Justin Trudeau has called a snap Canadian federal election for September 20.
It is a tactical move, as the current Liberal minority government still has a couple of years to run before an election is required. Party political strategists, however, have presumably looked at the numbers and feel that now is the best time to upgrade to a majority government.
Why is this such an opportune moment? I think there are two main reasons.
In the first place, the competition is reeling. The new Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole, has not, thus far, been playing well with the public, Jasmeet Singh of the NDP still hasn’t caught on (and likely never will), and the Green Party is in total disarray.
Secondly, Canada is recovering (hopefully) from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Liberals want to take credit for the general sense of relief that Canadians feel.
In the next month I’ll probably post my usual, wildly inaccurate election predictions, and then offer some thoughts on the results. But for now, here are some preliminaries.
I think calling an election this early is cynical gamesmanship. Will the Liberals be punished for it? People don’t like being taken for granted, especially by politicians.
We live in a time of crisis and great challenges. And our political leadership continues to decline in quality. Is this the fault of the media? Of democracy? Looking at the field of candidates it’s hard not to feel despair.
As always, the Liberals will gain a lot from comparison shopping. The Big Prize in Canadian federal elections is Ontario, where there is already a Conservative government in power, and not a very popular one at that. This plays well for the Liberals. Also helping them out is what’s been happening south of the border, where it seems like the American right is imploding into a molten ball of ignorance and madness. Canada’s political right can now easily (and not always unfairly) be painted with the same brush as an anti-vaxxer, gun-toting, climate change-denying mob. Not in Canada! will be the cry. We’re better than that!
There has been an interesting development in national politics, both here and in the U.S., that has seen personality/celebrity and cultural issues jump into the driver’s seat. This is regrettable, but I can understand why it’s happening. The media, for one thing, tend to focus on these things because they push people’s buttons and they don’t take a lot of explaining. Try digging into the details of budgets and fiscal policy and see how many clicks you get. In the next month I expect we’re going to be hearing a lot of stuff about the personality of the leaders and the signaling of identity politics. Which national leader do you like the best? Are you woke? Are you for/against cancel culture?
I feel like I have to fight against this political tide myself. The fact is, Justin Trudeau has gone from being a slick, shallow, and dim figure I never cared much about to someone I despise. I don’t want to call him a bad person, but he is a sanctimonious hypocrite (the accusations of groping, the blackface) and, like so many establishment Liberals, he’s someone long steeped in the traditions of Natural Governing Party corruption (SNC-Lavalin, the We Charity). But how much of this should I be taking account of when casting a vote? Shouldn’t I just be concentrating on policy and platforms? Not that these mean all that much. But even though I knew Trudeau was never going to get rid of the FPTP electoral system, I still felt let down by that broken promise.
In any event, now they’re off to the races and we’ll have to see how things shake out. Here’s hoping we go for the least bad option, whatever it is.