The Home Stretch

Just a week until election day, and there is still no predictable winner in Canada’s federal election. Or is there?

The Liberals regained their lead in the polls during the past few days, but the Conservatives are so close that the numbers are meaningless – all within the pollsters’ margin of error. Given the way voting intentions are distributed over the 338 ridings, the Liberals are probably feeling pretty good about their chances of re-election right now. They may even pull off the majority I expected in the spring. Mind you, a lot can happen in the last week.

The political highlight for many Canadians over the past seven days was the English-language leaders debate. The media seemed too think there was no clear winner, but I would disagree strongly with that.

Annamie Paul of the Green Party exceeded my (and probably everyone else’s) expectations with her performance. However, I don’t know if she managed shift enough voters to make difference, given that her party is facing extinction. Still, she sounded like a credible alternative.

Paul is a new leader, and until now has been best-known in having to put down an attempted coup within her own partyin July. It is tough to overcome such negative publicity, and the Greens are polling at about half the support they had in the last election. That is expected translate to zero MPs. 

I’m not sure much will change in the next seven days, despite her strong debate performance. She was on top of the issues. Held her own in the debate and sounded like a leader. Maybe my expectations were too low.

Jagmeet Singh the NDP was, in my mind, the big loser. Which may be an unfair statement since he had a very strong performance and made no mistakes. He was the clear winner in 2019, but not this time. For him a string performance just isn’t good enough, not if he wants to become Prime Minister.

For Singh to increase his party’s standings he needs the Liberal vote to go down, as the NDP is the second choice of many Liberal voters. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau didn’t have a great evening. (How could he given his government’s record?) He seemed defensive and nervous, but he still has the advantage of incumbency. None of the other leaders managed a “knock-out blow” that would convince Liberals to abandon the party. In a close race that may have been enough.

Conservative Erin O’Toole was probably also a winner. Trudeau tried to portray him and his partyy as scary – but it didn’t work. It may not have been enough though to change Conservative fortunes – this time. Last time around the Conservatives received more votes than the Liberals and lost the election. In a parliamentary system it all depends onwhere those votes are cast.

As for Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet, he was entertaining and definitely the most relaxed debater. He wasn’t there to win votes but to have fun. 

In this final week the leaders won’t sleep much as they criss-cross the country looking for votes. There will continue to be minor controversies with local candidates – those seem to happen every week. Even if the party removes someone now it is too late to get their names off the ballot. It will be interesting to see if any of those “disgraced” candidates are victorious.

Any election is as much about the past as the future. This one is as much about six years of Justin Trudeau as it is about a vision for what Canada can become.

Even more, it is a referendum on how Trudeau has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. I think his performace (and that of his government) on that file has been abysmnal. But I have the advantage of experience in other countries and seeing that the Canadian way is not the only way.

Most people I have talked with since my return to Canada seem to have difficulty accepting that there were other ways, equally or sometimes more, successful in dealing with this pandemic. I have been surprised how many think the government has done a great job.

Which is why I still think the Liberals will win – even if they don’t deserve to.

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