With election already over 40% done and three weeks left, question is what now? So far Liberals still have been running a lousy campaign and attacks on O’Toole don’t seem to be sticking. At same time I wouldn’t count Liberals out yet. It appears they are going to go after Conservative candidates as party does have a few extreme ones. And their hope is to scare NDP voters to stop a Tory win which may succeed but may not. With polls all over the map, hard to say exactly where things are, other than a lot more competitive than a month ago. For NDP, they have done reasonably well, but too far back at this point barring something dramatic to realistically win thus getting less attention. For them bigger question is will fear of an O’Toole government cause some to go back to Liberals or will they decide Trudeau has failed to deliver in six years and whatever misgivings they have of O’Toole, he is not as scary as Scheer or Harper. Tories have done well so far but have a number of traps ahead which depending on how they handle could deliver them a plurality of seats (I still see a majority as highly unlikely) or sink their chance to win. So far O’Toole’s personal numbers have improved a lot, but as his poll numbers rise, he will get more scrutiny so this will be time when Canadians decide whether they are ready to elect him as PM or not. Public unlike a month ago is now interested in the Tories, but still not fully sold on them. Below are issues I believe could scupper Tories’ chances and how likely I think they are and how they should handle them.
First wedge issue is vaccine passports and no doubt they are super popular. And with good reason too. Most of us after 19 months of missing out on many things we like to do want to return to normal but do so safely. Appealing the minority that insists this is all about freedom may sound good in principle, but elections are not won and lost on principles. They are won and lost on who will make my life better. And having hospitals get overwhelmed with unvaccinated or even worse another lockdown are not something most of us want to placate the anti-vax minority. Tories got lucky that their stance was similar to public sector unions providing cover, but I believe they need to do better. Party like Doug Ford did should demand all candidates must be vaccinated unless they have a genuine medical reason not to. For areas under federal jurisdiction, I prefer vaccine passports, but on spot testing is in line with what many European countries who have vaccine passports are doing. Tories should defend this by arguing mandates if they include those who cannot for medical reasons violate human rights codes and determining who is not for medical reasons vs. choice is too difficult. By mandating a mandatory test every single time, that acts as a strong incentive to get vaccinated as having a swab stuck up your nose every day is not exactly pleasant.
Next one is climate change. This has always been a weak spot for Tories and lets get real here: those who have this as top issue are not going to vote Conservative anyways. They will never beat Liberals or NDP on this issue, main goal is at least be acceptable to swing voters. And for swing voters having a plan even if more modest than others is what is needed. O’Toole needs to argue his party unlike others is about balance that yes will take action on climate change, but do so in a way that does not substantially raise the cost of living for middle and working class and does not cause economic damage. Otherwise argue they are the party that balances action on climate change vs. economic growth and is not too much on one side.
Childcare is another one Liberals may use as wedge issue arguing Tory plan won’t create any day care spaces and will scrap agreements now with 7 provinces including some Conservative ones. For starters childcare may be a huge issue for some, but overall most polls show number who have it as top issue is low so Tories really here just need to offer something; doesn’t need to be as generous as Liberals are. Also best way to avoid attacks here is argue Tory plan will deliver immediate help, Liberal one is 5 years down the road. Otherwise most those who need help now won’t benefit as their kids will be in school by then while Liberal plan mostly benefits those planning to have children, not who already do.
Gun control if it becomes an issue could bite them. Leger poll shows not only do majority oppose Tories’ plan to repeal Liberal gun ban, most feel Liberal gun ban doesn’t go far enough. As important as gun lobby is to party for membership and fundraising, they are wildly offside with public opinion. Elections are often won and lost on emotions, not analysis and there is no emotional way you can convince Canadians that semi-automatics like AR15 should be legal for civilians. Political junkies like myself focus on rational analysis to decide best policies; but to win campaigns you have to find an emotional connection. And with smart marketing on most issues this can be done. On this issue it cannot. The Tories basically on this need to argue they are simply returning to laws we had in Trudeau’s first term when murder rates were lower. Otherwise they cannot win this debate, so need a quick answer and pivot. To be frank, I really wish party like their counterparts in Australia, NZ, and UK would just support ban. This is not an issue worth losing an election over and I also as per earlier blogs believe the ban is the right thing to do.
On abortion, I think Liberal attacks much less likely to work than with Scheer. O’Toole has said many times he is pro-choice and while yes has some pro-life MPs, it just comes across as fearmongering. At least Scheer was pro-life personally even though he promised not to bring in any abortion law thus had better chance of working. I do though think O’Toole should promise all cabinet members will be pro-choice. This is the position Liberals took under Martin and Chretien and its a fair one as helps remove fear of a private member’s bill passing but also at same time respects some people are pro-life and party won’t kick them out like others will.
Finally there is the health care. I’ve noticed a lot of Liberals from Chretien/Martin era saying Trudeau should make this a central issue like Liberals used to do. I believe this is mistaken and Leger poll shows most are okay with private diagnostic clinics as long as universal health care is still available. Public viewpoints have shifted a lot since 2000 and I don’t think fear of private involvement in health care is as strong as it once was. Back then, private clinics were relatively new and many unaware of them or fearful it would be beginning of end of medicare. Today they are widespread and widely known yet have not in any way shape or form harmed medicare. So fearmongering that worked in past only did so due to fear of unknown and today it is no longer an unknown for most.