Never overestimate a politician’s ability to read the room

    Sep 8, 2021
    Justin Trudeau greets supporters while campaigning

    OTTAWA—Are we there yet?

    We are into the fourth week of an election no one asked for, that has no logical reason for occurring, except that the party in power wants more power. This is a power-grab election, which has nothing to do with the betterment of the country and has everything to do with the elevation of its current leader. However, our dear leader seems to have underestimated the mood of the country. Never overestimate a politician’s ability to read the room, especially when the context changes rapidly, as it does in today’s political climate.

    Justin Trudeau 2021 is looking like Hillary Clinton 2016. And may end up with the same result. He should’ve just sat down, ate his food, and been quiet.

    The polls reflect this, as Reuters reported on Sept. 7: “A rolling Nanos Research survey of 1,200 people for CTV on Sunday put the Conservatives at 34.9 per cent, with the Liberals at 33.4 per cent, and the left-leaning New Democrats at 18.9 per cent.” Bet the Liberals didn’t expect that.

    They didn’t.

    According to reporting in this paper by Abbas Rana, the Liberals thought this election was in the bag, namely that “MPs were led to believe that a campaign was ‘going to be a cakewalk’ as they are the incumbents, and the opposition was far behind the governing party in the numbers.” Imagine thinking a federal election in times of extreme uncertainty due to a pandemic, a rise in racial and sexual violence, and a looming existential climate crisis is going to be a cakewalk.

    Arrogance is a helluva drug.

    And that arrogance is palpable. Unfortunately for the Liberals, their political calculations look more like 2 + 2 = 7, than the slick, well-oiled PR machine they were in 2015. And therein lies part of the problem. We are a nation that is suffering from some form of PTSD, given the trauma of this pandemic. Families were separated, loved ones died, fear of loved ones’ suffering, anxiety over the present, and the future are all understandable emotional responses, as we are now in month 18 of this pandemic. Our political leaders, however, seem immune to any sort of compassion and empathy for the Canadian public (except Jagmeet Singh, which could explain why he personally is so popular). Instead, our prime minister decided this was the opening he needed for his ascension to a majority government. In other words, the Liberal Party saw the pain of Canadians as an opening to get what they want, rather than build bridges with the public by continuing to support us during this trying time.

    What a cynical display of authority.

    Finally, a day late and a dollar short, the Liberals unveiled their platform on Sept. 1. This rollout began with a video of mostly cabinet ministers making their case as to why we should re-elect them and recounting all they have done for us. The tone conveyed they did these things seemingly out of the goodness of their hearts, rather than as elected representatives for the people. The video seemed to lack the slick Liberal finish. It was poorly lit and many of the subjects looked like they were filming in a dungeon, otherwise known as Place du Portage. Additionally, the content itself looked like it came out of an HR onboarding video shown when you are first hired by a multinational corporation whose policies you hate but you need the money; it brought about a feeling of dread and resignation, rather than the hope of which they tried to convince us they were the agents (notice they left out the change part). It reminded me of the episode of Succession where Roman goes through his family’s company’s management trainee program and is stuck watching the onboarding video he knows is bull.

    The Liberals release their platform

    The Liberals release their platform on September 1

    The platform itself was the least inspiring of the three we’ve seen thus far. Same ol’ promises, same ol’ sloganeering, same ol’ everything. There is nothing new here that we haven’t seen of—or heard about—before. The Liberals served up policies they dusted off the shelf from 2015 (except electoral reform) and presented them as change, while keeping everything exactly the same. We see this with reconciliation. We see this with affordable housing. We see this with the Canadian Armed Forces debacle. We see this with Trudeau’s refusal to condemn Raj Saini, while “expressing frustration” saying that “he will be reflecting on what should have been done differently,” as reported by CBC.

    Seriously? Here’s a reflection for you: we don’t believe you.

    And therein lies the problem for the Liberals. Even if they promise us exactly what we want, can we trust them to deliver? The greatest predicter of future behaviour is past behaviour and the Liberals’ past behaviour indicates that we can’t. They have eroded public trust with a scandal per year, not being transparent, window-dressing and tokenizing women of colour, ignoring sexual harassment/abuse/assault victims while claiming, “we believe survivors,” lecturing the public about morality when their leader was in blackface so many times he can’t remember, and just the overall ashiness of this party.

    This year I, like many others, am angry that in the middle of a delta variant wave of COVID-19, we are being forced to cut our summer short—or the last refuge of sanity and mental well-being—because of the prime minister’s selfishness. Hopefully we don’t lose lives because of it.

    Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.