MacDougall: Trudeau’s only choice now is to wait for events to happen


One major event just might rescue Trudeau from the doldrums of voter opinion: the possible re-election of Donald Trump.

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“Things can only get better” isn’t much of a political strategy, but it might be all that Justin Trudeau has left.

Faced with a smorgasbord of bad news and an ascendant Pierre Poilievre, the prime minister faces an uphill battle to retain his position, whether before or after the next federal election. And while only the foolish would write off a man who so clearly backs himself and his ability, it’s hard to see what ability Trudeau has to proactively author a successful future. Things have gotten so bad that Trudeau now trails Poilievre amongst millennials, and by a wide margin.

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It’s not that Trudeau hasn’t been throwing huge volumes of stuff at walls to see if anything sticks. But the massive summer cabinet shuffle hasn’t changed the narrative. The Liberal caucus meeting in Prince Edward Island closed without any action on housing, the political issue of the moment. Nor is this week’s foreign jaunt, long the refuge for any leader struggling at home, likely to produce any major uplift.

And so, Trudeau must wait and hope that something turns up.

To be fair, sometimes things do turn up. Stephen Harper was freshly into his second minority mandate when the global financial crisis rocked up to throw the country into tumult. The wrenching of the global economy allowed the heretofore mistrusted and/or misunderstood Harper to play to his strengths; the dour and partisan economist suddenly emerged as a knowledgeable and trusted voice on the world stage and a steady hand on the tiller at home. Spending billions of dollars — dollars that actually were delivered to specific projects, largely on time — surely helped, too.

The trouble for Trudeau is that he’s already had his shock crisis — COVID 19 — and blitzed the country with money. A lot of money. But instead of leaving Canadians with an enhanced impression, the COVID spending and the subsequent supply-chain shocks from both the pandemic and Vladimir Putin’s raid into Ukraine have fuelled inflation, leaving more Canadians than ever dissatisfied with Trudeau and his Liberal government. Another crisis isn’t likely to change those perceptions, even if the money could be found to fight one.

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The instinct when things are going as poorly as they are for Trudeau is to try to force things to happen, or to glom on to events beyond your control and apply your imprimatur. To wit, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was out this week opining on the Bank of Canada’s decision to leave interest rates at five per cent, describing the news as “welcome relief” for Canadians. Blurring the line between fiscal and monetary church and state is a desperate look, one that has brought the opprobrium of the opinion-formers the Liberals used to court.

It could be that a different kind of something turns up. In theory, Poilievre could get caught playing cards with some of the convoy organizers. He could be caught on a hot mic saying something outrageous about a sensitive policy area. He could, in theory, get caught in flagrante delicto with someone or something that isn’t meant to be on his dancecard. But this is to choose hope over experience. Poilievre is a man on a mission and it’s unlikely he’ll leave anything to chance.

There is, however, one exogenous event that might rescue Trudeau: the re-election of Donald Trump.  No, Poilievre isn’t Trump, but Trump’s “flood the zone with sh–t”’ approach doesn’t confine itself to national borders. Turbulence down south is assured whatever happens over the coming months, whether it’s Trump jailed, or Trump winning the nomination only to then lose to Joe Biden, or Trump actually winning the presidency.

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So, yeah, it might look bad for Trudeau now, but it’s not too difficult to see a situation by the end of next year whereby inflation has cooled, the U.S. is melting down, and the useless Jagmeet Singh is still at the helm of the NDP, missing every opportunity to miss an opportunity. Under those conditions, Trudeau might reckon he can squeak back in.

That’s right, it’s the Year 2023 — and Justin Trudeau is reduced to waiting for Donald J. Trump to turn up.

Andrew MacDougall is a London-based communications consultant and ex-director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

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