Opinion-Policy Nexus

The headline in Saturday’s Toronto Star made no bones about the newspaper’s verdict on the year that ends today:

“That’s enough, 2018. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

The Star was reflecting on the miseries experienced in 2018 in the Greater Toronto Area, but a similar verdict could be rendered just about anywhere. It was a year to be forgotten, a year when we were pounded day after day by bad, often alarming, news.

In even the most dismal of years, of course, there are bright spots for some folks. In Ontario, 2018 was a glorious year for supporters of the Progressive Conservative party, which somehow managed to emerge from a leadership crisis to win a majority government in June. Ford Nation is deliriously happy as the new PC government enthusiastically proceeds, as I put it in a churlish column a few months ago, to bring back the 1950s.

As 2018 ends, another nation – Leaf Nation – is tentatively delirious. Their beloved Maple Leafs are legitimate contenders to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967. “Tentatively” delirious because disappointment is a constant in the life of a Leafs fan.

Bright spots are harder to find in Ottawa, particularly for the Liberal government. It did manage in 2018 to negotiate a revised free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico that is better than it might have been (given President Trump’s America First agenda), if not quite as good as NAFTA.

The Liberals also succeeded in keeping their election promise to legalize the possession and use of marijuana. The public’s acceptance of the measure could be seen in the principal complaint aired following legalization: not enough supply to meet demand.

But, with a general election only 10 months off, the grind of three-plus years of governing and managing a daily diet of trying issues has taken its toll on the Liberals. A year ago, in the last Nanos Research poll of 2017, they enjoyed a 14-point lead over the Conservatives – 43 per cent to 29. Now, in the last Nano poll of 2018, released last week, that lead is down to one point – 35 to 34 – with the NDP trailing at 16, Greens at 7 and People’s Party at 2.

You might think the Liberals would be tearing out their hair – or their leader’s – as they confront an unexpectedly rough road to re-election in October. 

Justin Trudeau is a big part of the problem. He sounds flat in his public appearances. He can’t seem to break free of the talking points someone is writing for him – to wit, Andrew Scheer is Stephen Harper all over again, and the Liberals, by virtue of raising taxes on the “one-per-cent,” have made life comfy for the middle class while simultaneously ushering in a golden era of low unemployment.

True or false, the threadbare talking points are underwhelming. They do little to inspire wavering Liberals who crave something more stimulating from their leader for 2019.

If the Grits are not tearing out someone’s hair, it is because there is no sense that the public is clamouring for change, as it was in 2015 when the Trudeau government was elected. Trudeau still enjoys a double-digit lead over Conservative leader Scheer as the public’s preference for prime minister. And in an Ipsos poll in October, only 54 per cent of Canadians even knew who the Conservative leader was. Eight per cent thought it was Doug Ford, the Ontario premier – and that’s a story to watch for in 2019, especially if the election goes poorly for the Tories.

How much attention Canadians will actually pay to domestic politics for the next few months is an open question. Many of us will be watching the train wreck in Washington as the noose – to mix metaphors – slowly tightens about the neck of Donald Trump.

The survival – or not – of the president will be (itals) the (end itals) story of 2019 in Canada, as elsewhere.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019 - 08:40