Monday, January 25, 2021

Kelly McParland: Why do Canadians keep supporting this error-prone government?


Kelly McParland: Why do Canadians keep supporting this error-prone government?

You have to wonder who’s telling Trudeau it’s a good idea to start planning an election now

The Aga Khan trip. Election reform. The India costume parade. SNC-LavalinJody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. The Kielburger brothers and the WE fiasco. Blackface. His love affair with China. Vaccine rollout. Julie Payette. It’s not even necessary to provide details; they’re so familiar people recognize them in shorthand. It raises the question of how much the prime minister thinks before he acts.ybe that’s unfair. No doubt he thinks a lot, just not deeply enough. He certainly didn’t appear to dig too deep once the notion that Julie Payette would make a great governor general got lodged in his head. It was too good to ignore: a glam astronaut and a woman to boot. Imagine the photo ops. He zipped through the vetting process, having already jettisoned the advisory committee established by Conservatives, missed all the warning signs from her previous positions, and presto, the job was hers.

No doubt he thinks a lot, just not deeply enough

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits with governor general Julie Payette during a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Nov. 20, 2019. 

Now he refuses to take responsibility. The vetting process was fine, he insists, though it obviously wasn’t. Even Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc — whose father served as governor general — admits it was “less than ideal.” Now Trudeau has to find a new regal stand-in, and fast. How will he go about selecting a replacement? He won’t say, yet again demonstrating his distaste for sharing information.

It’s never Trudeau’s fault. The response to Wilson-Raybould’s complaints as attorney general was a leaked trashing in the media. Election reform was the fault of voters who didn’t support his preferred option. WE resulted from a hostile opposition and carnivorous media out for blood. Twice ruled guilty of ethics violations, he only sulkily accepted the results. When complaints about Payette first surfaced he insisted she was an “excellent” governor general.

Yet surveys suggest voters remain willing to re-elect the Liberals, possibly with a majority. How is it that Canadians remain so blithely tolerant of such an error-prone, stumble-footed government?

It’s a truism of Canadian politics that Liberals are more readily forgiven their transgressions than Conservatives. They are much better than Tories at presenting themselves as well-meaning if sometimes amateurish do-gooders who shouldn’t be held to account for the frequency of their mistakes and broken promises. It’s possible the Payette fiasco will resonate, or voters could shrug off that blunder as readily as they have the many before it.

Trudeau is among several leaders who have retained public support in the face of the pandemic, even if results have been spotty. Perhaps it’s the reluctance to add the risk of a new and untried regime when so many other aspects of life have become unpredictable. Too much bumbling can turn the tide, but incumbents can benefit from a public sense that they’re doing their best in a difficult situation. Leaders in Australia, New Zealand and Germany have held onto public trust, while those in Sweden and Britain have suffered. On the provincial front, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier Francois Legault have retained voter sympathy; Alberta’s Jason Kenney has not.

The pandemic lets the government dominate media attention at the expense of the opposition. Other party leaders face a difficult task breaking through; Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative leader, continues to struggle to build awareness among voters. The assault on the U.S. Capitol,  some say egged on by Donald Trump, inspired alarm among Canadians and a natural-enough urge to rally round a government no one could imagine acting so maliciously or undemocratic, even though it was a small group. Trump was a recurrent aid to Liberals; the worse he was reported as acting the easier it was through the lens of the mainstream  media to view Trudeau’s Liberals as better in comparison.

Trump was a recurrent aid to Liberals

Fortune may not remain so friendly forever. Ottawa’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has been lamentable. Canada trails a host of other countries big and small in vaccination rates. Even the U.S. under Trump was doing much better. Trudeau has boasted repeatedly about the vast supply his government had ordered, as if stockpiling doses for the future was the goal, rather than administering them now. Pfizer’s decision to cut back deliveries, and even halt them for a week, caught the government by surprise while problems we are starting to occur with the vaccine, Trudeau’s inability to get the decision reversed reflects badly on an administration that seems to have trouble reading the fine print.

Trudeau’s willingness to blanket the country in borrowed cash to offset the pandemic was positively received, but the bills are coming due and a potential backlash is burbling away. The Canada Revenue Agency sent notices to 441,000 people questioning their eligibility for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Large sums have been demanded from recipients who didn’t realize CERB was taxable. Small businesses are being told to repay money they’ve already spent on bills and survival.

Taxpayers’ Ombudsman François Boileau says complaints in December were up 93 per cent over last year; CRA phone lines are backed up for hours with people trying to get through. Though CRA admits sending out incorrect information on CERB, it has refused to back down. Even low-income authors, poets and other artists who scramble to make a living are being targeted over a disputed rule on net income versus gross income.

Even starving artists can get angry when they feel ill-treated, even by a government that spends as much time signalling its virtue as this one does. No wonder Trudeau is eager to get to the polls before too many more voters catch on.

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