Trudeau’s ‘brand’ has taken a beating since 2014

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

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Numerous polls are suggesting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lose the October federal election and that the Conservatives under leader Andrew Scheer will form the next government. And some of those same polls are suggesting it could be a majority Conservative government.

The Liberals and their particular Trudeau brand (Canadians never referred to a politician as having a particular ‘brand’ before Justin Trudeau) have taken a beating since the SNC-Lavalin scandal broke in the Globe and Mail in early February. Support for Trudeau’s popularity began to wane in mid-2018, but started to nosedive this past winter, and those numbers haven’t recovered. He is now viewed as a bit of a bungler, someone not to be trusted, and his reputation is now tainted with corruption as it relates to SNC-Lavalin.

Some pundits are suggesting it will be all but impossible for the Liberals to recover, and that a incredibly weak NDP under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh will help seal the Conservative vote.

But there is another factor, and that’s the Green Party. It has been led by Elizabeth May since 2006, and she has been its lone MP since 2011. But last week, in a by-election in a Vancouver Island riding, another Green candidate won the vote.

Vancouver Island is much different than Southwestern Ontario in political thought and culture. But what happened was interesting. Both Liberal and NDP support dropped, when compared to the results of the 2015 election in that same riding, while Conservative support remained the same. It would appear that quite a few Liberal and NDP supporters cast their ballot for the Green candidate.

Again, the Green Party might not have as much of an impact outside of British Columbia, and it’s doubtful that more than a handful could possibly be elected this October. But they could be strengthened enough with the support of former Liberal and NDP voters. If the so-called Green Wave does find any success, it will be in B.C. and possibly in the Toronto area. That’s my guess.

Still, the election is five months away, and a lot could happen between now and then. Four years ago, in the months leading up to the October 2015 federal election, it looked as though Stephen Harper’s Conservative government would be re-elected with minority status, and that Thomas Mulcair would increase the NDP’s complement as the Official Opposition.

The Liberals were an historic rump in the House of Commons, and a third-place party had never before in Canadian history leap-frogged to the front, much less won a majority government. And yet it happened.

Trudeau’s personal attributes appealed to younger Canadians and to a great many who remembered (and indeed, some worshipped) his father. He was young, fresh-faced, and he promised the moon and the stars. He called himself a feminist. He was welcoming, inclusive, and promised to “do government” differently.

He promised a lot of change, and Canadians, tired of Harper and his Conservatives, responded.

Of course, most of those promises haven’t been kept. Trudeau didn’t bring in electoral reform, for example. But he did keep a promise to reform cannabis laws by making marijuana possession – and to some extent, personal cultivation – legal.

It was mostly Trudeau’s charisma and “sunny ways” approach to life and governing that appealed to many Canadians, but the actual task of governing has always remained a challenge for him, and Trudeau, in many ways, has been exposed as being unprepared for the job.

The way in which the LNC-Lavalin scandal unravelled has revealed many of his inherent weaknesses. The fact his chief of staff and the Clerk of the Privy Council resigned their positions within the first month of the scandal’s revelations represent a monumental setback for the government, and the damage those resignations have caused has never been fully calculated.

And then what about the two female members of the Liberal Cabinet who resigned their positions and were then tossed from the Liberal caucus?

Trudeau, during the 2015 campaign and in the early months of his new government, made much of his affinity for an inclusiveness that welcomed a female presence into Cabinet and government (“Because it’s 2015,” he famously said). But when two strong women challenged the PMO and the government over their handling of matters relating to SNC-Lavalin, the pushback from Trudeau and Company was tremendous.

Let’s be clear here: There is no room for dissent or a difference of opinion in a Trudeau government. In this way, Justin is as iron-fisted as his father Pierre.

This exposure is sure to hurt Justin Trudeau in October, but he has many months to compose himself and re-launch a variation of the brand that appealed to so many Canadians four years ago.

Still, it’s different this time around. Canadians now know much more about this young, fresh-faced politician.

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