COMMENTARY: Darrell’s Campaign Week — Afghanistan, a 2-tier scare tactic and the Tories’ Ontario surge

A man casting his vote. The Canadian flag is in front of the ballot box.

Would the NDP support a Conservative-led minority? Like, really?

One of the most important events of the campaign so far happened under the radar. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not reject the scenario of working with Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole in a potential Conservative-led minority government.

Why is this important? Because if the party leader who has the most positive reputation isn’t frightened by the prospect of a Tory-led government, it undermines any attacks by the Trudeau Liberals about how scary an O’Toole government could be. For the Liberals to get back on track, they need every attack on O’Toole and the Tories to leave a mark.

What Singh did was make this less likely to happen.

Afghanistan is now the election wildcard

The question I was asked by journalists the most this week was about how events in Afghanistan will affect voter opinion.

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It’s a tough question to answer. While it is callous to say that foreign policy issues seldom top the agenda in election campaigns, that’s the cold truth. Most politics remain local.

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Afghanistan is a bit different, though. It has changed the context for campaign communications. Many of the questions now being asked of our political leaders, especially Justin Trudeau, involve Canada’s response to the Afghanistan crisis.

This isn’t good for the Liberal campaign because there’s little to say that’s positive. They are the government, so this lands almost exclusively on their doorstep. As long as Afghanistan leads the news the Liberals will struggle with getting their message out.

Grits trot out the two-tier health care monster again

Political junkies who are old enough to remember the 2000 federal election campaign certainly remember Alliance leader Stockwell Day sheepishly holding a handwritten sign at the leader’s debate saying, “no 2-tier healthcare.”

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This was an attempt to blunt attacks from Liberal Leader Jean Chretien on Day’s alleged support for “American style” health care.

Whether Day believed or didn’t believe in two-tier health care didn’t matter. The charge stuck and Day and the Alliance lost to Jean Chretien and his Liberals who won their third majority government.

What happened to Stockwell Day is what the Trudeau Liberals are trying to make happen to Erin O’Toole. Voters, especially older voters whom the Tories rely on to win elections, are never thrilled by musings about changing the Canadian health care system to allow in more private money, no matter how well-intended.

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Like Day, O’Toole could be vulnerable on this issue if he isn’t exceptionally careful. While I don’t expect to see any handwritten signs on O’Toole’s dais at the leaders’ debates, the Liberals will still do their best to make this charge stick.

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The Liberal sprint quickly stumbles

Our polling for Global News has revealed the difficult position the Liberal Party is now in.

What was supposed to be a fast sprint out of the starting blocks leaving the opposition parties in the dust has turned into a slow-motion pratfall for the Liberals. The Liberals have now squandered the lead they held for several months and are leaking support to both the Conservatives and New Democrats on a daily basis.

Read more: Singh seen as most likeable leader in election as Trudeau’s popularity craters: poll

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Ontario was the biggest revelation in our most recent polling. The Conservatives have now moved ahead of the Liberals’ by four points in that key province. In 2019, the Liberals beat the Conservatives by nine points in Ontario.

That’s a 13-point swing from the Liberals to the Tories since the last election.

Political pros know that a Tory lead of four points in Ontario means they are likely tied or better with the Liberals in the seat-rich 905 region. If this holds until election day, the Liberals will certainly not form a majority government and may be in danger of finishing behind the Tories in the overall seat count.

Read more: Canada election: 905 ‘crucial’ for any Conservative path to victory, experts say

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There’s no overall victory for the Liberals without a substantial win in Ontario. So, while the national numbers will be interesting, keep an eye on Ontario next week. That’s where the most important story of this campaign is taking place.

Editor’s note: this new column will appear every Friday until the election’s end.

Darrell Bricker is the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs and the author of ‘Next: Where to Live, What to Buy, and Who Will Lead Canada’s Future’ (Harper Collins, 2020).

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