Canada Votes: Dumpster Fire '21
Welcome to The Rover's coverage of a federal election nobody wanted!
With his boyish good looks and a family lifted straight out of last season’s IKEA catalogue, it can be hard for us lowly serfs to relate to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
I mean, he’s almost 50 and has washboard abs for Christ’s sake. Yesterday, I nearly chipped my front teeth chugging a pint of Guinness with a shot of whisky inside it.
Just look at Sunday’s photo of the Trudeaus, walking hand in hand towards Rideau Hall for a meeting with the Governor General of Canada. There’s Justin in his tailored blue blazer and Sophie floating along in an all-white suit made of fine linen and the tears of angels (probably). Of course Xavier and Ella-Grace are the picture of elegance.
But then, there is little Hadrien. Sweet, sweet Hadrien, lagging behind the group in his yellow Croc sandals, an untucked shirt, unkempt hair and a rainbow belt that looks like it was stolen from a dead clown.
I like Hadrien. I am Hadrien. We are all Hadrien, being dragged to a meeting with Queen Elizabeth’s viceregal, watching helplessly as we learn that there will be an election in 36 days whether we like it or not.
So here we are, less than six weeks away from ushering in Canada’s 44th parliament barely two years removed from the last god-forsaken election, in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed 26,700 of us in 19 months.
But if we must crawl into the bowels of political hell, let us do so together.
And thus, we begin an adventure in experimental journalism, a quest that will end with millions of ballots cast, a sense of bitterness after having been subjected to countless attack ads and so many instances of the phrase “Canadians will have a choice” that it goes beyond blasphemy and into the realm of cardinal sin.
If that wasn't enough, my partner is due to give birth to our child in October. We’re thinking of calling her Wednesday. But I now feel partial to Hadrien.
Here’s what you can expect from us at Rover Industries, Ltd.
At least three weekly newsletters with links to stories we’re following, news we’re breaking and issues that we think aren’t getting enough attention.
Interviews with experts in politics, candidates you may have never heard of and maybe a few former members of parliament with an axe to grind.
Links to live chats, invitations to one or many live viewing parties of the leaders debate (be it in person (COVID permitting) or on some sort of epic Zoom call). And an election night event at a location to be announced.
So follow along, won’t you?
We’re less interested in the political insiders than the outsiders who had to google “what is writ” so they don’t sound like an idiot when using the phrase “during the Writ period.” I still don't understand it but maybe Romeo Saganash can explain.
What the polls are saying
“The most likely scenario is a Liberal victory, with signs pointing towards a strong minority government or a razor thin majority.”
That’s what polling guru Philippe J. Fournier told me after many beers — he drank one, I drank several — last Thursday in Rosemont.
I trust Fournier because, in his spare time, he builds mathematical models that simulate millions of scenarios. For instance, what if Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole converted to Mormonism but the Liberal party bus collided with a rare bird and Trudeau had to go into hiding? Fournier’s model has you covered!
I’m not sure that’s how it works but of the half dozen polls conducted since last week, the Liberals have an average of about 6 points over the Conservatives. Weirdly, a Forum Research poll published Sunday has the Tories leading voter intentions with 31 per cent of respondents while the Liberals trailed at 28 per cent. Apparently it’s not uncommon for Forum to be off. So take that with a grain of salt.
A quick note about Fournier, if you don’t know him by now you will before the election is over. He’s a college professor who teaches astronomy and runs the polling website 338Canada in his spare time. Fournier will appear on CTV News, Radio-Canada, Noovoo and he’ll write three columns a week for MacLeans Magazine for the next 35 days.
On September 21, the morning after this mess is over, he’ll get the worst cold of his life. It’s science.
What the political junkies are saying about:
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau
“Trudeau had some interesting spin during his opening remarks (Sunday). We expected him to say ‘I called an election because we need a majority to execute our agenda.’ But actually, it was more along that lines that, after the 2019 election, we had no idea the world would be plunged into a deadly pandemic. So this is a chance for those who’ve seen The Liberals handle that pandemic — including the ones who disagree with their approach — to have their voices heard. That’s interesting but, as is often the case, Trudeau struggled when he had to field reporters’ questions.”
