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Support for Liberals hits new low

Colin and the True North panel discuss the latest Leger poll on Canadian political parties, the idea of an NDP-Green Party merger and other top Canadian politics headlines. This segment aired on CTV News Channel – True North Politics on April 29, 2019

Blue conservative wave keeps rolling across Canada

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on April 28, 2019.

Each new provincial election brings more evidence that the wave of conservative victories across the country is turning into a tsunami. And with that, the inescapable conclusion that the Liberal brand is, if not in crisis, certainly not what it was on Election Day in October, 2015.

Last Tuesday, Prince Edward Islanders not only elected a PC minority government but were sooner ready to consider the Green Party than re-elect Wade MacLauchlan’s governing Liberals.

For those keeping count of such things, that’s five straight conservative victories. In four of them, the Liberal vote share dropped to the lowest levels seen, wait for it, since Confederation.

And so, it should come as no surprise that outgoing Premier MacLauchlan’s Liberal campaign opted not to reach out to their cousins in Ottawa for assistance. Trudeau, who as recently as August, was greeted on the Island as a rock star has now become a political liability.

What a change of circumstances for the prime minister and his party.

Trouble for the Liberals all started with Brian Pallister in Manitoba, then Doug Ford, here, in Ontario, François Legault in Quebec, Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick, Jason Kenney in Alberta and now Dennis King in PEI.

Today, 82 per cent of Canadians are governed by conservative parties.

By any measure, it is a startling rebuke that, six months out from the federal election, is no doubt weighing heavily on Liberals everywhere.

That said, while it is always best to be careful in making assumptions as to federal voting intentions based on provincial outcomes, it is beginning to look like Andrew Scheer’s optimism is warranted. The Liberal ship is floundering. Its cause matters not. The handling of l’affaire SNC-Lavalin. The internecine squabbling. The accumulation of seemingly minor missteps. Or the global rise of populist right-of-centre ideology, the Liberal message is not resonating as it once did.

The three years since the blue tide began have seen the federal Liberal approval rating fall by over 15 per cent. Two-thirds of Canadians now say that Trudeau does not deserve to be re-elected. What’s more, the Liberal’s majority has, through resignations and scandal, become seven members thin.

Add certain losses in some traditional Liberal strongholds and October’s election becomes a daunting prospect.

No doubt some Liberals will console themselves with the old political rule of thumb that when we vote one way provincially, we vote the other way federally. Consider the record in Ontario. Harper won with McGuinty at Queen’s Park; Chrétien with Harris; Mulroney while Ontarians elected both Rae’s NDP and the Peterson Liberals. And, of course, Bill Davis won while Trudeau Sr. was prime minister.

But the past may well not, any longer, be prologue.

As of today, one poll found that the Conservatives were 20 points ahead in the 905 region. Although it’s worth noting the Ontario race, provincewide, is closer.

Yes, the election remains six months away. Much can and will change. Trudeau, as we know, is a capable retail politician, and, after all, campaigns actually matter.

So, Scheer’s Conservatives would do well not to start measuring the drapes, just yet. Though Liberal voters seem to be abandoning the party, polls also caution us that it is no longer simply a two party race.

We have now seen provincial voters flirt with both new and insurgent parties, from the People’s Alliance in New Brunswick to the CAQ in Quebec to the Greens in PEI. Whether this wandering eye extends to Jagmeet Singh’s NDP or even Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party remains to be seen.

What is clear is that Trudeau will not be fighting the election he was envisioning a matter of months ago. Gone are two of his most well-respected cabinet ministers, as well as Gerry Butts, his trusted adviser. His claim to a better politics of openness and integrity has been eroded by a year of scandal and melodrama, and he has lost his ideological allies in legislatures from Alberta to New Brunswick.

It’s pretty clear that the lay of the chess board has shifted, and yet much of the Liberal team still appear to be playing checkers.

What’s Up with the Green Party?

This week on the “What’s Up with the Green Party?” edition of Political Traction, Amanda sits down with Ontario Green Party leader, and MPP for Guelph, Mike Schreiner to unpack the Green Party’s surge in Prince Edward Island, his own success here in Ontario, and a growing green movement ahead of the federal election. Then, the two will go head into our revamped rapid fire round, with off the cuff thoughts on topics gaining traction

The fragile façade of Confederation

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on April 21, 2019.

Just as it is for most people who do what I do for a living, our office is littered with television monitors tuned to a variety of news channels from around the world.

And like it is for most of us, we become inured to the onslaught of images that come our way. Some real. Some fake. Many tragic. A few uplifting.

But the truth is, the images eventually become electronic wallpaper.

That is, of course, until this week when I looked up from my desk and saw the torrent of flames blasting through the vaulted roof and spire of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Like millions of others the world over, I was stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t take my eyes off the television screen as I thought about not only the immense tragedy unfolding, in real time, before me but how a symbol so strong, that had endured for so long had been revealed so quickly as fragile and vulnerable.

Over its long history, the cathedral has withstood politics, factionalism and terror.

The 13th century gallery of biblical kings installed on the façade served to symbolically align the monarchy and the Catholic Church by implying a continued lineage from the kings of Judah. During the Revolution, these statues were torn from their gallery and publicly beheaded.

As the First Republic ushered in official atheism, Notre Dame was transformed into a monument to the “Cult of Reason,” with religious icons replaced by altars to Enlightenment values like Liberty and Truth. After the restoration, the kings were reinstated and the church returned to its glory as a place of worship.

And even more threatening were Hitler’s plans to bomb the cathedral — along with most of Paris as we know it — rather than allow the city to fall into Allied hands. It was General Dietrich von Choltitz who disobeyed Hitler’s orders and saved the cathedral.

Notre Dame has miraculously withstood the threats of history with a stubborn resilience.

I thought about that magnificent cathedral this week. The dreams that inspired it. The skill and courage that it took to build it. The remarkable ability of it to adapt, change and still stay true to its values, I thought about our very own Confederation.

We, of course, don’t have cathedrals built in the 12th century in this country but we do, in their place, have the great Canadian experiment, sometimes called the great Canadian dream.

The dream of an improbably small country spread out among one of the most vast geographies of the world. A country that has — for a mere 150 years — defied the odds to remain united in vision and purpose.

And yet like Notre Dame what seems strong and secure and enduring is perhaps more fragile than we know.

This week we are focused on the remarkable success of Jason Kenney in Alberta. But it is useful to understand that his success follows on Doug Ford in Ontario, Scott Moe in Saskatchewan, François Legault in Quebec and Brian Pallister in Manitoba.

And what do these leaders have in common? Some say a move to the right. But that is a facile understanding. What they really share is an expression from their respective electorates of a desire to retreat from that great Canadian experiment.

In province after province, voters have chosen in their narrow provincial interests and not in the national interests. There are many reasons for this; many legitimate reasons. Regional alienation. Lack of economic achievement. A sense that people are not doing as well as those before them.

But the result is the same: a dangerous diminution of the value of the Canadian experiment. A dangerous diminution in the willingness to let someone else — a fellow Canadian — go first.

Politicians are skilfully, and successfully, exploiting this. Why wouldn’t they? That’s how our system works.

In fact, our system has driven our political leaders to act like the short term managers that have come to populate Bay Street. Worry about the next quarter and hope the long term will take care of itself.

It is too early to tell but we may find that our Confederation, which like Notre Dame is grand and imposing from the outside, may actually be much more vulnerable.