Ed. note — This commentary by Tasha Kheiriddin is one of three appearing Friday that offer a variety of perspectives on the federal election. We also have commentaries from Amira Elghawaby and Nathalie Des Rosiers.
And they’re off! The 2019 federal election officially started Wednesday, as the prime minister traipsed out to Rideau Hall and requested the dissolution of Parliament from the Governor-General.
Afterwards, Justin Trudeau took to the podium to address the assembled journalists and the nation in a short but pointed speech outlining the Liberal party’s priorities for the election — a speech more noteworthy for what it left out, than for what it contained.
Two things were absent: climate change and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Despite the fact that the environment tops the list of Canadians’ preoccupations, it rated only one sentence in Trudeau’s prepared text. Instead, pocketbook issues took center stage as the Liberal leader dumped all over former Tory PM Stephen Harper’s economic record while praising his own.
To be sure, Trudeau offered up a lot of revisionist history (to whit, it wasn’t Harper’s cuts that provoked a brief recession in 2015, but the drop in the price of oil). Fact checks be damned, though, as the exercise gave Trudeau the perfect excuse to raise the Ghost of Harper Past, a far more fear-inducing foe than the flesh and blood Scheer.
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Scheer didn’t rate a single mention in the rest of Trudeau’s text either. Instead, Trudeau alluded to two other politicians who serve him well: Donald Trump and Doug Ford. Of Trump, Trudeau not-so-cryptically reminded Canadians that he renegotiated NAFTA “at a time of U.S. protectionism and (here he audibly paused for effect) unpredictability.” Of Ford, he intoned that “Conservatives like to say they’re for the people” — Ford’s campaign slogan and endlessly repeated talking point.
The message? Unless you vote for Trudeau, you risk electing the Conservatives — and we know what they’re all about. The strategy? The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Trudeau knows he must convince NDP and Green voters to hold their noses and enter the big red tent if he is to conserve his majority. And sowing fear of the Conservatives is the most effective means to accomplish this.
This also explains the Andrew Scheer Film Festival the Liberals have been running for the last four weeks, in which they have posted clip after clip of the Tory leader saying things they think will terrify progressive Canadians. Week one was opposing gay marriage; week two was decrying abortion; week three was funding independent schools; week four has been cutting social programs.
What gems they have in store for weeks five through 10? Pro-spanking policies? A return to capital punishment? We’ll have to watch Liberal cabinet ministers’ Twitter feeds to find out.
And you can bet there will be more, because if polls are any indication, the Liberals have been successful in framing the issues in the last month — and forcing the Tories on the defensive. The Conservatives hope that will change, however, as new revelations about the SNC Lavalin affair come to light.
Scheer went on the attack on Wednesday after a Globe and Mail story revealed that the RCMP have suspended their investigation into the matter because the government refuses to further lift the veil of cabinet secrecy.
Journalists took up the charge as well, peppering Trudeau with questions about whether he will exempt his former ministers from privilege in this matter. Trudeau gave them no quarter, saying that he respects the decision of the clerk of the Privy Council and evincing no desire to reopen any aspect of the investigation.
Despite the fact that investigating obstruction of justice is a deadly serious matter, that the Ethics Commissioner has now found Trudeau to have twice breached the Conflict of Interest Act, and that two Liberal cabinet ministers, the PM’s chief advisor and the clerk of the Privy Council all quit in the wake of the scandal, it is unlikely the Tories will be able to make Trudeau’s integrity a ballot question.
In Quebec in particular, where Scheer hopes to gain seats, the SNC story plays very differently, and highlighting it may not help the Conservatives’ cause. Instead of hammering the scandal, the Tories should take Trudeau to task on his economic record, which is far less rosy than he depicts.
The Globe reported Tuesday that Canadians are now using savings to pay down debt rather than invest for the first time in a decade.
The spectre of recession, not Stephen Harper, is what Canadians should fear.
Tasha Kheiriddin is the founder and CEO of Ellipsum Communications and a Global News contributor.