A few impressions as the federal election campaign heads into its second official week.
It is shaping up to be a nasty, brutish campaign with negatives drowning out positives, the kind of campaign that misleads more than it informs and will turn off more voters than it inspires.
The Liberals are relentlessly scavenger hunting on the internet for anything, however dated, they can use to shame Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and his candidates. Scheer, meanwhile, persists in labelling Justin Trudeau a serial liar and lawbreaker (allegations he would never be allowed to make in the House of Commons) – the “law” being the code of conduct for public office holders, which is not a law at all. Breaches (arguable in Trudeau’s case) are dealt with by Parliament, not by a court of law.
Day two of the campaign produced the first TV debate, a disappointingly uninformative, cheap-looking exercise staged on a tacky set by Maclean’s and CityTV. Paul Wells, a very capable Maclean’s writer, tried to perform a dual rule as moderator and sole interrogator. It didn’t work. The three leaders who showed up (Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May) paid scant attention to the questions they were asked, constantly interrupting and overtalking one another as they recited their standard – and already threadbare – campaign lines.
It was more like a food fight in a school dorm than a serious political debate. The only winners to my mind were Trudeau, who stayed away, and the People’s Party Maxime Bernier, who wasn’t invited.
The election is so close – between the Liberals and Conservatives for first; among the New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois and Greens for third – that the four legitimate national leaders (Bernier and the Bloc’s Yves-Francois Blanchet excluded) – are terrified of making the One Big Mistake that could doom their chances. But wouldn’t it be refreshing if they could relax, unwind, throw caution to the wind and tell the country what they are really thinking?
This, I stress, is an exercise in imagination.
Trudeau: What I am really thinking is why those pious SNC-Lavalin scandal-mongers at the preening Globe and Mail don’t ask Jody Wilson-Raybould three questions. Why did she tape that telephone conversation with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick? Why didn’t she tell him she was doing it? Why did she make the tape public without his permission?
Michael was doing a pretty good job of blowing up his career by himself, but that tape finished him off. What she did may not have been illegal, but it was most unethical. That’s a real scandal.
Let the news media ask the questions. I’ll never whisper a negative word about Saint Jody. The fallout would be worse than 10 Tickle Trunk tours of India.
Scheer: It is so unfair. All I want is to be prime minister. Everyone else wants me to explain where I stand on climate change. What am I supposed to know about this stuff? I’ve been a politician all my adult life. My dear mentor, Stephen Harper, distrusted scientists, but I suspect there might be a little something to all this talk about climate change endangering global survival. And the experts may have a point – the ones who say Justin’s carbon-reduction pricing plan is more realistic and will cost taxpayers less than our funky Conservative plan to smother carbon emissions under layers of new federal regulations.
Of course, I can’t say any of this out loud. My angels in the oil patch would desert me and Jason Kenney would have a foaming fit. I just want to be prime minister!
Singh: Help! My boat is sinking!
May: Dare I announce the Greens will support any minority government that will make me Minister of the Environment?
Bernier: Please, please help me to hold my own seat. That’s all I ask.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford: Vote for Justin! If Andy Scheer goes down, I’m going for his job. “The Right Honourable Douglas Robert Ford” – it does have a ring, doesn’t it?
Stephen Harper: Yes, I hear the people calling. I am ready!