Notwithstanding a stumble on the Rock Thursday night, Canadian Conservatives have wracked up a year’s worth of election victories in Ontario, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, showing an appetite, and aptitude, for winning. Their focus now turns to the big national contest in October.
You’d forgive oil executives in Calgary and small-government defenders in Toronto for seeing only a clear path to victory. Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is viewed as best choice for prime minister among the electorate, according to Angus Reid Institute polling. His party leads the Liberals by an ever-increasing margin. The party’s core base is rock-solid. Its ability to stock the campaign war chest with millions indicates supporters are willing to put dollars, not just votes, on the line.
As epic battles go, the Conservatives today look as terrifying as a Dothraki cavalry charge en route to kill whomever Daenerys Targaryen decides should die. (You’ll forgive the inevitable Game Of Thrones parallels.) Over the course of eight seasons, however, we’ve borne witness to the vulnerabilities of the Mother of Dragons. Canada’s opposition politicians would do well to heed their own weaknesses.
As epic battles go, the Conservatives today look as terrifying as a Dothraki cavalry charge en route to kill whomever Daenerys Targaryen decides should die.
Indeed, there are gaps in the Scheer’s battle lines. While it’s true his party’s is way more popular than the others, this is fundamentally due to the disintegration of the left-of-centre alliance that carried the banner of the Liberal Party four years ago. Some now align with the NDP, others with the Greens. Others fall into the abyss of the undecided.
Gifted some of the greatest political boons they’ve ever had, in the form of the SNC-Lavalin and Norman scandals, the Conservatives have stood largely still since the beginning of the year, neither shedding support nor significantly capitalizing on the massive numbers of disaffected past Liberals now up for grabs.
There is also the unanswered question of how voters will respond to Scheer once they get to know him. To this point, it appears the leader and his party have been content to stand to the side while the country, which once swooned for Trudeau, experiences an uncontrolled allergic reaction to him. The less Canadian voters are acquainted with the opposition leader, strategists reason, the less they have to dislike.
But there is inherent risk in this, especially for a perceived front-runner. Should Trudeau manage to charm his way back into the good graces of voters, he will be formidable on the campaign trail. And the prime minister is far from the only strong personality among the pack. Effusive Green leader Elizabeth May and provocative People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier are relative outsiders on the national scene, with little to lose. They can afford to play it loose and take chances.
To be sure, Scheer is starting to introduce himself to the country, establishing his values and priorities. But in an era when the vast majority of Canadians view having a career outside of politics before stepping into elected life as an advantage (67 per cent do), how will they react to someone who has spent most of his adult existence as either political staffer or elected MP? Conservatives mock Trudeau for his days as a bar bouncer, teacher and snowboard instructor. Bet big that he can still contrast this real-world life experience with Scheer’s résumé.
Then there are the comebacks. Canada’s political battlefields are littered with them. The oldest is arguably that of Sir John A. Macdonald after being caught red-handed in a bribery scandal. Those confined to this century include Manitoba’s Greg Selinger and Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty in 2011, Alison Redford in 2012 and Christy Clark in 2013. In each campaign, voters sized up the presumed, putative winners, found them wanting, and went back to the incumbents they were so irritated with to begin with.
Unless GoT showrunners truly wish to enrage every fan, the coming days should provide some resolution to a long struggle for control over the Seven Kingdoms and a seat on the Iron Throne. The producers have specialized at first building up heroes, then mercilessly bringing them down. Volatile Canadian voters may not be so different.
Shachi Kurl is Executive Director of the Angus Reid Institute, a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019