THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 45, Season 10
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Darrell Bricker, CEO Ipsos Global Public Affairs
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor
James Moore, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister
Location: Vancouver, B.C.
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: One final pitch to voters.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Do we move Canada forward or do we take Canada back?”
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party Leader: “We’re not your dad’s Conservative Party anymore.”
Mercedes Stephenson: The Liberals and Conservatives pull out all the stops. But after 36 days without a clear ballot box issue, what will voters decide? In such a tight race, could there be a political spoiler?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Party Leader: “We’re going to tax the super-rich and we’re going to invest that back into people.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Our panel is here with their hot takes, and we’ll talk to Ipsos pollster, Darrell Bricker.
It’s day 36 of the election campaign, and this is The West Block.
It’s Sunday, September 19th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block coming to you from Vancouver on day 36 of the election campaign.
Here we are on this final day of the campaign and leaders now have less than 24 hours to sway Canadians.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “As Canadians know, this is a moment where we’re going to be taking decisions that will last not just for the coming months, but for the coming decades. And Canadians deserve their say.”
Mercedes Stephenson: That, of course, was the moment that kicked it all off.
We have asked all three major party leaders to sit down with us on The West Block over the course of the campaign, to find out what they stand for and offer to Canadians.
We spoke with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole. We have repeatedly asked for an interview with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, but his campaign has turned down our requests. Earlier this week, though, he did speak to Global BC’s Neetu Garcha during a campaign stop in Burnaby. We’ll be running some of that interview later in the show.
But first, The West Block’s political panel joins us for their analysis about what to expect tomorrow. Joining me now is former independent MP Celina-Caesar-Chavannes; Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi; and former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore.
It is the final day. This is always an exciting one, particularly with this election because we don’t have a sense of exactly who is going to win tomorrow, which I think is the first I’ve experienced that in the decade that I’ve been covering political campaigns in Ottawa. It’s a super, super tight one.
When we look back over the campaign and try to pick out sort of pivotal moments when things may have turned or changed, Celina, when you take a look, what is the defining moment for you or was there one?
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP: I’m not sure there was one that was, you know, really over the top resonating, but I would say that there were a couple of moments in the English debate that gave me pause. And it wasn’t the shout out to me, but it was actually the response to the shout out, be, you know, I will take no lessons from you, from the Liberal leader. You know, I think what Canadians are looking for right now is that humility of a leader and it wasn’t on display there and again, during that debate, the question around C-21 and, you know, all party leaders asking for an apology. That is going to have some ripple effects over, you know, whoever gets elected tomorrow. There is going to be some residual effects of that and I think that there’s going to be some impacts that people will have to discuss in their teams and to Canadians as well.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor, when you were watching all of this unfold, you know, we started out with the Liberals well in the lead. That’s no longer the case. Where do you think those changes in public opinion and support and sort of momentum happened in the campaign?
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: Well, you know, from the beginning, I’ve been saying that I didn’t think the ballot box question would be: Should there be an election? And for whatever reason, the opposition leaders continued to push that question right to the last minute, saying should there be an election? Should there be an election? And I think that kind of took the oxygen away from the kinds of conversations I was hoping to have. You know citizens voted for various topics to be raised in the debates, which were very much the ones we were talking about at the very beginning of this: climate change, reconciliation, the movement towards anti-racism, what a post-pandemic economic future looks like. And we never really got into that because the answer to every question was: Why are we having an election? Now I’ll tell you the turning point for me personally, as I think about how to vote tomorrow, and I still haven’t made up my mind, but the turning point for me personally was the conversation around Bill 21. I was extraordinarily disappointed to hear none of the parties willing to take the principled human rights focus stand against that piece of legislation that really targets three types of minority religious faiths in our community. That made me sad and the threading of that needle went too far for me on all sides and it was a shame.
