Canada unexpectedly found itself in a whirlwind of pre-election passions. Unexpectedly – because the next parliamentary elections there were supposed to take place only in the fall of 2023. And even a few weeks ago, there was no sign of the dissolution of parliament.
On the contrary, the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Canadian liberals headed by him felt great. The country is one of the world leaders in terms of the proportion of the population vaccinated, and approval ratings for government policies have been very high. This predetermined Trudeau’s unexpected decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament and announce early elections for September 20 this year.
The fact is that in the 2019 elections, as a result of a series of scandals, Trudeau lost a stable majority in parliament and for the last two years has been heading the minority government, being forced to adjust his policy to extremely uncomfortable situational allies – the Quebec bloc and the New Democratic Party (NDP). And so the comfort of the ratings pushed him to a decision that could turn out to be fatal for him: the prime minister thought that now was the most convenient moment to regain an absolute majority in parliament. The Liberals were confident that they would have an easy walk to triumph, but something clearly went wrong.
It is clear to everyone from whom the Canadian prime minister took an example, making the scandalous decision to dissolve parliament. In 1974, his father Pierre Trudeau, who also headed the minority government, went to early elections and won them confidently, securing a comfortable five years of undivided leadership.
But, following in his father’s footsteps, Trudeau Jr. clearly did not take into account the more recent experience of modern Western politicians who decided to play with unplanned elections and referendums, focusing exclusively on momentary ratings. Suffice it to recall how in 2017, British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose party had an absolute (albeit insignificant) majority in parliament, wanted to strengthen it through an early campaign.
The ratings of the Conservatives of that time were off the charts, and all British newspapers predicted a complete defeat of the Laborites, calling May their “killer”. But British society was angered by this cynical party game, as a result of which the Conservatives not only did not acquire new mandates, but, on the contrary, lost their absolute majority and were forced to form a minority government.
And May paid for her adventure with the prime minister’s chair.
Likewise, May’s predecessor David Cameron lost his seat, relying on opinion polls. He was so lulled by the solid advantage of the supporters of keeping Britain in the European Union over Eurosceptics that he announced a Brexit referendum in 2016. As a result, he lost and was forced to resign.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi did the same when he lost the constitutional referendum that same year. Most strikingly, the overwhelming majority of Italians agreed with the questions put to the referendum (which was then confirmed by the results of the 2020 poll). Actually, that’s why Renzi appointed him, being sure of victory. But this confidence also played a cruel joke on him: he thoughtlessly promised to resign in the event of a negative result of the general poll. As a result, he turned the referendum on amendments to the Constitution into a general vote of no confidence and unexpectedly lost.
Now Trudeau is stepping on the same rake that his colleagues in European countries have diligently spread. By announcing unplanned elections, he had a comfortable seven to eight percent advantage over his perennial opponents from the Conservative Party of Canada, and forecasts drew him up to 190 seats in the future parliament, consisting of 338 deputies (now there are only 155 liberals).
However, the Canadian public was angered by the very fact of announcing early elections solely for the sake of achieving narrow party interests (up to 60% of voters oppose an early election in a pandemic). The campaign was called a “trudorendum” in the press, the prime minister was accused by his opponents of political egoism, and passions around “the most optional elections” led to a sharp polarization of society, which Trudeau himself admitted, shifting, however, the responsibility for it to the press.
This polarization has led to incidents not typical for Canadian parliamentary elections – usually boring and routine. So, Trudeau himself was recently attacked during an attempt to hold an election rally – the disgruntled public booed him and threw gravel at him. Campaigners distributing leaflets for the liberals were also attacked. And in some constituencies, tensions have escalated to the point that for security reasons the candidates have canceled the usual debate between them. Since the 1960s, when passions seethed over the granting of state status to the French language, Canada has not known such a split in society.
The result is a sudden and rather rapid drop in the ratings of Trudeau’s party and the rise of conservatives. For the first time in a year and a half, those have bypassed the liberals, ahead of them, according to some sources, by three to four percent. It should be noted that in Canada, the overall party rating does not always reflect the future alignment in parliament. For example, two years ago, the Conservatives received 1.2% more votes than the Liberals, but the latter secured an advantage of 36 seats. Elections there are held according to the majoritarian system, respectively, we can say that there are 338 separate election campaigns, the outcome of which sociologists often cannot predict. But a wake-up call for Trudeau and his supporters is the fact that he is losing support in virtually all regions and all age groups, including young people. The saddest thing for him is the fact that the prime minister’s popularity is falling in the group most stable for his party – among women.
All this has led to the fact that the chances of the formation of a majority government by the liberals, for which the early elections were started, are currently only about ten percent. And almost fifty percent is the likelihood of the formation of a minority government for the Conservatives, led by a nondescript and not particularly well-known former Canadian Air Force officer Erin O’Toole.
Such an outcome, of course, would be a disaster for the establishment not only of Canada but of the entire West, for which Trudeau is one of the cult figures.
To say that the liberal community has panicked is an understatement. The ruling party, seeing how it was yielding to the conservatives, did its best to convince the supporters of the Quebec bloc and the NDP to resort to tactical voting and support the liberals. And in the last debate, Trudeau lashed out more at his allies than at O’Toole.
A fierce struggle against the opposition media also began. Thus, the organizers of televised debates between party leaders tried to deny access to them for the online edition of Rebel News, a kind of Canadian analog of the American Breitbart. As a result, the journalists were forced to fight their way with questions to Trudeau through a court decision, which demanded accreditation of the opposition publication. Even so, some party leaders are boycotting Rebel News journalists who raise topics that do not fit the general line of the establishment. This is the question of how liberal elections are organized in a super-liberal country. Presumably, during the counting of votes (as in the last elections in the United States, a significant share of voters by mail is expected), we will also hear a lot of complaints about the honesty and transparency of the process.
Trudeau still has a week to save the day. But it is already obvious that he went on an adventure, risking a tit in his hand for the crane in the sky and endangering his own party. Even if he succeeds in preserving the minority government, it is not a fact that the liberals themselves will forgive him for this unjustified risk. After all, then it turns out that Trudeau spent significant budgetary funds (and these elections have already become the most expensive in the history of Canada) just to maintain the status quo.
Well, this is another lesson for modern politicians: when making strategic decisions, it is extremely dangerous to rely only on current ratings and polls, without assessing all subsequent risks. Who does not believe can ask Cameron, Renzi, May. And now with Trudeau.