The Hamilton Spectator
Politics as usual is not good enough
As Parliament resumes today after its holiday recess, MPs will be back at work, not much clearer about what folks outside the Ottawa bubble really expect from them than they were when they left on their break a few days before Christmas.
The opinion polls don’t help a great deal. Broadly interpreted, they paint a picture of a country ready for change, a public tired of the Liberals, but not enthusiastic about the alternatives. If an election had been held when recent surveys were being conducted, voters would have elected a minority Conservative government with about 35 per cent of the popular vote. That’s four to six points more than the Liberals, who are lagging after seven-plus years in office, but would voters really turn to the Tories? Other poll data suggests that while the electorate might accept a Conservative government, they would not necessarily buy a Pierre Poilievre Conservative government.
Popular support for the leaders of both major parties is pathetic. According to last week’s Nanos Research survey, Justin Trudeau remains the preferred choice as prime minister. He may have only 30 per cent of the public with him, but that’s three points better than the Conservative leader. When Nanos asked about the qualities of a good political leader, 50 per cent said Trudeau has the leadership qualities; 48 per said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has them. Poilievre ranked third at 38 per cent.
Some tentative conclusions. Under Poilievre, the Conservatives have consolidated their core vote, but not expanded it. The Liberals have eaten into their base, but have more room to increase it, because their pool of “accessible voters”— people who would consider voting for them if push came to shove — is marginally larger than that of the Conservatives. The New Democrats have neither prospered nor suffered from last March’s supply and confidence agreement with the Liberals; their numbers are the same as their vote in the 2021 election.
The Liberals’ challenge is to use the agreement’s protection from an unwanted election to strengthen their precarious public support, lock in their progressive agenda, and convince a wary electorate, as the Liberals would frame it, that it is better to move ahead with them than backward with Conservatives.
With the inflation rate ticking down and employers begging for workers, health care has replaced the economy — food prices aside — as Canadians’ biggest concern, according to the polls. The big health issues — on a national level, the federal-provincial underfunding of public health care; on a local level, overloaded hospitals, postponed surgeries, intolerable wait times — are at the head of the line.
Trudeau’s meeting on Feb. 7 with the provinces and territories to renegotiate the funding of the Canada Health Act will be crucial. If he fails to secure an agreement, he will wear the failure. If he succeeds, he will deny Poilievre, who has supported provincial demands for more federal money for health care, one of his few effective issues.
Lacking the sort of agenda for an alternative government that voters might expect from an adult opposition, Poilievre attacks Trudeau personally. “Everything feels broken,” he said the other day — and it is all Trudeau’s fault. It seems no sparrow falls from the sky that does not land on the prime minister’s desk.
Trudeau shrugs off personal attacks and by and large manages to ignore the protesters who turn up wherever he goes — even to a restaurant for a quiet dinner — to shout obscenities and accuse him of treason.
It’s politics as expected in 2023. Something is badly wrong. The public deserves better.