Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the biggest problem facing Pierre Poilievre, the likely next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
In brief, his problem is bringing in some new non-voters, many of whom are conspiracy theorists and others who are deeply suspicious of or actively hostile to government, while somehow also appealing to ordinary, centrist-ish voters, and somehow keeping that coalition together for two years or so. It’s a doozy.
Poilievre’s problems are of his own making.
But then, so are the problems of his primary opponent, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau has so many problems it’s easier to list them as bullet points:
• Wearing blackface at least twice in his past
• SNC-Lavalin affair, plus Jody Wilson-Raybould’s principled resignation
• WE Charity scandal
• Series of broken promises, including on proportional representation
• Aga Khan ethics affair
That’s just the highlights, but it’s quite a lot, and across a broad swathe of policy and personal behaviour. It kind of makes Jean Chretien, who choked a protester, joked about other protesters being pepper sprayed, and was in office during the massive corruption of the sponsorship scandal, seem lacking in ambition.
In many countries, even in Canada in other eras, this string of disappointments and scandals would prompt cabinet ministers to start plotting a palace coup.
But not for Trudeau, at least not so far. (We do have a few years to wait until the next election, there’s time.)
Trudeau has two things going for him:
1) He can use the effective Liberal trick of frightening people with the Conservatives and
2) Conservative Party flailing
Canada’s center-left is not that cohesive. You’ve got left-of-centre Liberals, you’ve got NDPers, there’s Greens, and there’s plenty of people whose votes wander.
What helps prop up the Liberals, time after time, is that if it looks like the Tories are up in the polls, whoever the Liberal leader is can warn that if they split the vote, that’s all she wrote. Conservative majority again.
Polling in the past has shown that a significant fraction of the Liberal vote comes from people who would rather have voted for someone else, but voted for the party that had the best chance of defeating the Conservatives.
(This is also NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s problem in a nutshell.)
It’s not exactly a subtle strategy, but it’s worked plenty of times. Do you think the Liberals don’t have a hit squad putting together a greatest hits list of Poilievre’s most inflammatory quotes right now?
And that’s part two of the Liberal advantage. The Conservatives since Harper haven’t had the faintest idea whether to tack towards the center, or to the right.
So despite his many, many problems, Trudeau has a good chance of winning the next election, essentially by default.
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