LIB, alongside decreases for CON and NDP The current August 24 nightly numbers released 6:30 AM August 25 are LIB 35.9%, CON 32.7%, NDP 16.8%, BQ 5.6%, GRN 4.8%, PPC 3.7%.

(1) Like others I have been surprised by how effective Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and his party warriors have seemed in the campaign’s early days. As noted by former federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair on CTV News “O’Toole has come as a surprise to a lot of people.”

“Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (second from left) wearing dark glasses, arrives with members of his new cabinet for swearing in ceremonies at Government House in Ottawa, July 6, 1968. (Doug Ball/CP).”

(Though also note G.T. Lem on Twitter : “Former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair spends all his time making the round on QUEBEC radio telling listeners … Erin O’Toole was born in Montreal! … NEVER have I ever seen a former NDP Leader openly campaign for the Conservatives.”)

From my lakeside vantage point in front of my large-screen TV it has seemed to me as well that Erin O’Toole and his Conservative Party of Canada have come on more often and in stronger numbers than anyone or anything else in the early campaign.

This may have more than a little to do with a recent tweet from Canadian Resistance : “Most of Canada’s news media are Conservative propaganda machines.” And, some might add, once an election campaign officially begins the sudden surge in Conservative propaganda is finally reflected in a Conservative surge in opinion polls.

Even if there actually is some degree of truth in all this, however, the initial Conservative surge in opinion polls is impressive enough.

And so is the sudden new respect among Mr. Mulcair’s fellow politicos for Erin O’Toole (and his at least somewhat rhetorically left-leaning Conservative policy pronouncements – much more like the old Progressive Conservative legend John Diefenbaker than the much more recent and right-wing Stephen Harper, and his new Conservative Party of Canada!).

(2) It has also seemed to me that the Trudeau Liberals got off to a slow start right up front – regardless of the twists and turns of conservative media coverage.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and children Ella-Grace, Hadrien and Xavier arrive at Rideau Hall to ask Governor General Mary Simon to dissolve Parliament Aug. 15, 2021 in Ottawa. PHOTO BY DAVE CHAN /AFP via Getty Images.”

Right when the election was formally called, as it were, on Sunday, August 15, media images of PM Trudeau and his still young enough family walking to the prime minister’s meeting with the first Indigenous Governor General he had just recently appointed, Her Excellency Mary Simon, were too gentle, kind, romantic, and vague.

What was arguably more wanted in the present Canadian mood, with its various jagged pandemic feelings across the country, was something more like the legendary wise-guys photo of the Pierre Trudeau cabinet on its way to being sworn in on July 6, 1968. (See above.) Or even the wise-guys-and-dolls Justin Trudeau cabinet on its way to a similar fate on November 4, 2015. (Below.)

As a senior citizen living in part on income from financial investments, I similarly think PM Trudeau made a mistake of sorts in his early campaign remark : “When I think about the biggest, most important economic policy this government, if re-elected, would move forward, you’ll forgive me if I don’t think about monetary policy … You’ll understand that I think about families.”

Justin Trudeau cabinet en route to swearing in, November 2, 2015.

And then there was Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s allegedly “manipulated” tweet about Erin O’Toole’s views on “private, for-profit services” in health care. The conservative media jumped on this.

(Though I personally think Liberal-sympathizing Canadian humourist Stephen Lautens was onto something when he tweeted : “O’Toole says in video that he wants more ‘private, for-profit services’ in health care, unlike the ‘manipulated’ Twitter video he objected to where he said he wants more ‘private, for-profit services’ in health care.”)

Finally, Liberal supporters can at least take some heart from no less a source than the conservative journalist and National Post columnist John Ivison , who has recently (August 23) tweeted himself : “People who under-estimate @JustinTrudeau ’s chances of electoral success have not watched him work a crowd.” (And then of course there are the latest Nanos Daily Tracking numbers this morning … will they still be there tomorrow?)

(3) The most striking thing to me in the numbers from the latest Abacus election poll is NDP 23%. In this context I think especially of what I know myself as the Donolo Syndrome (or Hypothesis?) : New Democrats must be below 20% for Liberals to win a majority government.

Abacus Data, August 24, 2021.

Both the Grenier CBC Poll Tracker and the Fournier 338Canada poll aggregator, in their August 24 updates are still giving the Liberals considerably less than the 170 seats required for a bare majority in the current Canadian House of Commons. (Grenier says 158 seats. Fournier is as low as 145. But this is still more than the Conservatives at 112 or 128, and enough for a Liberal minority government kept in office for some further indeterminate future by Jagmeet Singh’s grinning-wider NDP with 38 or 37 seats, up from 24 in 2019.)

Beyond a Liberal minority government a little more beholden to the NDP than the one we have now, what if the early Conservative surge just keeps going. Is the recent Nova Scotia provincial election (where what started as a Liberal cakewalk ended with a Conservative majority government) in the cards federally now too?

Grenier has just written on “By how much do the Conservatives need to be ahead to win? … Just closing the gap will not be enough for Erin O’Toole .” And on August 23 Paul Wells was asking in Maclean’s “Is a Conservative minority government even possible? …It would hang on how the opposition parties vote, of course. And it’s hard to imagine the NDP paving the way for Erin O’Toole to become prime minister.”

(4) Inconclusions

At the Lake. Photo by Jesse Milns, August 2021.

The most immediate question no doubt is will the sudden Liberal resurgence of sorts in last night’s Nanos Daily Tracking numbers carry on?

And in the end is there still a chance the Justin Trudeau who skilfully works crowds will finally capture the imaginations of enough other Canadians who equally yearn for some kind of gentle, kind, romantic, and vague future, as in the good old days, to win a majority government after all? (And note declining NDP numbers in latest Nanos Daily Tracking above as well.)

Meanwhile, against this prospect a new Mainstreet poll with the same dates as the latest Nanos Daily Tracking is still showing the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals (34%—31%, with the NDP at 19%).

And Abacus reports as much as 40% of the electorate is still open to changing its mind on September 20, the actual election day. As it should be in a democracy, there remain at least a few possible prospects in the air, as I try a second gin and tonic on the dock in the Kawartha wilderness, only a couple of hours from the Big Smoke (just one of several such places in the vast climate-changing geography of We the North today)!

UPDATE AUGUST 26 : So the plot thickens (maybe?). The Nanos Daily Tracking numbers today are CON 34.4%, LIB 33.6%, NDP 18.9%, BQ 5.3%, GRN 4.3%, PPC 3.1%. Erin O’Toole is in the lead again. Now the big question is what happens to these numbers over the next several days! The horse race continues. Meanwhile, the Liberal vote also remains more efficient, and less concentrated in a few provinces. M. Grenier’s CBC Poll Tracker for August 26 has Liberals with 151 seats (bare majority = 170), Conservatives 120, NDP 39, BQ 27, and Greens 1.

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