Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Many voters remain disappointed in last month’s federal election – after a campaign of dirty tricks and name-calling, as they saw it, we’re left with a divided country (a big part of the electorate unrepresented in any likely federal cabinet) and a revival of Quebec and Prairies’ nationalism. But why’s that unusual?
I suggest that this campaign was not a victory, but a great victory, for the federal Liberals. We’ve had minority governments before – this one with the independence of having several partners to choose from, depending on each issue. Nor is this a newly-chastised government; as the election got under way, Conservatives were polling ahead of the Liberals, enough to squeeze out a win. But Liberals came from behind for the victory; they’re celebrating.
The official story was to be Trudeau’s fall from grace. From his remarkable victory in 2015, Trudeau walked into one mess after the next, often creating them as he went along: voting-reform promises, the SNC Lavalin scandal, the expulsion of two ministers, one our first Indigenous Justice Minster, the India trip, sparring with Trump, Venezuela, and so on. Yet when the votes were counted, the Conservatives, supported by PostMedia (including Ottawa’s Citizen & Sun), fell short, although they did suck up every Liberal seat on the Prairies. Trudeau’s victory is what will be remembered, no fall.
In this campaign the Liberals were able to label Scheer as a social Neanderthal, hostile to abortion and same-sex marriage. Scheer couldn’t close that circle and remained muddied – the party created by Manning and Harper
still lacks a commitment to many social measures most Canadians find normal. Scheer never shook this old image off.
The infamous black-face photos seemed a body blow for Trudeau, with some analysts speculating that the Liberals had lost the election right there. Trudeau recovered well, made an outright apology, over and over, without the common caveats of most political apologies. The Liberals read the polls saying most
voters did not find old pranks meaningful, and Scheer
was unable to follow with a knock-out punch. (Please excuse these sports analogies!)
Third, the Liberals worked very hard, and succeeded, in framing the vote as strategic, not principled, and that any non-Liberal vote was in fact support for the Conservatives. They succeeded: the Greens fell from their strong initial positions, the NDP, even with Singh’s late “surge” could not counter this fear-mongering argument. Again, Trudeau was able to characterize the contest in a way that gave his party the edge.
Despite starting from behind and facing some hostile corporate media, the
Liberals did a remarkable job keeping on message. Trudeau, characterized by Trump as “weak” and ineffective, has proven himself a smart competitor and a tireless campaigner – from his boxing match years ago, to his surprise win in 2015, to this year.
However, this is national stuff, while our riding’s problems remain disregarded. Several national issues were surprisingly absent: Arctic sovereignty, voting reform, and nuclear power – especially our on-going failure to deal with radioactive waste.
For the Pontiac riding itself, nuclear waste remains significant, and not honestly dealt with by Pontiac’s two front-runners; their plan, in essence, was and is to use the Ottawa Valley as a hi-tech test plot for dumping radioactive garbage. Internet with cell phone service, plus dairy supply management and forestry/ agriculture within federal trade negotiations were also major. However, promises and comforting noises were apparently sufficient for Pontiac voters.
A final note concerns the candidates themselves. Pontiac had, in effect, only one candidate – in the sense of a well-known and articulate personality. Since the Conservatives had a possible upset coming, we expected a stronger and better-known offering from them. Likewise for the NDP and Greens. Their candidates seemed almost last-minute thoughts, especially the NDP’s very impressive Denise Giroux who started totally unknown across her riding. Usually votes go to the candidates who know their ridings well and who are well-known within their
ridings. Pontiac didn’t have this – when will we! – which has given us another four years with the amiable Mr Amos and the Liberals.