Trudeau’s de­cline in pop­u­lar­ity is self-in­flicted

Scheer may be least po­lar­iz­ing flag-bearer to come out of Cana­dian right in two decades

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Chan­tal Hébert Chan­tal Hébert is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

As Justin Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment ap­proaches mid-man­date, he re­mains the most pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment leader in the coun­try. But that says as much if not more about the lack­lus­tre stand­ing of the cur­rent set of premiers as about the stay­ing power of the pop­u­lar­ity of the prime min­is­ter.

In three of the four larger prov­inces for in­stance, the in­cum­bents face un­cer­tain re-elec­tion prospects. And in Bri­tish Columbia, vot­ers re­cently failed to make a de­fin­i­tive choice be­tween the wannabe premiers on of­fer.

Even as he leads a largely unloved first min­is­ters’ pack, Trudeau’s ap­proval rat­ing has steadily de­clined over his sec­ond year in of­fice.

Most Cana­di­ans do not yet know what to make of in­com­ing Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer and none of the five NDP lead­er­ship con­tenders has so far made a big im­pres­sion on the elec­torate.

All of which is to say that the hits Trudeau and his party have taken over the past year have es­sen­tially been self-in­flicted.

Take the prime min­is­ter’s bro­ken prom­ise of a new vot­ing sys­tem. Most Cana­di­ans do not wake up at night to fret about the first-past-the-post vot­ing for­mula, but they do care about whether their po­lit­i­cal lead­ers can be trusted to say what they mean and mean what they say.

On that score, the episode was a defin­ing mo­ment for Trudeau. Go­ing for­ward there will be a check-on-de­liv­ery as­ter­isk at­tached to his com­mit­ments.

Last week, the prime min­is­ter again tried to dress up his de­ci­sion to aban­don the cen­tre­piece of his elec­toral-re­form agenda as some­thing other than a breach of his word — sug­gest­ing among other ar­gu­ments that he was ac­tu­ally stick­ing to the fine print of his cam­paign prom­ise.

Ac­cord­ing to Trudeau, the op­po­si­tion par­ties — had they paid more at­ten­tion — would ap­par­ently have di­vined that he was only go­ing through the mo­tions of con­sult­ing Cana­di­ans on the way for­ward as his mind was al­ready made up that a ranked bal­lot was the only ac­cept­able des­ti­na­tion.

Watch­ing the prime min­is­ter over the course of his end-of­sit­ting news con­fer­ence dig him­self a lit­tle bit deeper in a hole of his own mak­ing, one could not help but be struck by the sin­gu­lar po­lit­i­cal bipo­lar­ity of his gov­ern­ment.

On the one hand, Trudeau leads a team that de­serves full cred­its for hit­ting the ground run­ning in the wake of the Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Faced with the big­gest shift in the tec­tonic plates of the Canada/U.S. re­la­tion­ship in decades, he and his gov­ern­ment or­ches­trated a multi-faceted strat­egy that makes in­tel­li­gent use of the tal­ent pool at the coun­try’s dis­posal.

It is tes­ti­mony to the pro­fes­sion­al­ism that has so far gone into the fed­eral ap­proach to the Trump White House that six months in, Canada’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship — pro­vin­cial and fed­eral — is mostly still singing from the same hymn book.

False notes so far have been the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule.

On the other hand, the same gov­ern­ment can­not seem to ac­quit it­self of some of its most ba­sic du­ties. Fill­ing va­can­cies on agen­cies, boards, tri­bunals and courts to en­sure that the ma­chin­ery of gov­ern­ment func­tions on all cylin­ders is the gov­er­nance equiv­a­lent of ty­ing one’s shoelaces. On too many pol­icy is­sues, an un­bridge­able gap be­tween rhetoric and ac­tual de­liv­ery is on the way to be­com­ing a defin­ing fea­ture of Trudeau’s gov­er­nance pat­tern.

A word in clos­ing on the shift­ing op­po­si­tion land­scape and the im­pact of re­cent lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ments on the dy­nam­ics of the next cam­paign: Lost in the search for a sig­nif­i­cant postlead­er­ship bump in Con­ser­va­tive for­tunes in the wake of An­drew Scheer’s vic­tory is the fact that he may be the least po­lar­iz­ing flag­bearer to come out of the Cana­dian right in two decades.

That is a strate­gic loss for Trudeau and a gift of sorts for the next NDP leader. It could be a lot harder in 2019 for the Lib­er­als to spook New Demo­crat sym­pa­thiz­ers into jump­ing ship to keep the Scheer-led Con­ser­va­tives at bay than it was against the likes of Pre­ston Man­ning, Stock­well Day and, of course, Stephen Harper.

RYAN ROSS /THE GUARDIAN

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau greets well-wish­ers who showed up at a pub­lic re­cep­tion at the Mon­tague Curl­ing Club, hosted by Cardi­gan MP Lawrence Ma­cAulay, last Thurs­day dur­ing the PM’s visit to P.E.I.

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