Don Martin: With so much Liberal help, the Conservative leadership suddenly matters
OTTAWA -- There’s a very faint pulse to the Conservative leadership race, which will be decided in just over two weeks.
And yet, these are heady days for an Official Opposition watching a Liberal government trying its best to hand them the next election.
By any realistic political calculation, the Conservatives should be sleepwalking with terminal dread toward another election defeat.
Their interim leader, Andrew Scheer, has been making Joe Biden look fiery and charismatic by recent contrast.
The clash of the frontrunning leadership wannabes has produced duds when there should’ve been eye-catching fireworks to re-energize support.
The party is adrift without defining policy, having scrubbed their convention for the fall and potentially punting decisions on what they stand for (beyond loathing the Liberals) until spring or beyond.
And yet, Conservative hopes to reclaim power are anything but faint.
The polls have turtled from Liberal rapture to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repudiation as a third ethics scandal tarnishes his pandemic-polished halo.
Even more encouraging for the Conservatives is how more promising news lies ahead, which could exacerbate the drop in Liberal support.
The government is now confronted by the distasteful task of weaning the country off pandemic lifelines, putting millions of self-employed Canadians without access to Employment Insurance in dire straits.
It’s easy to spend megabillions you don’t have to help voters bridge unprecedented times. It’s much harder to take an unaffordable benefit away while the economy is still distressed.
All this while the full aftershocks of the WE controversy – a kids’ charity with friends in high government places briefly tapped to lead a $912-million student help program – have yet to be felt, including a bleak prognosis for the finance minister.
The prime minister might be suggesting he has Bill Morneau’s back, but that’s only for bus tire traction after he throws him under the wheels.
The only question now is whether Trudeau does the dirty deed sooner, before the ethics commissioner’s report, or later, when it’s likely Morneau will be found in violation of conflict of interest rules in the WE controversy.
The beat goes on to the soundtrack of lousy government performances on multiple non-pandemic fronts.
It needed to be dragged into launching a public inquiry into the Nova Scotia shootings and the RCMP’s conduct while the largest mass murder in Canadian history was underway.
Without the defiant efforts of their own Liberal MPs, demanding the flaccid first review-only response be bolstered into a full inquiry, the government would be hemorrhaging support in Atlantic Canada.
And with systemic racism allegations being revealed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, of all places, there’s still no reaction to Trudeau’s promises of action to uncover it in our police forces.
All this while an economic resurgence remains a long-term prospect with our chief public health officer predicting pandemic precautions could linger for another two or three years. Against that gloomy backdrop, the public mood seems unlikely to brighten.
This has critical-massed into a jaw-dropping reversal of fortunes for Trudeau.
Peter MacKay, who the smart money would bet wins the leadership with ease, could never win a general election by sheer force of his hodge-podge of blah-blah-blah promises.
He’s needs a lot of help from flailing Liberal forces, which seem increasingly inclined to give it to him.
What was merely an exercise in crowning the next election’s biggest loser last month, when the leadership ballots were mailed out, has become a pivotal one now that they’re about to be counted.
If the Liberals keep helping them on so many fronts, the new Conservative leader will be our next prime minister.
That's the bottom line.