Don Martin: How to win the next election: It's the reopening, stupid.
OTTAWA -- There’s a pandemic twist to the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign’s famous view of the economy as key to election victory: In Canada today, it’s the reopening, stupid.
Many Canadian politicians are oh-so-deserving of an electoral spanking for actions that introduced, spread, slowed and then revived COVID-19 across the country.
But with the third wave becoming a ripple, a road back to popularity and power has opened up for incumbent political leaders.
Take Doug Ford. To watch the Ontario premier enter the final year of his mandate with a parent-shuddering decision to keep schools shuttered until September is to believe his election defeat is unavoidable.
But between that unpopular school-closure decision, which his own medical advisers said wasn’t necessary at this time, and the election next June 2, normal will likely return to Ontario and that will get a rapturous reception from voters prone to forget year-old mistakes.
Alberta’s Jason Kenney is in deep trouble inside and outside his party, but the premier clearly sees his potential resurrection in an aggressive reopening plan.
There’s absolutely no logic to hosting a full-on, booze-fuelled, crowds-everywhere Calgary Stampede just six weeks after the third wave was choking his province.
But if this virus is truly being vaccinated into submission without a fourth wave, Albertans partying like it’s 2019 has the yeehaw-whooping potential to save his political hide from the resurgent NDP.
Nova Scotia newbie Iain Rankin had the lowest approval of any premier in the spring Angus Reid survey, but his strong performance in clamping down on a new outbreak and a smart plan to reopen has seen his popularity soaring into majority government territory on the eve of an election.
There’s no way Quebec’s Francois Legault should be a rock star with the clout to bring Justin Trudeau to his knees on amending the Constitution to cement Quebec’s status as a nation.
Legault was, after all, premier of the province that racked up the highest per capita COVID-19 case count with more than 40 per cent of the deaths in Canada and he needed military intervention to save long-term care residents from a devastating decimation.
And yet, with numbers way down, some fans attending hockey games and the reopening well under way, he’s in unbeatable popularity territory.
Then there’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It’s possible he could suffer a Churchillian fate, that being a prime minister who won a world war only to lose a domestic election.
But last week’s auditor general report offered a glimpse into how Trudeau will emerge unscathed from 16 months of at-times controversial pandemic governance.
In what should’ve and could’ve been a scathing report on his government’s failure to stockpile sufficient protective equipment, the auditor general concluded the government did a good job of buying up overpriced supplies after the pandemic hit.
In other words, damage control for early missteps wins the day and, with Parliament’s summer recess about to start, there’s no chance of starting a public inquiry into the pandemic, which could hurt the government.
That sets up Trudeau to claim credit for procuring the mass vaccination which allowed re-openings to unfold in the provinces before heading to the polls in the fall without any reckoning for his questionable early pandemic-fighting actions or, more precisely, inactions.
“I am at a stage now where I have moved from frustration and anger to total apathy. I’m just so done with them all,” confided a prominent doctor friend of mine the other day. “And the worst part is there will never be any accountability for any of this.”
When the masks are called down and the economy is back to a full roar, people will be more preoccupied with poor restaurant service from an acute hospitality staff shortage than on seeking political revenge for poor testing, lousy tracing and silly hotel quarantines.
We’re sick of the virus, but even more fed-up talking, studying or reliving it if the goal is to find fingers of blame to point.
Of course, lessons must be learned or history will repeat itself as COVID again and again.
But after what we’ve all been through, perhaps there’s nothing stupid about just wanting to move on.
That’s the bottom line.