Liberals lacking inspiration

The author is vice-dean and professor of political science at Campus Saint-Jean. His most recent work is Right-wing and populism. Canada – Quebec – United States (PUL, 2020). In the fall, he will publish the collective work, Evolving Provincial Rights, 2015-2020 (PUL, 2021).

How to explain these two weeks of campaign, to say the least difficult for the liberals of Justin trudeau ? We can think that the erosion of power leads the electorate, in search of renewal, to look at the offer of the other parties with more attention. However, other dimensions also contribute to this bad start which, decidedly, is stretching.

First, it is the Liberals’ underestimation of the Conservative leader who was believed to be weak or ill-prepared, a mistake the Liberals have sometimes made in the past. For example, Liberal Leader John Turner misjudged Brian Mulroney, whom he believed was too inexperienced to have the confidence of voters. Likewise, the Liberals underestimated Stephen Harper, who was accused of being an American neoconservative lost in Canada, forgetting that the latter also embodied very Canadian demands from the West.

Likewise, they have difficulty portraying the current Conservative leader in an extremist light, although the issue of gun control could allow Justin Trudeau to breathe new life into the accusation of a subservient leader. to lobbies.

Then, a phenomenon of repetition accentuates the difficulties of the liberals. It has only been six years since 2015, but Justin Trudeau is still in his third campaign as leader. However, what was successful in 2015 now appears a little worn, with an air of déjà vu. The Liberal leader is now facing the same problem that those who have governed for a while: that of renewing the message and the program.

Thus, the liberal program was eagerly awaited, but it did not generate the hoped-for enthusiasm, despite investments to the tune of $ 78 billion, as if the novelty effect had worn off after the April budget. latest. In other words, it is not enough to talk about investments to gain attention or buy-in.

Finally, the Liberals may have succumbed to an overestimation of the demand for government interventionism. Admittedly, there has been a lot of talk of a return of the state at the time of the pandemic, the Conservative plan confirming in its own way this demand for an increased presence of the government.

Balanced budget

However, it seems that voters expect, at the same time, that the many announcements show some concern for the issue of balanced budgets and public finances. For many, this increase in the sums invested does not seem to make any real sense, except that of keeping the Liberal Party in power.

In fact, it is as if the liberals had forgotten the ingredients of their past successes, that is to say this adaptability which allowed the party to move on the ideological axis, sometimes to the left as was the case in the 1970s, with Pierre Trudeau passing for a “socialist” on the western side of Canada, sometimes towards the right, as Jean Chrétien did in the mid-1990s.

The Liberals have often been masters of the art of capturing part of the Conservative electorate and marrying them with voters who demand significant government intervention in social programs. The whole problem is to keep some kind of balance point between the two and to adjust quickly according to the circumstances.

In fact, several Liberal leaders have managed to find this balance, including Justin Trudeau in 2015 whose call for “modest deficits” found a favorable response to the electorate. But when the party starts to lean too strongly in one direction, it runs the risk of losing voters who no longer identify with the party’s orientations or who, preferring the original to the copy, return to the conservative fold or to the NDP fold, which seems to be the case now.

The number of discontented people increases even more when the Liberals no longer hold back their centralizing reflexes, which generates a reaction from a few provincial premiers or even a backlash from voters in certain regions who turn against them.

This discontent can then turn into an election slap, as Justin Trudeau learned in 2019, with a Conservative vote that swept the Prairies to the edge of Vancouver. It now remains to be seen whether Justin Trudeau will relaunch his campaign with the debates and whether he will manage, as in 2015, to find a new balance between contradictory tendencies to win a new majority.

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