The lead crumbled early. And Trudeau is now in a tight race against Conservative leader Erin O’Toole in the final piece of a 36-day campaign ending Monday.
Trudeau survived the 2019 election with a weakened minority after campaigning in the shadow of SNC-Lavalin and ethical controversies. Revelations that he wore racist clothing decades earlier did not help either, and damaged his image as a progressive leader.
Then and now, former President Barack Obama tweeted campaign support in the last stretch. By 2021, after leading Canada through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Trudeau should not have needed backing.
An insider in the Liberal Party says it is too early to discount Trudeau because the same people who worked with the Liberal leader through the last election are on the campaign team this year.
“To be up, to be down, to be behind, not to have the campaign go the way you want it to. Yep, that sounds a lot like 2019, right? ” they said.
Trudeau’s proposal that the election should take place now, two years early and in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, has drawn repeated scrutiny. His critics have blasted the campaign as an exercise in feeding the prime minister’s ego rather than an act of good governance.
Éric Grenier, author of The Writ, said Trudeau’s favorable trend lines began to reverse as soon as elections were called in mid-August, the same day as Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul fell.
People’s voting intentions are unlikely to move solely because they are sad about the timing of the election, Grenier offered. However, the perception that the call for elections is in Trudeau’s self-interest may affect how people vote, he said. “I think it raised the question of why we do this?”
This should be an election on politics, a referendum on Canada’s future, the prime minister said. But for many observers, it seems more like Trudeau’s ego and cynical voice buying.
Just before the campaign, Ottawa ran to lock in national early learning and childcare agreements with voting provinces, including British Columbia and Quebec. These are two regions where the Liberal Party hopes to achieve election gains.
“More ambitions for climate change” was another explanation Trudeau gave Canadians.
The party’s platform contains promises to ban the export of thermal coal by 2030, reduce methane emissions and reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector. While the new Democrats and Greens have proposed more aggressive emission reduction targets, climate policy experts give Liberals higher marks for backing their platform with policies and costs. Conservatives have made inroads at the center with a comprehensive climate plan with the lowest emission reduction target, but political experts have marked it to be brief on details about costs and timelines.
Instead of talking about the economy of climate and energy, Trudeau and O’Toole, the campaign’s frontrunners, have spent more time raising perennial key issues such as gun control and abortion.
The political gamble has left some federal Left insiders with a sense of regret at having called the election at all.
Trudeau led a minority government capable of working with opposition parties to launch new, massive relief programs during a pandemic. But the election spotlight has put new attention on Trudeau’s record on campaign promises.
His government came through on a 2015 pledge to legalize marijuana, but high-profile promises to implement electoral reforms, to end all long-term drinking water advice on First Nations reserves by March 2021 and to implement universal national pharmaceutical treatment have either been abandoned or delayed.
It is possible Trudeau could end up back where he started with a minority government. The results would again challenge the need for the $ 600 million election and raise questions about his leadership and future prospects.
“We may not have a clear result, in which case we may go back to the polls this spring,” said Michael Wernick, a former Privy Council clerk, about a potential scenario that could await Canadians on the other side of election day.
If a government leads with a minority, it must look across the aisle to get support from one party or another to maintain confidence in Parliament and continue to rule. An election can be triggered if the government loses confidence in Parliament. This test traditionally takes place every spring when the government submits its budget or any other bill that it considers a matter of confidence that MPs can vote on.
To add to the intrigue of Canada’s parliamentary system, if the Conservatives land a minority on Monday, Trudeau will still have a shot at leading. The incumbent Prime Minister gets the first crack at maintaining confidence in the House of Commons. Trudeau was to enter into agreements with other parties such as the Federal New Democrats, the Bloc Québécois and the Greens on a coalition government.
But this choice should not be about compromise; it was about cementing Trudeau’s legacy as a political unicorn. The problem is that the unicorn has created enemies – some within his own party.
After six years in office, some of Trudeau’s top critics include former members of the Federal Liberal Assembly and Cabinet. Trudeau, who has fought for herself as a feminist, made headlines in 2015 for appointing Canada’s first gender-balanced cabinet.
In the few years ago, some of the same women who led some of the toughest cases in Trudeau’s cabinet are now among the prime minister’s strongest critics.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, former Liberal justice minister who was fired from the Trudeau assembly, wrote in her new book that she told the prime minister “I wish I had never met you” after he asked her to move on from SNC- Lavalin affair. Liberal Cabinet Minister Jane Philpott was also thrown out of Trudeau’s assembly to support her friend.
When Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a former Liberal MP who left the Liberal Assembly after breaking rank to support Wilson-Raybould, said she supports the Conservative candidate running in the riding she used to represent. Former Liberal MP Michelle Simson responded online, saying: “Believe me, she’s probably not the only one. ”
Simson and Trudeau were both first elected in 2008. She sat next to the incoming Prime Minister in the House of Commons for a period before being defeated in 2011.
“He was very sizzle and no steak. That was my personal observation, ”Simson said. She recalled that Trudeau was “totally disconnected” under the trade agreement between Canada and Colombia more than a decade ago.
She said the centralization of power has increased during Trudeau’s tenure as leader – that the government is headed by the prime minister’s office. It’s a trend that members of grassroots have long marked as a concern reminiscent of “major American-style centralized campaigns that risk alienating Canadians from getting involved in local riding.
Federal liberals “rely less and less on membership except for election time when they want volunteers on the streets,” Simson said. It’s a factor that motivated her to drop her party membership last year – even though she still identifies as a liberal.
“He has lost support from women,” Simson said, referring to the prime minister’s treatment of Wilson-Raybould. “I think he got a bit of a pass in 2015. I think the brilliance started to drop in 2019.”
Trudeau, the son of a former longtime prime minister, has spent his entire life more or less in the eyes of the public. He has become a brand unto himself, idealized as a progressive leader. It’s good for Allies when he wins, but six years of government have left their mark on Trudeau’s brand.
Abacus Data pollster David Coletto said it is expected that a leader’s brand will eventually weave with their party over time. “Stephen Harper and the conservative brand were deeply intertwined at the end of his 10 years in office. The Chretien and the Liberal brand were deeply connected, ”he said.
“Right now, I do not think you’re going to have a lot of voters out there who say, ‘I love the Liberals, but I hate Trudeau,’ or ‘I love Trudeau, and I hate the Liberals,'” Coletto said. “Those two [go] hand in hand.”
Asked Thursday whether he would consider returning to power with a reduced minority as an endorsement or accusation of his approach to politics and governance, Trudeau posed the question.
“We are convinced that Canadians want to move forward,” he said, working on a key word in his party’s campaign slogan in his response.