That’s what McGill University professor Daniel Béland told me Sunday night after having watched Day 1 coverage of all five party leaders.
The question Trudeau couldn’t bring himself to answer was whether he should still be Liberal leader should his party fail to win a majority next month. Of course, it may not seem fair for that question to be put to him just minutes into a 36-day campaign. But bare knuckle press conferences are par for the course when you call a snap election.
After struggling to roll out COVID-19 vaccines late last winter, Canada has the highest vaccination rate of any country in the world. This is due, in no small part, to the federal government’s ability to procure 28 million doses from abroad and ahead of schedule. Over 70 per cent of the population aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated and 82 per cent have their first dose.
“Right now versus 2019, people want stability,” said Béland. “The vaccination campaign is a good example of that of course we are also entering a fourth wave of an unprecedented global pandemic.”
Trudeau will need to make inroads across Quebec for his party’s gamble to pay off. It was a series of public spats with Premier François Legault, the emergence of a charismatic Bloc Québécois leader and the abysmal handling of environmental issues (WE BOUGHT A PIPELINE!) that cost Trudeau a few dozen seats in the province two years ago.
But while the Bloc is better funded and more organized than it was in 2019, Trudeau and Legault have been real chummy lately. The Liberal leader pledged $6 billion, no questions asked, to Quebec as part of a national childcare plan. He’s also done everything in his power not to fight Legault on the premier’s religious symbols ban and his plan to beef up Quebec’s French language charter.
“Legault is incredibly popular in Quebec and there’s no doubt his attacks on Trudeau in 2019 cost the Liberals,” said Béland. “But there’s little motivation for either of them to fight this time around.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole
“The Conservatives are revisiting every Liberal scandal since 2015. Whereas the New Democratic Party and The Bloc will say, ‘There was no reason for this election, we were getting things done in a minority government!’ The Conservatives are positioning themselves as the majority government in waiting. They’re presenting this as a referendum on the Trudeau years. But their pitch to voters can’t really address the pandemic because there are tensions within the party. A lot of their base, in Alberta, don’t want to see so much government intervention in the form of restrictions and vaccine mandates. It puts O’Toole in an awkward position. He had to tap dance a bit when asked if, like Trudeau, he would require all his candidates to be vaccinated.”
— Daniel Béland
It’s not a great sign that the campaign hadn’t even started yet and Conservative candidates were already publicly denouncing their own party’s strategy. I am referring, of course, to the now infamous Willy Wonka attack ad that’s so dumb it’s not worth explaining.
The ad has been disavowed by a number of candidates and high profile Tory supporters. Even Rebel Media scamp Keean Bexte called it “cringe” and he would vote for rabid dog if it ran under the Tory banner.
Of course, there is the possibility — raised by my colleague Martin Lukacs — that this was part of a strategy to start gaming algorithms on social media. You see, so many people shared the video just to mock it, that it got much more traction than anything the Conservatives have put out in months. And the next, much less cringy, video the Tory war room posts will benefit from that traction.
Where were we?
Ah yes, the goddamn Willy Wonka video and O’Toole’s first press conference. As silly as this is, O’Toole’s refusal to mandate vaccinations — he says we must “educate not mandate” — is ultimately a far more consequential than a stupid post on Twitter. It also runs contrary to what most Canadians want, according to the polls.
