Politics·Analysis

Liberals struggle with election promises, Tories with tone

It's a curious thing to watch the second-longest election campaign in Canadian history just keep going and going. Impractical promises, reversed roles, debate on freedom vs. safety - and all the while dog-whistles provide the musical score.

Liberals need to keep promises made before the election, while the Tories work on those made after

​Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose — joined by a large number of her caucus colleagues — continues to call upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to keep Canada's CF-18s participating in the bombing campaign against ISIS. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It's a curious thing to watch the second-longest election campaign in Canadian history just keep going and going.

Impractical promises, reversed roles, debate on how to keep us safe — and all the while dog-whistles provide the musical score.

In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, the new Liberal government is under increasing pressure to renounce a number of election promises.

​Conservative interim Leader Rona Ambrose — joined by a large number of her caucus colleagues — continues to call upon Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to keep Canada's CF-18s participating in the bombing campaign against ISIS and to "rethink" the plan to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada before year's end. 

​To be clear, the Conservatives held both positions long before the Paris attacks and throughout the election campaign.

​Similarly, the Angus Reid Institute asked some 1,500 Canadians about their attitudes toward the refugee plan just three days after the attacks, and 54 per cent said they oppose the endeavour. At the end of October, the polling firm asked the same question from the same sized group and found 51 per cent against the plan. 

Not much of a change

In fact, support for bringing refugees to Canada also went up — to 42 per cent  from 39. If anything, the poll suggests the Paris attacks have further polarized the issue in that the number of people expressing no opinion on the subject was cut in half to five per cent from 10.

The results in both cases are based on an online survey of a "representative randomized sample," of Angus Reid Forum members.  

The Liberals put their chips on the table long ago, positioning themselves against the military mission, in favour of refugees and kinda, sorta for the anti-terrorism bill C-51.

They bet public sentiment would turn on these issues before Canadians headed to the polls. It didn't — and hasn't. Add in the fact Trudeau also promised wholeheartedly that, if elected, he would run deficits and we'll have to leave it for political science students for years to come to explain how the Liberals came to power.

It's like going to the casino, betting heavily on red, the ball lands on black — but you still win.

The problem now for the Liberals is making good on these promises despite the fact public opinion is, at best, divided. So far, Trudeau is sticking to his guns, vowing to pull the jets but stay committed by way of a far more robust training mission.

"Obviously we committed throughout the campaign and I've committed repeatedly to my allies that we were going to do more on the training front and that means obviously more than 69 trainers [that the previous Conservative government committed]," Trudeau said this week.

Trading planes for boots

So far, those who voted Liberal and want to see an end to the combat mission haven't seemed too upset the prime minister is offering to replace planes in the sky with boots on the ground — a role that has already led to combat and tragedy for Canadian soldiers.

The Conservatives insist the planes and refugees stay exactly where they are.

Conservative interim-leader Rona Ambrose took the high-road in making the pitch, saying her party would "support" the government if it wanted to change its mind.

Former defence minister Jason Kenny has been somewhat more sharp in his criticism of the Liberal plans, taking to social media to ridicule the new government's positions. Whereas his caucus colleague, Manitoba Conservative MP Candice Bergen, decided to go another way altogether, saying she was "embarrassed and sickened," by Trudeau and his response to the attacks.

In the wake of their election, a large number of Conservatives cited the campaign's "tone," as reason for the loss. Ambrose herself promised to bring a more respectful tone to the party — one that is "strong, but not angry."

When asked whether Bergen's comments were in keeping with that new approach, Ambrose indicated she was going to let the Tweet slide. 

"I think that we all have to recognize it — and I recognize it — that after what happened last week there's going to be some emotion and passion," she told reporters on Wednesday, "and I'm going to chalk that one up to some emotion and passion."

Ambrose is right to not get too hung up on a few words spoken in the heat of the moment; the larger problem for her party is in the overall message it is sending out. 

Religion

The Conservatives said while in power and during the campaign that help for refugees should be focused on "persecuted minorities." They set a cautious tone about not sacrificing domestic security in the name of international humanity.

Again the polls tell us this is something the majority of Canadians would seem to agree with — but it evidently won't win you elections.

The problem now for Canadian conservatives comes from the cousins south of the border. An increasing number of politicians in the United States are putting the refugee crisis in more blunt terms, demanding their country only accept Syrian refugees if they are "proven Christians."

It still isn't clear exactly how one proves Christianity, given more than half of Americans who consider themselves to be Republican still believe their president is not Christian.

However, conservatives in this country who acknowledge they have an issue with tone ought to pause and wonder whether singing from the same hymn sheet as Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump is going to help any.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now