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Tom Mulcair: As Trudeau's front line struggles to move the puck up the ice, Freeland's fiscal update is a penalty shot


Nothing bugs a hockey coach more than the defence passing the puck back and forth, instead of moving it up the ice. This is how it seems Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first line is handling the big issues of the day, appearing more and more trapped by a disciplined Conservative team with its eyes on the prize.

Skilled players like Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland give the impression that they have no ideas left as to how to even enter the opposing zone, much less score points with the electorate.

To continue the metaphor, Freeland's fall economic update is like a penalty shot. She's alone on the ice and all eyes will be on her as she executes moves that may well determine her chances of eventually succeeding Trudeau, or achieving a come from behind boost in the polls. She shoots she…?

Guilbeault's case is more difficult. A gifted communicator when it comes to talking to the more progressive side of the Liberal base, he's learning that you can't only pass to your left wing.

Much like Stéphane Dion in 2008, Trudeau bet the farm on a carbon tax. Problem is, it's the farm that doesn't want to pay, and now Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is executing a play he learned with Harper in 2008. You go after one part of the carbon tax at a time. Home heating oil, then farming fuels…and so on. For your opponent, it's like peeling an onion slowly, you just keep making them cry.

Much like Dion's carbon tax plan, that he called the "Green Shift," Guilbeault's scheme has been attacked as a tax on everything. Dion paid a heavy price for failing to understand the effectiveness of the Conservative line of attack.

Guilbeault worked tirelessly to develop his climate plan, having paid a heavy price with his erstwhile colleagues in the environment movement for going along with Trudeau as he poured tens of billions into a new oil pipeline and approved offshore drilling. He is now being left to sputter about sticking around as minister if Trudeau continues to lop off parts of the carbon tax plan, as he did when he paused the tax on home heating oil to appease his Atlantic MPs.

There is one potential star on the Liberal bench who was brought in mid-season and has been showing strength and determination. Housing Minister Sean Fraser knows what to do with the puck. The problem is no one else on Trudeau's team appears to.

Not only is he a clear communicator, he has pulled off an incredible feat in going from almost no knowledge of French at the time of his appointment to a nearly fluent command of the language of Molière.

He's been given the housing file and his age group knows that they're the first Canadian generation to have less chance than their parents of ever owning a home. He gets to promise loads of cash but there's little time to garner enough wins to reach the playoffs.

In today's fiscal update, Trudeau and Freeland will again talk groceries, as they did in the spring budget. At least then, there was money attached, about $500 for a working family of four. Problem is, that family's grocery bill has gone up by $1,100 this year, and they're still hurting.

Instead of continuing to help directly, as he did in the spring, Trudeau is going to promise to bring in new legislation to try and stop price gouging and collusion in the grocery oligopoly. The obvious difficulty with that promise is that it gives precisely zero help to working families who, more and more, are giving the Liberals and the NDP a pass and paying attention to Poilievre, who has managed to convince them that he's on their side.

Like hometown crowds in arenas across Canada, Canadian voters are going to be rooting for a good outcome.

In Ottawa, it seems there is only one dominant team on the ice right now and no amount of stickhandling seems likely to convince voters to root for the team that's been promising – and failing to deliver – for most of the last decade. 




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