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Welcome to the federal election few Canadians wanted

MichaelTaube
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Michael Taube: Trudeau’s decision to call an election could be the biggest moment of his political career - or one of the worst disasters in Canadian political history.

Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Carl Sandburg wrote, “Sometime they’ll give a war and nobody will come.”

Sandburg’s line from his famous 1936 poem The People, Yes could also be incorporated into a modern context for the Great White North. To wit, “Sometime they’ll give an election and nobody will come.”

All kidding aside, many Canadians will obviously vote in the upcoming federal election on Sept. 20. Yet there’s little doubt that when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped the writ last Sunday, many Canadians probably shook their heads in frustration at the mere thought of heading back to the polls.

This isn’t an election most Canadians wanted. Whether they liked or disliked Trudeau and the Liberals, they were perfectly content to leave things alone for the time being.

A Nanos Research/CTV News poll conducted between June 30 and July 5 found that only 26 per cent of Canadians wanted a fall election. Of the remaining 74 per cent opposed to an election, 37 per cent were described as “upset” by this possibility and 34 per cent were “unsure” about it.

The numbers weren’t much different before the writ dropped.

A Mainstreet Research/Toronto Star poll conducted on Aug. 10 and 11 found that 65 per cent of Canadians didn’t want a federal election. This meant total support for the pandemic election was only at 35 per cent, or a meagre nine per cent increase from the Nanos survey.

Mainstreet’s poll noted the highest opposition to the election was in B.C. at 75 per cent. The Prairies, the most supportive region, still had 52 per cent of respondents against it. Ontario, one of the key provinces, was at the national average with 67 per cent opposed.

Will things change once the campaign is in full swing?

Undoubtedly but it’s not the best way for the Liberals to kick off a re-election bid.

Plus, they’re not wildly popular amongst the electorate.

Some recent polls confirm this. Angus Reid had the Liberals ahead of the Conservatives by a slim margin of 36 to 31 per cent on Aug. 11. Abacus Data’s poll on the same day showed the Liberals leading by 37 to 28 per cent for the Conservatives, while Mainstreet had it at 34.6 to 29.2 per cent for the Liberals. Leger noted the Liberals leading 35 to 30 percent on Aug. 12, and Nanos suggested it was 33.4 to 28.4 percent on Aug. 13.

The only outlier was Innovative Research, which had the Liberals up 40 to 25 per cent over the Conservatives on Aug. 11.

Trudeau could, therefore, be taking an enormous risk by heading into a fall election.

Putting Innovative’s survey aside, the major polling companies and market research firms all suggest the same thing. The Liberals are in a good position to win re-election, but a majority government seems highly unlikely.

Moreover, Nik Nanos told the Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife on Aug. 13 that the Liberals “are not in majority territory anymore – and based on our internal seat projections – the hot election speculation has turned off enough voters for the Liberals to go from a majority to putting 40 [potential] Liberal wins at risk.”

Trudeau could, therefore, be taking an enormous risk by heading into a fall election.

His Liberals fell from a majority to a minority in 2019. They finished second in popularity to the Tories and then-leader Andrew Scheer and were only ahead by a seat margin of 157 to 121. This 36-seat disparity remained the same at Parliament’s dissolution, although it’s now at 155 to 119.

The PM would obviously hold on to some of the 40 at-risk seats, but how many?

This could provide a real opening for Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives, who have struggled at times to build political momentum during the pre-election period. A successful campaign could increase the Official Opposition’s seat count by a solid margin. Jagmeet Singh’s NDP and Yves-Francois Blanchet’s Bloc Quebecois could also witness small rises in each party’s number of seats.

Every vote counts, as the old saying goes. In a game of margins, a few political seats lost and won on Sept. 20 could mean the difference between a Liberal majority, Liberal minority or even a Tory minority.

We could also witness a near-carbon copy of the previous Parliament when the dust has settled.

The enormous amount of financial waste to achieve this, which Elections Canada has suggested could be around $610 million, would infuriate many voters.

That’s why Trudeau’s decision to call an election could be either the biggest moment of his political career or one of the worst disasters in Canadian political history.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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