Now the other thing, though, that might be the last minute TSN turning point on all of this is my premier and the absolute debacle we have in Alberta right now. Very weird for Alberta to be some place to watch during a federal election. It probably is not, but I do wonder if Premier Kenney’s mishandling of this situation will have any impact on Mr. O’Toole’s opportunities.
Mercedes Stephenson: James, what’s your feeling on that?
James Moore, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: Well every election, you know, we’re often reminded that politicians think often that politics is about them and their ideas and their vision and their leadership. And voters tend to think that elections about them and the voters are right, it is about them. And the default question at every election campaign out of the gate, unless there’s some tectonic moment that shifts things or an event that refocuses the conversation, the default ballot question in every campaign is: Do you want change or do you want more of the same? The challenge for Justin Trudeau at the start of this campaign is that he was actually arguing for change. He wanted change from his minority status, up to a majority. And Conservatives are arguing for change, obviously, of government altogether. It looks like, and we’ll see what the outcome is, but it looks like the voters have assessed the entire scenario and said this is an election that the voters don’t want, so we’re going to give an outcome that none of the politicians want. And not going to give Justin Trudeau a majority and maybe not have a change in government with Erin O’Toole, and not give the Green Party and Annamie Paul an outcome that she wants. Not re-elect Maxime Bernier in his own seat and we’ll see what happens in Quebec with regard to the Bloc, and the NDP will likely not have a breakthrough either. So this has been a $750 million exercise, likely to reaffirm the election of less than two years ago, and I think the public will be rightly angry and will probably vote that way on Election Day.
Mercedes Stephenson: Celina, do you think that Justin Trudeau pays a price for that? If he still manages to win, but he has a minority that is equal to or less than what he had going in, can he stay on as the leader?
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP: I don’t think so. I have to give props to James for that answer because it was right on the money. I don’t think that the Liberal leader can stay on after giving Canadians this enormous price tag in a fourth wave of a pandemic, where we see what’s happening across the country. You read the McLean’s article where the, you know, the woman who made two dollars more during this pandemic is able to shop where she works. People are frustrated. They are tired. They are looking for leadership and the fact that we had to price—foot the bill for an election that ended up where we started, is going to fall heavily on the Liberal Party and the leader of the Liberal Party and it might be the downfall.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor, you know, you brought up the situation in Alberta and reporters were hammering Erin O’Toole with this, trying to get him to say Jason Kenney’s name. He wouldn’t even say his name. How much of an effect do you think that’s going to have, particularly in your part of the country on people’s willingness to vote Conservative? We all know there’s that pendulum swing between how popular provincial leaders are and federal leaders. We haven’t heard a peep from Doug Ford this entire campaign. Do you think that this, at the end of the day, hurts Erin O’Toole?
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: Well it probably hurts him in Alberta a little bit. Will that actually result in the Conservatives losing any seats in their bedrock area? It’s unclear. You know most people think that there are probably one seat in Calgary and one seat in Edmonton that are likely to flip one to Liberals, one to the NDP. There are probably three or four seats across the province that are kind of long shots for the Liberals in addition to that. I suspect we’re going to see a lot of Conservative voters staying home. I suspect we’ll see a little bit of leakage to the People’s Party.
The other thing to remember is that Rachel Notley’s NDP is incredibly popular at the moment throughout Alberta, particularly in the cities and that might have a halo effect for Jagmeet Singh, but it might have the opposite impact of denying the Liberals those long shot seats. So ultimately it’s not going to make a difference to the big outcome unless we have a very tight answer. There may be a few seats at play. I think what’s more interesting, is will the attempt of the Liberals to tie Erin O’Toole to Jason Kenney actually have him backed in other parts of the country?
Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think on that, James, will it?
James Moore, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: I mean, unlikely. I think people have drawn a pretty firm line of separation between provincial and federal politics. Frankly, you look at the numbers in the province of Quebec since François Legault came out and effectively endorsed Erin O’Toole and the idea of a minority Conservative government; it hasn’t had the bounce effect. And people separate, I think, the politics quite effectively and can decide for themselves who they want to be the prime minister of the country.
