Outside a television studio in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, where Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was recording an interview days before the country’s election, a man shouted insults, mostly obscene, about Trudeau and his family while blowing up the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from a stereo on a cart.
Heckling is something Trudeau has always faced, but this time the attacks have a new bite. After six years in power, a prime minister who promised “sunny ways” and presented himself as a new face is now the political establishment, with a record and missteps for opponents to criticize. Even as the Liberal Party clings to its grip on Parliament, as observers expect, this murderous election campaign has done it a disservice.
Ben Chin, the prime minister’s senior adviser, said no politician could have maintained Trudeau’s original popularity.
“If you’re in power for six or five years, you’re going to have more baggage,” Chin said. “You have to make tough decisions that not everyone will agree with.”
For much of his tenure, opposition party leaders accused Trudeau of putting his personal and political interests ahead of the good of the nation – of which the snap election on Monday is the most recent example. They also had rich evidence to attack him over controversies involving a contract for a charity close to his family, and a finding that he broke ethics laws by urging a minister to help a large Quebec company to avoid criminal sanctions.
And for every achievement Trudeau cites, his opponents can point to broken promises.
Anti-vax protesters have invaded its events, some with placards promoting the far-right People’s Party of Canada, urging its security services to increase precautions.
A rally in Ontario where protesters considerably outnumbered police was closed for security reasons, and at another in the same province the Premier was pelted with gravel as he boarded the his country bus. A local Popular Party official was subsequently indicted in this episode of armed aggression.
Trudeau has many accomplishments since 2015 to highlight. His government introduced carbon pricing and other climate measures, legalized cannabis, increased spending on indigenous issues, and made 1,500 models of military-style rifles illegal. A new plan will provide child care for C $ 10 per day per child.
Although his popularity has waned, Trudeau’s star power remains. When he walked by the outdoor patio of a cafe in Port Coquitlam, an eastern suburb of Vancouver, for nudges, quick chats and selfies with voters, the crowd quickly grew.
“We love you, we love you,” Joy Silver, a 76-year-old retired teacher from nearby Coquitlam, told Trudeau.
But as Election Day approaches, many Canadians are still wondering why Trudeau is holding a vote now, two years ahead of schedule, with COVID-19 infections on the rise from the delta variant, taxing hospitals and causing further pandemic restrictions in some provinces or delaying their rise in others.
He was also criticized for calling a vote on the very weekend Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, as Canadian troops struggled to evacuate Canadians as well as Afghans who had aided their forces.
“They struggled to answer this question throughout the campaign,” said Gerald Butts, a longtime friend of Trudeau and a former prominent political adviser. “And that’s part of why they’re struggling to get the point across.”
Trudeau has said he needs to replace his plurality in the House of Commons with a majority to deal with the remainder of the pandemic and the recovery that will follow – although he avoids explicitly saying “majority.” The Liberal Party’s political calculation was that it was better to strike while Canadians still had favorable views on how Trudeau had handled pandemic issues, particularly income support and the purchase of vaccines.
“We are the party with the experience, the team and the plan to continue delivering real results for Canadians, the party with a real commitment to end this pandemic,” Trudeau said at a rally in Surrey, another suburb of Vancouver, standing in front of campaign signs for local candidates. “Above all, my friends, if you want to end this pandemic for good, come out and vote liberal. “
For much of the 36-day campaign, the Liberals were stuck in a statistical tie with the Conservative Party of Canada, led by Erin O’Toole, each holding about 30% of the popular vote. The New Democrats, a center-left party led by Jagmeet Singh, fall far behind at around 20%.
Kimberly Speers, a political scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said Trudeau’s personality and fame could work against him.
“The message, from the NDP and the Conservatives in particular, is that this is a takeover and everything revolves around it,” she said. “And that message really seemed to stick to the voters.”
Some scandals during Trudeau’s tenure also helped the opposition. In 2019, Veterans Affairs Minister Trudeau, an Indigenous woman, resigned amid allegations that, when she was justice minister, he and his staff improperly urged her to strike a deal that would have enabled to a large Canadian company to avoid a criminal conviction for corruption. .
Despite his defense of diversity, it emerged in the 2019 election that Trudeau had worn blackface or brownface three times in the past. And last year, a charity with close ties to its family was awarded a non-competitive contract to administer a COVID-19 financial aid plan for students. (The group withdrew, the program was canceled, and Trudeau was cleared by the Federal Ethics and Conflict of Interest Commissioner.)
His opponents have also focused on broken promises, including the introduction of a national prescription drug program, the creation of a new electoral structure for Canada, debt reduction by compared to the size of the economy and the end of widespread sexual harassment in the military and segregation in federal prisons. The Center for Analysis of Public Policy at Laval University in Quebec City found that Trudeau fully delivered about 45% of his promises, while 27% were partially kept.
Singh reminded voters that Trudeau is committed to bringing clean drinking water to all Indigenous communities. There were 105 boil water orders in effect in First Nations when Trudeau took office, and more were added later. The government has restored drinking water to 109 communities, but 52 boil orders remain in effect.
“I think Mr. Trudeau can care, I think he does care, but the reality is that he often did a lot of things for the show and didn’t back them up with real action.” Singh said during the official English debate.
O’Toole, for his part, sought to present the vote as an act of personal aggrandizement.
“Every Canadian has met a Justin Trudeau in their life: privileged, empowered and always looking for number 1,” he said at a recent event in rural Ottawa. “He was looking for No.1 when he called this expensive and unnecessary election in the midst of a pandemic. “
Security and secrecy increased during Trudeau’s campaign shutdowns after several of them were disrupted by protesters angry over mandatory COVID-19 vaccination rules and passport vaccination measures imposed by Prime Minister Minister.
At the rally outside a banquet hall in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, Trudeau, sleeves rolled up and microphone in hand, gave a forceful speech before plunging into a mostly South Asian crowd eager to pose for photos with him.
Unlike previous practice, the crowd had been gathered by invitation rather than by public announcement, in part to keep its size within pandemic limits, and there was no sign promoting the event on the formidable doorstep of the remote location. On the roof of the hall, two police snipers in camouflage uniforms monitored the scene.
After the cancellation of a previous rally in Ontario, Trudeau was asked if US politics inspired the unruly protests. His answer was indirect.
“I think we all have to ask ourselves if we want to take the path of anger, of division, of intolerance,” he said. “I have never seen this intensity of anger in the countryside or in Canada.”
It is not possible to translate the results of a larger poll into precise predictions of the number of seats parties will occupy in the next House of Commons. But all current polls suggest that Trudeau may have alienated many Canadians by calling a snap election and suffered abuse during the campaign, without any political gain. The most likely outcome is that the Liberals will continue to hold power but will not get the majority they seek.
If that turns out to be the case, said Butts, “it’s going to end pretty close to where we left off, which is a great irony.”