On an unrelated note, I’d like to congratulate O’Toole on being the first — but certainly not the last — politician to use the phrase “let’s be clear” in this election. Nails on a chalkboard, those words.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh
“He’s starting the campaign in a good position in the polls and he’s the most popular among the leaders. Especially among the youth, he’s very popular. The NDP has two goals: gain seats and prevent the Liberals from winning a majority. Those go hand in hand because a split vote on the left makes the Liberals path to a majority much harder. Also worth noting, they’ll benefit from the collapse of the Green Party. Jagmeet Singh needs to convince Canadians that they need a strong NDP in a minority parliament to push forward a progressive agenda, including environmental issues, healthcare, social spending and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
Of all the candidates, Singh was the only one to bring up Canada’s affordable housing and rental crisis with any semblance of depth. One in five Canadians spend more than 50 per cent of their monthly income on housing and, Singh says, an NDP government would build 500,000 affordable homes across Canada, “bring immediate relief” to renters and crack down on real estate speculators.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet
“He’s a great campaigner with a background in show business and a lot of experience on television. He knows spin. There are vulnerabilities for the Bloc. They’ll always be just an opposition party and the Liberals will say ‘The Bloc whines while we put up $6 billion for childcare’ but the Bloc can just turn around and say ‘That’s because we’re so strong in Ottawa.’ That argument is pretty vulnerable. But Blanchet brought up Quebec’s Bill 21 on secularism, the need for better French language protection, the fact that the new Governor General doesn’t speak French. For him to succeed, he’ll need external factors like if a court decision brings Bill 21 back into the mix. And he’d really like it if François Legault got into a public argument with Justin Trudeau. If Legault hadn’t been so critical of Trudeau in 2018, I’m absolutely convinced the Bloc wouldn’t have won as many seats as it did.
Unlike last election season, when Blanchet’s party came out of nowhere to pick up 22 seats across Quebec, the Bloc has three times the resources it did back then. Blanchet has also been campaigning throughout the province all summer. This, despite criticizing the Liberal leader for his decision to campaign in the middle of a global pandemic.
And the increase in funding and visibility also means that Blanchet will also face more scrutiny and tougher questions than he did in 2019. So while the Bloc may be on firm footing in most of its 32 ridings, it’s hard to see the party making significant gains, much less become the official opposition as it did in the 1990s.
Even so, Blanchet will campaign on a mix of progressive causes like the environment and LGBTQ2S rights while mixing in red meat issues like religious symbols (see: unconstitutional limitations on the freedom of Muslim women to practice their faith).
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul
“The Green Party is having a hard time right now.”
It’s been clear for months that there would be an election before the end of the year but elements within the party have been dead set on ousting Paul. This stems, in part, from the defection of Green MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals in June. Atwin left after Paul’s political advisor Noah Zatzman accused some within the Green Party of antisemitism for their stance on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories.
Atwin referred to the occupation as “apartheid” and while she later softened her critique, Zatzman’s “antisemitism” remarks were clearly an attack on one of the party’s only sitting MPs. Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May told The Tyee that Paul’s refusal to reprimand Zatzman set the table for Atwin’s defection. Losing a member of parliament wouldn’t be a death knell for most parties, but the Greens were down to just two seats in the House of Commons at dissolution.
All of this turmoil could feel like just a bad dream if Paul has an impressive showing and gains ground on September 20. After all, Canada is beset by droughts, forest fires and a number of natural disasters associated with global warming.
One last thing…
So there you have it, we’re off to the races.
This week, Joseph Dubois and I will be working on a story about competing reactions to gun violence in Montreal-Nord, St-Michel and Rivière des Prairies. Police are ramping up their presence in those boroughs but locals fear that only means more young Black men will be shaken down by cops while the root causes of violence are being ignored.
This doesn’t strictly tie into the election but the future of policing in Canada has been a front-burner issue for the BIPOC communities across the country. Add to this the fact that Montreal is on the cusp of a municipal election, and we’re seeing something meaningful play itself out on the island’s northeast boroughs. Stay tuned!
Good preview. Could you ask the Liberals why they did not ban hand guns? are there so many hand guns owners and by the way, why do they have a hand gun?
My perception of O'toole: a man with a ball attached to his foot (the ball being his right wing). Not good in a race.
Can Jagmeet get more votes hence more seats? People like him and this time they know him. So maybe.
All the best for the campaign.
This is a fantastic write-up and introductory look at the election landscape. Bravo! Thanks for your work here.