Mercedes Stephenson: I’m curious what you think, James, about some of the way that O’Toole’s handled the election. I mean, you were kind of seen as a red Tory yourself when you were in, so I’m sure you’re probably perhaps online with some of the policies. Some folks said look, he’s flip-flopping. People don’t know who he is. That’s going to hurt him, especially the stuff on guns. Others said no, it’s a sign that he’s pragmatic. It’s a Conservative leader who’s finally showing he will listen. What’s your interpretation?
James Moore, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: Well if we started the election campaign with Erin O’Toole completely written off and people thinking the Liberals were going to skip to a majority government in this election was just basically an exercise in who cares. The voters have stood up and they’ve said not quite. And Erin O’Toole is now within reach of winning the plurality of seats and becoming the next prime minister of the country. So he’s done a lot of things right. However, you know, this is a continental nation with lots of divides between urban, suburban and rural, east and west, francophone and anglophone, Indigenous, non, I mean, all kinds of challenges. So to present a national narrative, a national message for a national mandate to form a government is extraordinarily tough. And I think Erin has done very well. But, if we are—if the Conservative Party and we are denied a success on Election Day, I think Erin has set a foundation for a future success provided he learns some of the lessons that’ll come out of this campaign, not least of which is you can’t ignore you base. You cannot not talk about fiscal responsibility, balancing the budget, tax relief in the long term and the cost of living, and expect your base to continue to show up.
Mercedes Stephenson: Celina, what do you think Justin Trudeau’s biggest success and biggest failure on the campaign trail have been in this election?
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP: So I’m not sure if there is a biggest success moment for Justin Trudeau. I am on the flipside of Mayor Nenshi in saying that calling this election may have been just right off the bat not a good step, a misstep. Again, you know, the juxtaposition of the prime minister going to Rideau Hall at the time with his family, with RCMP detail, juxtaposed with, you know, people in Afghanistan hanging off of the wing of a plane to get to security. That—I don’t know if there is much in my mind that that supersedes that or comes out from that. That was a very—that was a very defining moment in leadership for—in my opinion—for Justin Trudeau and I’m not sure if there is a capacity to rebrand through this 30-something days or post-September 20th.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, very quickly to you Mayor Nenshi. Who’s going to win tomorrow?
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: Well, you know, the most likely outcome is exactly James’ analysis that we wind up in exactly the same place we were before and I don’t disagree with Celina that I wouldn’t have called this election had I been in that position. I just didn’t think it would be the real ballot question. But, anything can happen because this is so tight and the splits really matter in specific seats. So we could end up with really any result tomorrow and that’ll be the exciting part.
The last thing I’m going to say is I was disappointed how much this election was only about the leaders. I would have loved to have it be about the policy and about the teams a little bit more, particularly if we’re in a situation where Mr. Trudeau is personally weakened through all of this and I think that was really a shame. I think all the leaders live rent free in one another heads and a lot of citizens aren’t as concerned about the leaders as they are about how they’ll change their lives.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, we’ll find out what the citizens thought of those leaders tomorrow. Thank you so much to our election panel for joining us.
Up next, with no clear ballot box question in this election and pandemic driven anger running high, what will it mean for how Canadians vote?
There’s eight days to go until Canadians vote. We’ll be right back after this.
Mercedes Stephenson: This was an election like no other. It took place during a pandemic, and the first few weeks were dominated by the crisis in Afghanistan. As party leaders tried to focus on issues like affordability and climate change, other important issues were left out of the spotlight. Issues like reconciliation and racism.
Earlier this week, Global BC’s Neetu Garcha, sat down with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, where she asked him about tackling racism. Here’s what he had to say.
Neetu Garcha, Global BC: Considering all that’s happened in 2020 and 2021 around racism, systemic discrimination and race in general, Quebec’s law against religious freedoms, Bill 21, is one that you on Friday said is not discriminatory. Can you explain why that is?
