Trudeau weath­er­ing SNC storm

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - CHAN­TAL HE­BERT Chan­tal He­bert is a colum­nist based in Ot­tawa cov­er­ing pol­i­tics. Follow her on Twit­ter: @Chan­talHbert

Even be­fore the Lib­er­als used their ma­jor­ity on a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day to shut down fu­ture in­quiries into the fed­eral ethics com­mis­sioner’s scathing re­port about Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s han­dling of the SNC-Lavalin file, there were signs that Mario Dion’s find­ings were not des­tined to be­come a turn­ing point of the pre­elec­tion sea­son.

By all in­di­ca­tions, the SNC-Lavalin saga is play­ing to a shrink­ing au­di­ence, with the front row seats mostly oc­cu­pied by com­mit­ted par­ti­sans on both sides of the con­tro­versy.

The re­port’s key con­clu­sion — that Trudeau broke the ethics law by pres­sur­ing his for­mer at­tor­ney-gen­eral to of­fer SNC-Lavalin a re­me­di­a­tion agree­ment in lieu of a po­ten­tial crim­i­nal con­vic­tion — has not so far al­tered the pre-elec­tion dy­nam­ics.

In­stead, the op­po­si­tion par­ties may have en­tered a phase of di­min­ish­ing re­turns from the scan­dal.

In the af­ter­math of the re­port’s re­lease, the polling firms Ekos, Ip­sos, Léger Mar­ket­ing and Aba­cus all found the Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives re­main tied in voter in­ten­tions, with none of the third par­ties get­ting a sig­nif­i­cant boost from an ero­sion in gov­ern­ment sup­port.

That sta­tis­ti­cal tie na­tion­ally trans­lates on a re­gional ba­sis into a mod­est Lib­eral edge on the com­pe­ti­tion.

From Trudeau’s per­spec­tive, the timing of the ethics re­port — ear­lier than most ex­pected — was al­most cer­tainly prov­i­den­tial.

Cana­di­ans tend to fo­cus more in­ten­sively on pol­i­tics in gen­eral and elec­tion bat­tles in par­tic­u­lar af­ter Labour Day and closer to the ac­tual vote.

The Aba­cus poll found that only half of Cana­di­ans were aware of Dion’s re­port, and only a small group — es­sen­tially dom­i­nated by en­gaged par­ti­sans — gave it a lot of scru­tiny.

Prior to last week’s re­lease, the story had al­ready dom­i­nated the head­lines for the best part of the first half of the year.

The take of its main pro­tag­o­nists was al­ready doc­u­mented.

Lit­tle in Dion’s con­clu­sion could match the riv­et­ing po­lit­i­cal drama that at­tended the res­ig­na­tions of two se­nior min­is­ters and the prime min­is­ter’s top aide ear­lier this year.

And while many ques­tions do re­main unan­swered, anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests many vot­ers feel they know enough to come to a de­ter­mi­na­tion as to how much blame, if any, to ap­por­tion to its lead­ing pro­tag­o­nists.

On that ba­sis, it should not come as a big sur­prise that 78 per cent of those who did pay at­ten­tion to the re­port told Aba­cus its con­clu­sion had not al­tered their opin­ion.

Per­haps more sur­pris­ing is the Aba­cus find­ing that a ma­jor­ity (56 per cent) of those who make up the small group of re­spon­dents that have changed their minds since the re­port have crossed over to Trudeau’s side of the ar­gu­ment.

It’s clear, the prime min­is­ter’s de­fence that he was look­ing out for Cana­dian jobs seems to have been more ef­fec­tive than the lat­est of­fen­sive of the op­po­si­tion par­ties, even when the lat­ter were ef­fec­tively loaded for bear cour­tesy of the ethics com­mis­sioner.

The post-re­port swings in pub­lic opin­ion are hap­pen­ing in the mar­gin of the pre-elec­tion ac­tion. But step­ping back from the im­me­di­ate SNC-Lavalin front, the episode may of­fer some use­ful in­sights into the dy­nam­ics of the up­com­ing fed­eral bat­tle.

The first is that Trudeau still com­mands a large and loyal core au­di­ence, one still im­per­vi­ous to his fail­ings in of­fice or at least will­ing to give him a pass.

That, for the record, is fairly typ­i­cal of the fol­low­ing of a prime min­is­ter who has only been in of­fice for one term.

The sec­ond is that non-Con­ser­va­tive vot­ers — Cana­di­ans who would never con­sider sup­port­ing An­drew Scheer, but who may be dis­il­lu­sioned as a re­sult of Trudeau’s han­dling of the SNC-Lavalin file — are not by and large flock­ing to the other op­tions on of­fer, be it the NDP, the Bloc Québé­cois, the Green party or the Peo­ple’s Party.

With time run­ning out, and even with Team Trudeau wounded, Scheer’s Con­ser­va­tives are still un­der­whelm­ing a crit­i­cal mass of the swing vot­ers whose sup­port they need if they are to form the next gov­ern­ment. That may be be­cause they are ask­ing vot­ers out­side their base to over­look too much on the way to help­ing them re­place the Lib­er­als in power.

This is a time when vot­ers’ minds are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to the larger picture and the agenda they want the next fed­eral gov­ern­ment to pur­sue over the next four years.

In that big picture, the fact that Scheer’s cli­mate plan has been dis­missed as lit­tle more than win­dow­dress­ing by just about ev­ery in­de­pen­dent ex­pert who has re­viewed it may, for in­stance, mat­ter more to more vot­ers than the SNC-Lavalin find­ings of the ethics com­mis­sioner.

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