John Ivison: Who Justin Trudeau is really afraid of as he looks at calling a fall election

John Ivison: It would be nice to hear Justin Trudeau express the gratitude so many feel about living in Canada
John Ivison: It would be nice to hear Justin Trudeau express the gratitude so many feel about living in Canada

If you asked Justin Trudeau who worries him more – Erin O’Toole or Jagmeet Singh – the odds are high he would say the NDP leader, rather than the Conservative.

With the march to a fall election apparently inexorable, O’Toole has focused on the prime minister’s competence, or lack of, to no great effect.

Meanwhile, Singh has spent his time portraying the Liberals as heartless and himself as the only leader who really cares about injustice and people who need help. The Trudeau Liberals see the next election as an historic opportunity to drive a nail into the coffin of federal conservatism but it requires them to monopolize the progressive vote. The Green Party is obliging by forming a circular firing squad but the New Democrats remain stubbornly effervescent.

Singh is no philosopher king but he does empathy very well.

He was at it again on Wednesday, claiming the Liberals are “heartless” for reducing the Canada Recovery Benefit to $300 a week, from $500, for eight weeks before it runs out. (The federal government has sent $100 billion to workers who lost their jobs to COVID since the pandemic hit but elections are bidding wars for voters with short memories.)

Singh tried to shame Trudeau’s insensitivity on other issues – including, “fighting Indigenous kids in court” over a judicial review in Federal Court, after a Human Rights Tribunal ruling to award $40,000 to around 50,000 First Nations children separated from their families by the child welfare system. Ottawa is arguing, correctly, that the tribunal over-reached and compensation should be proportional to suffering. But such practical nuances are lost when politicians are playing to the gallery. “Stop the legal battle and walk the path of reconciliation,” said Singh.

The NDP leader was asked about a motion introduced by NDP MP Jack Harris on implementing a federal dental plan for low earners who have no dental coverage.

Singh said his party had urged the Liberals to consider universal dental care, and it was mentioned in the Throne Speech. “But as with pharmacare, I don’t have any confidence they will follow through on it. New Democrats are the only option when it comes to parties committed to improving access to universal social programs,” he said.

The number of people who are buying Singh’s line may give Trudeau pause for thought before committing to a fall election. Over the course of the last 10 public opinion polls, the Liberals have an average five point lead but the New Democrats are a couple of points up from the 16 per cent of the vote they won in 2019.

Trudeau can bring himself to tears at the slightest provocation, but Singh is no slouch when it comes to weeping over stranded jellyfish.

A majority is not guaranteed at these levels.

Singh is no philosopher king but he does empathy very well

Meanwhile, O’Toole continues to languish below 30 per cent support in an average of recent polls.

The impatience that voters felt in May, as they watched Americans enjoying their spring, has passed, as vaccinations have risen and the third wave has ebbed.

O’Toole called for “certainty, clarity and competence” last December, after Canada had put “all its vaccine eggs in the Communist China basket.”

“Canada is late,” he railed in February, as vaccine delivery delays meant just four per cent of the population was vaccinated, compared to 20 per cent in the U.S.

But the “incompetence” line of attack was blunted after the Liberals passed their own milestone of six million doses in the first quarter of the year.

There is an abundance of evidence that the Liberals are not particularly good at being the government. A new report by the parliamentary committee on Government Operations, which was tabled late Wednesday, is damning about a multi-million dollar contract for security screening equipment at Canada’s embassies around the world that was awarded to a state-owned Chinese company, Nutech. The decision to hand over a sensitive information technology/security contract to a company ultimately answerable to the Chinese Communist Party just because it was the lowest bidder raises all sorts of questions about the procurement process, not least of which is why the Communications Security Establishment is not involved in such supply chain decisions unless it is asked to be.

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