The English-language leaders’ debate is hours away. So think about this: A light switch.
That’s what Justin Trudeau kind of was, a Conservative pollster has said. A light switch.
“Other politicians are like dimmer switches: They lose popularity gradually,” the pollster said. “Our polling showed Justin Trudeau is like a light switch. People like him until they suddenly don’t. It’s on or off. A light switch.”
All of us having had our fill of sports metaphors to explain political phenomena — and the crucial English debate about to happen — the light switch explanation is compelling. It might be wildly wrong, but it was at least novel.
Because, tonight, it’s make it or break it time for Justin Trudeau. He needs to bring his best game.
Just a few short weeks ago, it was all going to be so simple, wasn’t it? Trudeau and his Liberals were way ahead of the alternatives in the polls. The alternatives were unknown, or making lots of mistakes, or both. The Liberal universe had unfolded as it should.
The pollsters, the politicos, the punditocracy all agreed: The Boy Wonder would be rewarded with a majority. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. He’s good-looking. The Conservatives are cross-burners. Justin had kept most of us alive during the pandemic, or something like that. Vote Liberal.
And then: Click.
Kabul falling on the first day of the campaign didn’t help, to be sure. Wildfires raging in three provinces, ditto. Early election call: Really, really dumb. And the fourth wave, of course, which the experts all said was heading our way, and about which Trudeau gave a Trudeauesque shrug.
It was all that, yes. But mainly it’s him. Him, him, him: Justin Trudeau.
If you now say you saw it coming, you’re fibbing. I didn’t see it coming, and neither did just about anyone else. Apart from a gaggle of true-blue, true-believer Tories who worked in the office of Erin O’Toole, all of us are slack-jawed, a bit, about what has taken place.
The polls reflect what is now going on, but they sure as hell didn’t foresee it. More revealing is the anecdotal stuff. Because — per my Daisy Group’s political catechism — facts tell, but stories sell.
Stories from a pollster pal that his call centre workers are getting angry earfuls about Trudeau: It’s deep and it’s undeniable. They loathe the Liberal leader.
So, too, stories from Liberal candidates and MPs and senators who still dare to speak with Yours Truly (anonymity guaranteed, natch). Some are chiselling Trudeau’s name off their literature and signs.
One told me about his kids. “My kids hate Trudeau,” this Grit Parliamentarian said. “They hate him for lying to Indigenous people. They hate him.”
“Desperation,” said one longtime Liberal and senator. “It’s desperation when Trudeau is now calling it ‘the Trudeau team’ because his popularity has turned negative. What team is he talking about? He made them all into water carriers.”
The signs of decay and defeat are everywhere. Trudeau campaigning in previously safe Liberal seats. Liberal cabinet ministers — the aforementioned water-carriers — being nudged into the media glare. The flinging of every possible smear at O’Toole — no matter how false, no matter how absurd — in the hope that something will stick.
As in life, in politics: The causes of defeat and victory are multiple and myriad. It’s never just one thing that sinks you.
But mostly, it’s him — Justin Trudeau. A country that once loved him now loathes him. So he needs to win tonight’s debate. Or he’s done.
— Warren Kinsella was chairman of the federal Liberal war rooms in 1993 and 2000