I remember lamenting last fall that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed untouchable. No matter what his missteps – the ethically questionable Aga Khan island visit, the absurd $10-million payout to enemy combatant Omar Khadr, his attack on small business owners with unnecessary changes to the tax code – his popularity continued to soar. It seemed there was nothing he could do wrong.
And then – the India trip.
Looking at the tracking polls – and a new one was out today from Ipsos polling – the prime minister has suffered a reversal of fortunes and that seems the most obvious turning point. I think Lorne Gunter nailed it in this column when he explained what changed: Canadians don’t like to be embarrassed.
It kind of reminds me of the 1980s movie, Can’t Buy Me Love, when school nerd Ronald Miller pays Cindy Mancini, the popular girl, to be his girlfriend for a month so he can become popular, too. It works at first, but when the power goes to his head, the ruse is found out and he gets shunned back to being the school nerd.
Maybe it is a uniquely Canadian attribute that we seek validation in how we are perceived by others. The most important thing a prime minister can do is represent us well on the international stage. So when the “telegenic Trudeau” gets mobbed by fawning crowds seeking selfies, or written up as the saviour of the modern progressive world on Rolling Stone magazine, or charms Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest with his funky socks on a U.S. morning talk show, it’s easy to understand why Canadians might cut him some slack.
But it cuts the other way when the international press is not so kind.
The India trip was all too much for Canadian voters to bear: seeing Trudeau ignored by the Indian prime minister, being accused of courting extremists for votes back home, then inviting a convicted attempted murderer to an official function, the light schedule, using the Taj Mahal for a family photo op, the elaborate custom-made costumes, the corny poses, the excessive entourage of Liberal MPs and family members, the critical comments from Indian social media thought-leaders and bloggers, and even the BBC – the BBC! – making note of every misstep.
Earlier this month, Angus Reid had the Liberals polling below the Tories; now it is Ipsos with the same story. The Conservatives are at 38 per cent nationally with a decisive lead in seat-rich Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Liberals still lead in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, but that is not enough to make for a second-term majority. The NDP under Jagmeet Singh are drawing just enough support from the Liberals to be the spoiler.
LISTEN: Ipsos Vice President Sean Simpson discusses their most recent poll on federal parties
When I spoke to Ipsos vice president Sean Simpson, he identified another factor for voters, noting that Trudeau is losing ground with women and middle-class voters. These are voters that care about jobs, the economy, their own financial well-being. Trudeau’s obsession with virtue signaling – exemplified by such things as the recent bizarre gender-neutral edict at Service Canada, or the “peoplekind” townhall backlash, or the 358 references to gender in the budget – is not what regular people care about.
He may have thought he was fooling middle class voters into thinking he was just like them but – just like Ronald Miller was eventually found out – it appears Canadians aren’t buying it anymore either.
Danielle Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org