Opinion-Policy Nexus

Tiger Woods’s return to the pinnacle of sport, capturing the 2019 Masters championship after 11 years in golf’s wilderness, is an inspiration for anyone who struggles against adversity – including, I venture, some of today’s political leaders.

None has gone through what Tiger did – a sex scandal, a divorce that reportedly cost him $100 million, an addiction to painkillers that put him in rehab, four back surgeries that left him unable to get out of bed some days. There were times when a fifth Masters green jacket seemed as far beyond his reach as, say, re-election in Alberta seems beyond the reach of Rachel Notley’s New Democrats today.

A Nanos Research poll on the weekend put Jason Kenney’s United Conservatives ahead by eight points – 44 per cent to 36. The smart money is on a majority UCP government.

That seems the likely outcome today, but Notley has overcome adversity before. She did it in 2015 when she ended the Conservatives’ 44 unbroken years in office. The smart money said then that the NDP could never win in Alberta. The smart money was wrong in 2015 and, conceivably, it could be wrong today.

Alberta is clearly changing. When Albertans go to polls, will their decision be driven by immediate and pressing issues – the carbon tax, oil patch employment and pipeline construction? Or will it, as Notley hopes, be influenced by needs that extend into the future, such as global action to curb climate change and a retooled education system to serve a post-petroleum future?

Pollsters can be very good at counting noses of probable voters, but it is not so easy to discern how hopes and dreams may affect voter behaviour.

Justin Trudeau knows all about hopes and dreams. He created enough of them four years ago when he led his Liberals out of third place to a majority government. In the past few months, he has learned more than he ever wanted to know about adversity. It is not just SNC-Lavalin, although that controversy has been a major contributor to his woes.

He was elected on the same wave of progressive political opinion that elected NDP governments in British Columbia and Alberta. But that was before Donald Trump and the rise of conservative populism abroad and at home – most notably in Ontario with the election of Doug Ford and his “For The People” Conservative government.

Ford likes nothing better than to jerk Trudeau’s chain, and his anti-carbon tax alliance with federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and Alberta’s Kenney presents some new adversity for Trudeau.

His Liberals find themselves trailing the Conservatives by roughly five percentage points in published polls – and by a whopping 13 points (29 per cent to 42) in the most recent Forum Research survey. The Liberals have time – six months to go to election day, Oct. 21 – but they need to get untracked in a hurry, to put the past behind them, and to start fighting the election on their terms, not the opposition’s. To survive, they need to find a way to show the country why it needs a Trudeau government and why a Scheer Conservative government would be, as Liberals see it, a disaster.

Today’s Liberals might learn something if they looked back to an earlier Trudeau election – the one in 1972 when Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals went into the campaign with a majority government but without a clear message, waged a listless campaign with an inane slogan – “The Land Is Strong” – and barely escaped with two-seat margin over Robert Stanfield’s Conservatives.

Trouble was in the air the moment Pierre Trudeau called that election. ”The challenge,” he declared obscurely, “is nothing less than the integrity of Canada – the homeland of persons so dedicated to the social advantages of tolerance and moderation, so convinced of the value of a single strong economic unit, so proud of our accomplishments and our image that we are committed to Canada.”

Does that blather remind you of anyone? Another Trudeau perhaps?


Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - 14:49