Justin Trudeau, Liberal Leader: It’s one that I disagree with. I’ve been very clear over the past many years that I disagree with this bill. I don’t think it’s up—this law—I don’t think it should be for a government to tell someone to wear or to not to wear a piece of religious clothing.
Neetu Garcha, Global BC: On Friday, you said it’s not discriminatory. If it’s not discriminatory, why are you opposed to the bill?
Justin Trudeau, Liberal Leader: I’ve been opposed to the bill because it’s not for governments to do. I think we need to respect people’s freedom of choice, freedom of expression, freedom of religion. The Quebec government passed this bill and I am the only party leader who has said that I am not taking off the table, the possibility of weighing in as it moves forward in the courts.
Neetu Garcha, Global BC: This bill says that a woman who wears a hijab can become a judge. Are you saying that that’s not a discriminatory bill?
Justin Trudeau, Liberal Leader: I’m saying I disagree with that bill. But, I, unlike both Jagmeet Singh and Erin O’Toole, I’ve said that I may well as a federal government, have to intervene and stand up for people’s fundamental rights. I’m the only party leader that has taken that strong position to defend fundamental rights before the courts. Right now it is before the courts. They are going to make a determination on whether or not it is impacting on people’s fundamental rights or not.
Neetu Garcha, Global BC: In 2017, you would use that term when you were discussing this bill. Now you seem to be backtracking on that or at least not using this term in my questions to you. So to those who are watching right now who might have concerns that you’re trying to appease your electorate depending on where you’re campaigning. Quebec, you’ll say one thing. In other parts of the country, you’ll say another. How do you respond to that?
Justin Trudeau, Liberal Leader: No. You know what, Neetu? That is absolutely not fair because on this issue, I have been consistent in Quebec and outside of Quebec, everywhere. I will not take off the table standing up for people’s fundamental rights, and a lot of Quebecers take me to task for that, including Yves-François Blanchet of the Bloc and the premier. But I will say that the federal government’s job is always to be there to protect fundamental rights and that’s why I’ve taken a position that is stronger in opposition to this than any of the other federal parties, including Jagmeet Singh of the NDP who should be there as well, one would think, for defending fundamental rights.
Mercedes Stephenson: Bill 21, of course the controversial bill in Quebec that bars people who wear religious symbols from serving in certain roles in the public service, it has been a major issue in the election and one that none of the party leaders as you’ve heard there have really wanted to tackle. So, what have the party leaders been talking about and what is this election all about? Some people have been calling it the “Seinfeld campaign,” saying it’s the campaign about nothing.
Joining me now is Darrell Bricker, the CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs. Darrell, you’ve had a chance to talk to Canadians. You’ve been out in the field polling, what was this election about?
Darrell Bricker, CEO Ipsos Global Public Affairs: Well it wasn’t about one single thing. So if you looked at the issues that we asked people, you know, what do you think is the most important issue in this campaign, it was a whole series of things. So Canadians were in the mood to actually hear about some substantial issues like managing the pandemic, like climate change, a rising issue, affordability. Issues that relate to things, for example, like justice—some of the justice issues that were just mentioned in the previous segment. So there were issues that people wanted to talk about, but where we ended up with, particularly at the end of this campaign, is really just about fear and anger. It’s moved off of substance and it’s actually moved onto emotion.
Mercedes Stephenson: And with that emotion, what do you expect to see tomorrow on Election Day as people are going to vote? We don’t have a clear ballot box issue, but how do you think this is going to play out on the day that it all comes down to?
Darrell Bricker, CEO Ipsos Global Public Affairs: Well you know, we usually have the sotto voce conversation between you and me where we say, well we’re going to say we really don’t know how—how it’s going to turn out and then you and I are going to off air say, well we really do because we’ve got polling that shows x, y or z. The truth is we don’t this time. It’s incredibly hard to figure this election out. It—it’s the most difficult election I’ve seen to do polling on and figure out what Canadians are going to do since 2004. So it could end up I don’t think being a majority for anybody, but we really don’t know who would form a minority government out of this.
