Opinion

This election should be about more than which leader sucks. Alas, it won't be: Neil Macdonald

What are the Liberals' election talking points, in this age of environmental insecurity and economic anxiety? That Andrew Scheer is scary. And the thrust of the Conservatives' campaign? It's obvious: Trudeau Sucks.

The strategy is clear: Andrew Scheer is scary. Justin Trudeau is a liar. And Jagmeet Singh.. is mostly ignored

What are the Liberals' election talking points, in this age of environmental insecurity and economic anxiety? That Andrew Scheer is scary. And the thrust of the Conservatives' campaign? It's obvious: Trudeau Sucks. (Canadian Press)

Just outside the lovely Ottawa Valley town of Manotick, in a cluster of pricey homes plunked down in a former cornfield, some clever bugger has plastered an election sign on one of his walls.

TRUDEAU SUCKS, it announces, in giant yellow letters visible to cars on the adjacent highway. 

I'm guessing the homeowner is a Conservative; the riding is, after all, represented by Pierre Poilievre, a Tory attack hound from the Stephen Harper era, and besides, New Democrats just don't have the sophistication or sparkling wit it takes to craft a message like that one.

In a sense, though, the sign does nicely capture the current election campaign – a contest of angry resentment, invective, ad hominem hurling and spewing: Trudeau is a callow dauphin, a pretty socialite of low intellect, Scheer is a fundie, a religiously bigoted poodle of the far right. (Jagmeet Singh is mostly just ignored).

Just outside the lovely Ottawa Valley town of Manotick, some clever bugger has plastered an election sign on one of his walls. (Neil Macdonald/CBC)

Ideas, if there are any, seem submerged in the green bile. I don't know the fellow with the big sign in Manotick, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's one of those wags who calls the prime minister "Turdeau," a witticism you often see in the open sewer of readers' comments on news websites.

To the Manotick fellow, no doubt, the fact that we appear to be headed into a recession, hoping central banks protect us as trade wars play hell with our economies and threaten our personal finances, facing the catastrophic costs of climate change not down the road sometime, but right now, or at least when the rivers begin to rise again next spring, is all secondary to just getting rid of Trudeau, because, you know, Trudeau sucks.

Lack of vision

That's not to say there aren't people of goodwill who find Trudeau disappointing. There are. I'm one of them. I do not see a coherent fiscal vision in his government, other than unfocused spending. I do not hear any plan for sheltering Canadians from the next global financial crisis, which is coming for all of us as surely as arthritis is stalking the boomers. 

His piddling, refundable carbon tax is not changing energy consumption habits. It merely signals that as a long-term goal. I hear nothing about floodproofing Canadian homes and entire Canadian communities, which must be done and which will cost unimaginable amounts and will require national leadership.

And apart from the NDP, (I am discounting the Liberal's proposal for first-time homeowners as nothing but a few drops), I hear no serious talk about whether government can intervene to help an entire generation for whom housing seems out of reach for life. (Spare me warnings of socialism; all three big federal parties, including supposedly free market Conservatives, favour the price-fixing that allows farmers to sell dairy and poultry at inflated prices, among other programs).

Instead we have Trudeau's treacly platitudes, coordinated with his Stepford-wives ministers. They grate; either he and his team are incapable of giving straight answers, or don't think voters need them.

I'm inclined to believe the latter, judging by the now-deleted tweet his environment minister, Catherine McKenna, sent out last spring, after a festive evening in a Newfoundland bar. The tweet contained a video of a smiling McKenna explaining that "if you actually say it louder, we've learned in the House of Commons, if you repeat it, if you say it louder, if that is your talking point, people will totally believe it!"

And what are the Liberals' election talking points, in this age of environmental insecurity and economic anxiety? 

That Andrew Scheer is scary.

He's scary because he does not support a woman's right to abortion, and because he seems to harbour some sort of animus toward gay and transgender people.

Scheer recognizes climate change is a serious threat, but his plan is even more pusillanimous than Trudeau's. (Adrian Wyld - The Canadian Press)

Perhaps he does; it would be helpful to know if he still considers, as he declared in 2005, that gays are unfit for marriage because they cannot "naturally" have children (neither can lots of heterosexuals). It's also reasonable to conclude he doesn't want to be around gays at all, given his refusal to take part in Pride parades. I suppose some Canadians still hang on to attitudes like that.

But scary? I don't know. Religious, certainly, with all the heavy moral compulsion that implies. Hopelessly dull, perhaps, and unprepossessing.

Looking at his ideas, though, I don't see scary. Actually, I don't see much.

Conservative campaign strategy

He recognizes climate change is a serious threat, but his plan is even more pusillanimous than Trudeau's. He will somehow change everyone's behaviour by killing the carbon tax and lowering the price on fuel. He wouldn't balance the federal budget in the next four years, either.

To be fair, apart from his weird attacks on the Canada Food Guide and his opposition to water, as opposed to milk, as a primary means of self-hydration, he hasn't revealed most of his election platform yet.

But the thrust of his campaign is clear enough: Trudeau Sucks.

Trudeau is a hypocrite, Trudeau is a "lawbreaker," Trudeau might even be a criminal. Earlier this month, at a public event in New Brunswick, Trudeau greeted Scheer, calling him "Andrew." Scheer, wired for sound with his own camera rolling, pompously replied by calling Trudeau a liar.

SNC Lavalin affair

Much of this rests on the SNC Lavalin affair, in which Trudeau pushed for a non-criminal settlement of charges the Quebec company faces for allegedly bribing Libyan officials. When his justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, refused to go along with the prime minister's wishes, he replaced her.

Subsequently, the federal ethics commissioner found Trudeau's intervention in the case had violated an ethics law.

Again: perhaps. (The ethics commissioner is not a judge, he's an official, and there are questions about his interpretation of the law.) Also, SNC Lavalin didn't get its settlement. Trudeau's intervention was aspirational.

More relevant to me is whether his record of governance is so bad that he should be replaced by leader with no record at all, as Stephen Harper was.

All due respect to colleagues who have just written books exploring Trudeau's character and foibles, I'm more interested in the exhaustive new study of Trudeau's record by two dozen academics (of 353 promises, he came through on half, partially delivered on 40 per cent, and broke 10 per cent).

The "vote for me because the other guy is scary," nana-nana-poo-poo stuff I just find useless. That Trudeau has family wealth and privilege, and that his previous job was teaching drama at a high school, are not serious considerations, either, any more than the fact that Scheer has lived in government housing for half of his political career and his previous job was selling insurance.

My friend the pollster Darrell Bricker, who seems equally unimpressed with both Trudeau and Scheer, puts the absence of policy discussion beautifully.

"In an era of hot cognition, of tribalism, with dog whistles everywhere, good public policy on the Acropolis has become about as relevant as the Acropolis itself."

I wish I'd said that.


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About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

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