There was a time when the usual cycle of elections in Canada went something like this: The ruling party in power was typically the one feeling nervous about facing the electorate. Government scandals tend to accumulate and fester. Opposition parties are free to attack and inflict even more damage. And voters, by their nature, can be a fickle bunch, where familiarity with the politicians in power can breed contempt.
But the days of lean-and-hungry opposition parties demanding an election are a thing of the past.
Now it’s the minority Liberal government of Justin Trudeau that seems eager to face the voters, despite repeated scandals and missteps.
And it’s the opposition parties that fear an election reckoning.
“There should be no election,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said bluntly, while calling on Trudeau to train all his attention on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic instead.
“We should be focused on vaccines, not on votes.”
But I think the vaccine rollout is precisely what Trudeau is focused on, with votes looming large at the same time.
Canada’s approval of a fourth COVID-19 vaccine — along with an accelerated schedule of vaccine delivery — has produced increased optimism across the country.
I think it’s also whetted Trudeau’s appetite for an election, especially with O’Toole’s Conservatives stagnating in the opinion polls.
There are plenty of clues out there that point to Trudeau’s ambitions.
Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, predicted on Twitter that earlier national concern about slow vaccine deliveries “is going to seem like a distant and transparently partisan artifact by the May 24 weekend.”
Though Trudeau’s polling number have eroded slightly, his Liberals continue to hold a five-point advantage in most recent surveys. An Ipsos poll published by Global News on Monday suggested that if a federal election were held, Trudeau’s liberals would receive 35 per cent of the popular vote — up two percentage points from February. The Conservatives, according to the poll, would receive 28 per cent — down two percentage points from the previous poll.
And O’Toole is suddenly dealing with a restless Conservative caucus, as Tory MPs wonder what they have to do to turn the tables on Trudeau.
About 200 days into his leadership of the Conservatives, O’Toole has struggled to make an impact with voters.
The Liberals must surely sense the Tories are vulnerable, and a quick-strike election, combined with surging vaccine supplies, could produce the majority government Trudeau covets.
But here’s the biggest election clue of all: Liberal complaints that the Conservatives are clogging up Parliament with procedural delays.
“It’s delay, delay, delay,” Liberal house leader Pablo Rodriguez complained to the CBC.
“Eventually that delay becomes obstruction. I think it’s insulting to Canadians.”
Could this type of parliamentary nit-picking actually be a precursor to an election call?
If Trudeau does roll the dice on a snap election, he risks suffering a backlash from voters who think he’s pulling a pandemic power grab.
The Liberals may make the case instead that any early trip to the polls is actually the Conservatives’ fault for gridlocking Parliament.
Watch for more of this kind of procedural griping by the Liberals, as they lay the groundwork for an election that they’ll claim they don’t really want (but really do).
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.