Mercedes Stephenson: You know, Darrell, when we talk about who’s going to form the government and where it’s going to go, I’m in the same boat as you. I have never covered an election campaign, and I’ve been covering election campaigns for about a decade now, where I really didn’t have a sense of where it might go. You’d think that Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader, might have had a sense before he called the election because this wasn’t an election that we had to have. It was an election that the Liberals forced their own hand into. Did Justin Trudeau misread the room on this?
Darrell Bricker, CEO Ipsos Global Public Affairs: Well he absolutely misread the room. I mean his—his strategy initially was to steal a march on the major opposition parties and rush to a majority government in a short a period of time as possible in which Canadians were probably focused on their kids going back to school and enjoying the tail end of their summer vacation. He never thought he would end up in a situation where people would turn all of this on him and see it as really a statement about his character, which for the people who are voting against Justin Trudeau this time around, this is the really big motivator. They’re looking at this campaign. They’re very upset about it. One number that we’ve seen rise through the course of the campaign is people actually more upset about the campaign today than they were even at the start. So, and all of this is falling on Justin Trudeau and that’s why you’re seeing he’s not going to probably achieve what he wanted to achieve on Monday, which is a new majority government.
Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s talk about strategic voting. There’s a lot of concern from the Liberals and the Conservatives about how strong or soft the NDP support might be, as well as the People’s Party of Canada. These are two parties that are further out on the political spectrum, but either one could potentially be a spoiler. What do you think the chances are of that happening and how could that affect Conservative and Liberal fortunes?
Darrell Bricker, CEO Ipsos Global Public Affairs: The real story of this campaign, Mercedes, isn’t really what the Liberals have done or the Conservatives have done because both of them are below the level that they scored in the last election campaign. The two parties that have come up the most are the NDP, which are up about five points right now, and the People’s Party that’s moved up, depending on the poll that you look at, anywhere to about, you know, 3 per cent to 5 per cent. So either one of them could be spoilers in the election campaign, but the one that has the potential to be the biggest spoiler is the NDP because they are splitting the progressive vote right now and creating a situation which not only are they going to win more seats than likely than they won the last time, but they’ll also create situations in which the Conservatives could probably win more seats.
Mercedes Stephenson: Yeah, and it’ll be an interesting question. A lot of folks in the Liberal campaign trying to convince those who might vote NDP that they have to vote Liberal, that’s something we’ve seen in past campaigns as well. As we get ready for tomorrow, Darrell, how do you see this playing out as the night progresses and the results start to roll in from across the country?
Darrell Bricker, CEO Ipsos Global Public Affairs: Well Mercedes, where we are right now is an act—the activation phase of the campaign and we have been for the last few days. So, in convincing people to vote one way or the other is probably not on the table. What we’re talking about right now in terms of the campaigns, is getting people who are already decided to the polls to vote. And by the way, that’s the most confusing thing in all of this because we’re voting in a pandemic in ways that we haven’t voted before, you know, very strange potential turnout patterns during the course of this election and we can—that’s what will really create the surprises, if there are any on Monday.
Mercedes Stephenson: Darrell, thank you so much for joining us. I know we’ll be talking to you on election night. I’ll be here in Vancouver with Dawna and you’ll be joining us, to help us make sense of all of the results. Thanks for making time for us today.
Darrell Bricker, CEO Ipsos Global Public Affairs: Thanks Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: We’ll be right back after this quick break.
Mercedes Stephenson: Tomorrow is the big night and you’ll be able to watch our election special coverage: Decision Canada, co-anchored by Dawna Friesen and I, right here on Global. We look forward to seeing you then, and we’ll be right back here next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.