What is this election about? The Liberals are still working on it – The Globe and Mail

Posted: September 8, 2021 at 10:15 am

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reveals his party's election platform in Toronto on Sept. 1, 2021. The campaign that just started is already almost over, thanks to Mr. Trudeau calling the shortest election possible.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

If the Liberals had their druthers, their opponent in this election would be the anti-vaccine freedom caucus. You know, those protesters who keep showing up and acting out at Justin Trudeaus events. Despite the performative handwringing by Grits and credulous TV journalists, theyve been a gift to the Liberal Leader, and he should pray they never go away.

The cameras true love is conflict, and social medias jam is polarization, so the protesters angry presence instantly turns NyQuil-strength political rallies into viral catnip.

And since only a tiny minority of Canadians share their views, if the election gets framed, even a little bit, as the Liberals versus the no-needle branch of QAnon, then the outcome is less uncertain than that of a game between the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals farm teams taxi squad.

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The caravan of right-wing crackpots are, for Mr. Trudeau, a fortuitous foil. Theyre the kind of people he wants to be contrasted with, on an issue he wants to wedge. The more they protest, the more Mr. Trudeau gets to act like hes running against them.

Thing is, the main political party hes actually running against has a very different message.

Even as Mr. Trudeau insists theres an enormous gap between his policies and values and those of the Conservatives, Conservative Leader Erin OToole is trying to convince voters that, while his party is of course different from the Liberals, this time around its not too different.

Mr. OTooles approach appears to be all about presenting himself as the most progressive conservative leader since the demise of the Progressive Conservatives.

Health care? Hell up the Canada Health Transfer to the provinces by billions of dollars. Deficits? He wont balance the budget for 10 years. Also claims he can do it without cutting anything.

The environment? The Liberals have the better plan, but the distance between them and the Conservatives has narrowed. The Tory platform acknowledges climate change, aims for the Paris Accord climate targets and even accepts some carbon pricing.

Drug overdoses? Mr. OToole has moved toward the Liberals in talking about addiction as a disease, not a criminal matter. Unions? He thinks workers should have representation on some corporate boards. Animal cruelty? Hes against it.

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Abortion? Hes pro choice, and his platform contains exactly one sentence on the subject: A Conservative government will not support any legislation to regulate abortion.

Earlier this week, each of the party leaders sat down for back-to-back French-language interviews with Radio-Canada. Mr. OTooles very first words, in response to the very first question, were: Im a new leader, with a new approach. He repeated the mantra, again and again and some more, over the next half hour. He never said, Im not Stephen Harper, or Im not Andrew Scheer; he never said, and this isnt their Conservative Party. But that was the message.

Mr. OToole is trying hard not to create wedge issues. Mr. Trudeau is trying hard to find them.

He opened the election talking about mandatory vaccinations. And Mr. Trudeau is right the country needs domestic vaccination certificates, and some federally regulated jobs should come with a vaccination requirement. But as the government, the Liberals had the power to make that happen. Instead, they launched their campaign by promising to do what they could have done, but didnt. It was too clever by half, squared.

Next came abortion and guns. But the Liberal pitches once again involved trying to create a contrast with the Conservatives by promising, or re-promising, to do things they could have done in these instances years ago.

Its made for a strange campaign. Mr. OTooles platform has contradictions, because hes trying to both win swing voters and hang on to his base. Theres also the mystery of whether the uncosted Conservative platform adds up. The Liberals might make advances by treating voters as adults, and digging into all that.

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But the campaign that just started is already almost over, thanks to Mr. Trudeau calling the shortest election possible. The last day to vote is just two-and-a-half weeks away, and millions will cast their ballots sooner than that. Its a sprint, and the Liberals are fast running out of track.

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What is this election about? The Liberals are still working on it - The Globe and Mail

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