2021 Canadian election last-half log, I : After first French debate polls still say trouble for Trudeau

Sep 3rd, 2021 | By | Category: In Brief
First French Leaders Debate 2021. Canadian Press.

COUNTERWEIGHTS EDITORS, GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. FRIDAY 3 SEPTEMBER 2021. [UPDATED SEPTEMBER 5]. We have now just passed the halfway mark in the short (36-day) 2021 Canadian federal election campaign. And we are at the edge of the Labour Day weekend.

Starting this coming Tuesday, legend has it, the people of Canada will at last arise from their favourite islands, vacation lands of lakes and forests, sea-bound coasts, and beyond. They will start to realize that a federal election campaign is actually underway.

Then at least large numbers of us will decide we need to pay some attention, so we can vote wisely on September 20. (Voter turnout in the last four Canadian federal elections has ranged from a low of 58.8% in 2008 to a high of 68.3% in 2015.)

Last night (Thursday, September 2) also marked the first French language debate on TV, with the leaders of the Bloc Québécois, Conservatives, Liberals, and New Democrats. Campbell Clark in the Globe and Mail found that “Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole walks out of first debate in one piece.” On the big screen TV in our boardroom our sense was that (as best we could tell) the TVA commentator who said (in French of course) that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was a clear winner had the main dynamics right.

Continuing Liberal trouble in opinion polls

Former Progressive Premier of Manitoba John Bracken (left) and his wife and eldest son, just after he became leader of new Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1942.

At the same time, the opinion polls today continue to show trouble for the Trudeau Liberals. Both Grenier’s CBC Poll Tracker and Fournier’s 338Canada poll-based projections show the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals in cross-Canada popular vote. (As does Nanos Daily Tracking for yesterday and today.)

The CBC Poll Tracker as of September 3 is still giving the Liberals a few more seats in the end — as a result of the wider geographic distribution of their vote. But 338 Canada now has the Conservatives with more seats as well as a greater popular vote — as do various other poll-based projections.

Right now, broadly, the polls seem to be saying we’re headed for a Conservative minority government under new Prime Minister Erin O’Toole — for as long as such a government can somehow construct parliamentary majorities for its budget and other key legislation.

Mr. O’Toole is trying to breathe new life into the old Canadian tradition of “Progressive Conservatism.” He is reviving political chords that in their most recent guise stretch back to 1942, when the Progressive premier of Manitoba became federal Conservative leader. In its most historic incarnation all this reaches back to the “Liberal Conservative” party of George-Etienne Cartier and John A. Macdonald, in the 1860s era of the Canadian confederation (and American Civil War). And the latest polls do suggest that “Everyman” Erin O’Toole’s revived progressive conservatism of the 2020s is somehow connecting with some current aspirations among the people of Canada.

Jagmeet Singh’s NDP and the “Influence of the latest rumblings of Democracy in America next door”

Young Ontario non-voter enjoys ice-cream from Kawartha Dairy in Citizen X’s new backyard.

At the same time again, the most striking feature of the first half of the campaign in the polls is in many ways the continuing strong performance of Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats.

Unless things change dramatically they have consigned the Trudeau Liberals’ earlier dreams of holding a snap election to win a parliamentary majority to the dustbin of history.

The best PM Justin Trudeau seems able to do now is a minority government. And the worst is some sojourn of indeterminate length as official opposition.

Meanwhile, as we wonder just what has changed since just before the election was called — when opinion polls did seem to suggest that the Liberals were at the edge of a majority government — we remember something our Kawartha wilderness colleague Citizen X was urging back on July 13, 2021, under the heading “Influence of the latest rumblings of Democracy in America next door.”

As X wrote back then, some seven and a half weeks ago :

Afghans crowd at the tarmac of Kabul airport on August 16, 2021, to flee the country as the Taliban take control of Afghanistan’ (Photo by AFP). Just the day before (August 15) Justin Trudeau had called a “snap election” for September 20.

“If there is a federal election in Canada sometime soon, in 2021, another big difference with the 2019 election concerns the federal government in the United States.” At that point President Biden was still broadly popular next door. And that was “another significant enough part of the explanation for both Fournier’s and Grenier’s latest 2021 seat projections, that show Conservatives losing seats over 2019 in Canada while both Liberals and New Democrats gain.”

Then along came the US departure at last from war-torn Afghanistan — and the (inevitably?) troubled efforts to get US citizens and supporters and those of other allies like Canada out of the place, before the Taliban’s second run at governing a very-hard-to-govern country settles in.

Deservedly or otherwise, all this has for the moment rather dramatically weakened President Biden’s popular approval (down to 43% on one recent measurement). And something similar seems to be hurting Prime Minister Trudeau as well.

But who really looks like the best PM of Canada today?

“Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Liberal candidate Pat Angnakak look on during a campaign stop in Iqaluit, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette.”

After some internal debate we have nonetheless concluded that Justin Trudeau was the most important winner of the first French debate last night.

As best we can tell his broad performance since October 21, 2019 also means that he should win at least another minority government on September 20, 2021.

We altogether agree that PM Trudeau did make a mistake calling this “snap election” right now. But that is not in our view a big enough mistake to make the better-than-we-thought but still far from convincing Erin O’Toole prime minister. Mr. O’Toole may have walked out of last night’s TV debate in one piece. But he still did not look like a Prime Minister of Canada to us.

Whatever else, Justin Trudeau did and still does and still will on September 20.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 5. Both 338Canada and CBC Poll Tracker agree that Conservatives are ahead in the cross-Canada popular vote. (338 Canada Sept 4 update on pop vote — CON 35%, LIB 31%, NDP 20%, BQ 6%, PPC 4%, GRN 3% ; CBC Poll Tracker Sep 5 update on pop vote — CON 34%, LIB 31%, NDP 20%, BQ 6%, PPC 4%, GRN 4%.)

The two popular poll aggregators, however, disagree when they convert their cross-Canada support to seats in the Canadian House of Commons. 338Canada is still giving the Conservatives slightly more seats. CBC Poll Tracker is still predicting, as it were, a Liberal minority government somewhat more beholden to the NDP than over the last almost two years. (338 Canada Sept 4 update on seat projections — CON 144, LIB 131, NDP 36, BQ 26, GRN 1 ; CBC Poll Tracker Sep 5 update on seat projections — LIB 141, CON 132, NDP 37, BQ 27, GRN 1.) Some of us are starting to wonder if this great mystery will last until September 20?

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