Don Martin: A warning for Justin Trudeau as he ponders an early election about nothing
OTTAWA -- Justin Trudeau’s blueprint for his future career is an easy read.
The prime minister aims to call an election this summer, coast to a majority mandate on post-vaccination euphoria, spend a couple years as ‘dean’ of world leaders at the G7 before retiring to lucrative corporate directorships and an international speaking tour paying a cool $150,000 per canned speech.
But that victory march might hit a nasty speedbump if voters believe they’re being dragged to the polls by an arrogant government using false pretenses to call Trudeau’s last election.
There was plenty of evidence this week that all Trudeau’s protestations about not wanting a fall vote are merely deceptions rooted solely in his minority government’s pursuit of greater power.
It was only last month all MPs, including Trudeau, united to support a motion which ruled out an election during the pandemic.
Yet, despite a virus that’s still got the government so rattled it won’t open the U.S. border amid signs of a COVID-19 resurgence in the U.K., a pandemic call to the ballot box is clearly weeks or, at most, a couple months away.
The signs got blatantly obvious this week when all the usual buzzwords were deployed by Trudeau and his ministers to frame the need for an electoral reset.
Parliament has become “paralysed” by a ‘toxic’ environment and is bogged down in opposition ‘obstructions’ to Liberal agendas, blah, blah, blah. By inference, harmony and unity would miraculously be restored to Parliament Hill if only it could get back to a Liberal majority.
Of course, the only paralysis in this Parliament was having the Liberals obstruct a probe into allegations of sexual misconduct by the country’s top general and thwart an investigation into the handling of the WE contract before giving a final flip of the bird to a Commons which demanding documents on the firing of two viral scientists under very suspicious circumstances.
The Liberals can also try, but can’t argue with a straight face, that their legislation priorities are being blocked by a gauntlet of opposition nitpicking.
Strange, then, how their priority budget implementation, conversion therapy, climate change and broadcasting bills have all passed and are awaiting approval in the independent Senate which Trudeau unleashed. If senators adjourn for the holidays with unfinished Liberal business, that’s not the fault of opposition parties.
And so, with farewell speeches by departing MPs delivered and goodbyes echoing in the almost-empty Commons, all that remains to confirm the imminent election call is a tweak of the cabinet to get rid of lousy performers like Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.
Once that happens, Canadians will be asked the $500-million question (the estimated cost of a general election) in a vote about nothing.
Trudeau will merely insist voters need to give the Liberals a stronger mandate, even though the prime minister has repeatedly shown he’s just as control freakish and more contemptible of Parliament than Stephen Harper on a bad day.
It will all come down to a hunt for the 15 new seats Trudeau needs to reclaim the world’s most powerful democratic position – a majority Canadian government.
And the latest poll is telling him it’s in the bag with today’s release from Abacus Data putting the Liberals ten points ahead of the Conservatives with extremely strong public approval for the government’s handling of the pandemic and for Trudeau’s performance.
Yet old-timers like me have a two-word warning for what can happen if voters think an out-of-touch government is forcing a snap vote simply for blatant partisan gain: David Peterson.
That’s the one-term Liberal premier of Ontario, who was swept out of office after calling an early election in 1990 for no obvious reason beyond having a massive lead in the polls.
The NDP leader who won the premier’s job in a stunning upset might want to remind Trudeau about that election. Yes, that’s you Bob Rae, the prime minister’s current ambassador to the United Nations.
Look, it’s Trudeau’s right to call an election as prime minister, even without suffering a loss of confidence in a House of Commons vote. Fixed election law does not apply to minority governments.
But there has to be a better excuse than seeking to end what is really just routine partisan bitterness and regular parliamentary paralysis to foist an election on Canadians struggling back to post-pandemic normal.
If he decides the current Parliament absolutely must be put out its misery, Trudeau might want to wait until October 19 for vote day. That’s when all those MPs first elected in the 2015 Liberal surge will qualify for a lucrative fully-indexed parliamentary pension for life.
That’s clearly on a few MP minds, as reflected in cabinet minister Carolyn Bennett’s recent text to class-of-2015 MP Jody Wilson Raybould suggesting it was the pension behind her arguments against a fall election.
After all, they might need the money if Trudeau does a David Peterson.
After all, the basic defeated, pension-less Liberal MP won’t be commanding $150,000 for a half-hour speech in life after politics.