By Riley Stovka, October 5 2021—
“You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic and to the brighter days ahead and my friends, that’s exactly what we are ready to do.”
That was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shortly after declaring victory on election night. I suppose the prime minister has a lot of things to be very optimistic about, chiefly among them the fact that his party was re-elected to a third consecutive term, a feat only Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper have accomplished in his lifetime. Canadians have returned the Liberals to power yet again, although one would be forgiven if they failed to recognize that an election even took place, considering there was virtually no change to the composition of seats in the House of Commons.
Essentially what took place was a $610 million spot difference, which isn’t exactly the most desirable outcome when the election being held is touted as the most consequential of our lifetime. Of course, every election is billed as being the most consequential of our lifetimes, yet this one did matter a lot. We’re currently in the fourth wave of a never-ending pandemic and a strong, decisive government is needed to steer the ship out of the storm. This election was seen by many as a referendum on Trudeau’s leadership and the Liberal party at large. And the answer is pretty plain and simple.
Canadians are largely okay with the government they have, which is surprising given the state of the party in power.
For six years Trudeau and the Liberals have shown the country what they’re all about and a lot of it isn’t particularly inspiring. They failed to achieve a lot of their big campaign promises, like electoral reform or securing Canada a seat on the World Security Council. Not to mention the personal scandals that have plagued a lot of Trudeau’s time in office. By many accounts, the prime minister has committed enough ethics violations to make him one of the most blatantly corrupt leaders in the country’s history. The dismissal of former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and the SNC Lavalin affair is borderline obstruction of justice. His involvement in the WE Charity alongside his family and finance minister being paid by the charity is shady at best.
And so to call an election amid a deadly pandemic, putting lives at risk all for politics, is an incredibly dangerous move. All it would take is enough public anger over the current government, paired with a strong campaign by the opposition parties to force you out of office prematurely.
During the campaign, the Conservatives led by Erin O’Toole made a mad dash for the centre, hoping to cut off support to the Liberals who always garner a lot of votes from people all over the political spectrum. O’Toole completely transformed who he was politically — the man who won the Conservative party leadership in 2020 and the man who ran for prime minister are two completely different people. It also did not help the Conservatives’ election odds that their leader appeared wishy-washy and inconsistent, especially regarding the Liberal assault weapons ban, which he initially wanted to repeal then changed to be in favour of, or his insistence that vaccines were not mandatory for air travel, even though he supported vaccines for everything else.
The Conservatives didn’t offer enough of an alternative to get elected or to prove to the country that they would govern any differently than the Liberals. When it came to big campaign issues, like COVID recovery, child care and climate change, their platforms had very marginal differences. Even their plans for spending, which is where you’ll find the biggest difference in platforms, were going to stay the same. Back when Trudeau first ran for the job in 2015, the Conservatives lambasted him for not having a plan to balance the budget in the party’s platform. Well, the Conservatives in their platform this year were planning on keeping pandemic spending high and said that if elected they’d balance the budget in 10 years. Considering the party would have to get elected to three consecutive majority governments for that to happen is such a fairy tale promise that it’s almost laughable.
The electorate was forced to choose between two parties that weren’t all that different and when one of them doesn’t offer a good enough reason for your vote, you’re going to end up picking the familiar option.
The Liberals have this belief — I guess more of a motto — that they are the ‘Natural Governing Party of Canada.’ This isn’t entirely unfounded, they have dominated Canadian politics and governing the country for almost 70 years during the 20th century. They are a political institution and one of the most consistently victorious political parties in North America. Their status as a big tent party, meaning they don’t have a strictly defined political ideology, allows them to contain a broad spectrum of views and allows them to count on support from a wide arranging assortment of voters. They can essentially construct their ideology to be whatever they want, whenever they feel the need to target more votes. Every election, they can move to the left or they can move to the right and they don’t have to worry about being inconsistent with their values because they have none to begin with. Their political values change depending on the circumstances. If the party is the opposition to a Conservative government, they’ll align themselves on the left. If the party is in power and is being challenged on the left and the right, they’ll adopt policy belonging to both sides, so as to appeal to supporters on both ends of the spectrum.
Trudeau and the Liberal party can do no wrong. Ethics violations? Who cares? Obstruction of justice? Doesn’t matter. Not one, but a handful of the future PM decked out in blackface? We all make mistakes. The fact is all this stuff doesn’t really matter. The party, led by a political celebrity, has such a stranglehold over the Canadian political system that their hold on power is never really in question. It is a cult of personality, a mesmerizing grip, another version of the Trudeaumania associated with his father.
When you have a party that is a political institution in Canadian politics, led by the closest thing Canada will get to a celebrity leader, it is a formula designed to win elections and hold onto power. And it will take desperate circumstances for any other party to pry that grip on power away from the Liberals.
I believe Trudeau will be prime minister until the day he doesn’t want to be prime minister. The Liberals won this election. They’ll most likely win the next one, too. The party cannot fail, no matter how hard they try. They’re always the bride, leaving the Conservatives and the New Democrats to be the perpetual bridesmaids. It’s a government, a party and a political leader designed to succeed, hopelessly floundering about until one day, a long time from now, they’ll collapse. Maybe.
After all, they are the natural governing party.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.