Could Justin Trudeau lose?
Because, increasingly, some smart politicos – including ones of the Liberal persuasion – are saying it’s possible. Likely, even.
Now, “loss,” here, includes loss of the Liberal leader’s Parliamentary majority. Not just losing power – which, most agree, is still unlikely. But losing the majority? That is decidedly within the realm of possibility.
This writer ran into a very senior and very experienced Liberal strategist on the street a few days ago. This strategist knew Justin Trudeau’s father well, and had campaigned for him. And he remembered, too, Pierre Trudeau losing his majority in 1972 – to a Conservative opponent who, like Andrew Scheer, had been routinely dismissed as dull and unremarkable.
Could Trudeau lose the majority, I asked this Liberal guru.
“Absolutely,” said the guru, without hesitating. “I’d say that’s what is going to happen, at this point.”
Huddled on a cold sidewalk, we riffed through the regions. Lower Mainland? Trudeau may lose seats to both the Tories and the Dippers, if the latter have the sense to acquire new and improved leadership. In Alberta, it’s worse than it was back in the NEP days: a total wipeout is inevitable. In Saskatchewan, the Goodale seat is safe, if turning-seventy Goodale sticks around. In Manitoba, some seats will be lost. Same goes for Southwestern Ontario, Eastern Ontario and the ‘burbs around Toronto.
In Quebec, Trudeau has been bested by the Conservatives in byelections – and he now faces Maxime Bernier around Quebec City, too. In Atlantic Canada, it will be impossible to hold onto as much as Trudeau won in 2015 – particularly with his provincial cousins diminishing the Liberal brand there.
“That all adds up to a minority, or worse,” said the Grit guru, preparing to head off for lunch. “It may not be pretty.”
Some pollsters are making similar noises. Some aren’t.
A few days ago, Forum came up with a whopper of a survey, one that claimed Scheer’s Conservatives were in majority territory, a full nine points ahead of the governing Liberals. That poll was dismissed by many (this writer included) – until Nanos revealed that it, too, found the Tories ahead of the Grits, but by just a point.
The arbiter, in these matters, has become the CBC’s guy with a calculator, Eric Grenier. Says Grenier: “[There was]a big jump for Nanos, and much of it has occurred in Ontario where the Liberals have dropped 12 points and the Conservatives have gained 12 points [in the] last week. This is unusual…and worth watching to see if trend continues.”
Even though Forum has consistently been out of step with other polls, Grenier says, the reality has been that “the Liberals slide, and the Conservatives make gains.”
What’s noteworthy is that the Conservatives have gained on the Liberals – or have eclipsed them, if you believe Forum – when the conventional wisdom has been that Andrew Scheer is being held back by factors beyond his control. Selfsame factors include: controversial decisions made by Ford Nation, Trudeau’s successful completion of a new NAFTA, and the aforementioned Mad Max refusing to disappear.
All of that said, Mainstreet’s Quito Maggi – one of the country’s best pollsters – insists it is still dangerous to bet against Trudeau. A minority, to Maggi, remains very unlikely.
“[A minority is] possible, yes. But, just because it’s possible, doesn’t mean it’s likely,” says Maggi.
Mainstreet’s founder says that the relative performance of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and People’s Party Maxime Bernier will signal what could happen next October. “If Singh wins in Burnaby and makes gains, in Ontario and Quebec especially, that starts eating into a majority,” says Maggi. “And if Bernier fades in the New Year – say, he can’t get any candidates to run in the coming by-elections for example, and his fundraising is reduced – that could mean that Scheer can consolidate the Right vote and cause a minority.”
Maggi adds: “Those are two big ifs. And that would be a complete reversal for both.”
The present reality is that Bernier’s ceiling is no more than around is seven per cent nationally. Singh, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction, Maggi says. “He might not even win Burnaby. His MPs are bailing for other levels of government – or announcing they won’t run. Fundraising is down. If he loses Burnaby, it could lead to a leadership race with months to the election.”
And that, says Maggi, ironically represents a real threat to Trudeau’s Liberals – and a possible minority. “[That] could actually be the likeliest path to a Liberal minority,” he says. “If a new NDP leader can capitalize on the attention of a [leadership] race and make gains in Quebec.”
Big ifs. Lots of variables. One thing is for certain: Justin Trudeau remains the guy to beat. And doing so, the pollsters agree, will be no simple task.