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Opinion: Trudeau pawns PM credibility for pandemic political opportunism

An election is expected to be called on Sunday, Aug. 15.
File Photo: Justin Trudeau at an event in Kamloops in January 2019. (via Brendan Kergin)

It reveals yet one more character flaw in Justin Trudeau that he would seize such advantage of circumstance to hold a federal election no one really needs but one he really wants.

The expedience and inherent deceit in this opportunism is an ethical and moral failing, certainly in this milieu of vulnerability to seek a third mandate amid a fourth coronavirus wave. It becomes even more difficult to support the person inside the politician, even more obvious that his most significant lessons acquired in two terms have less to do with statesmanship than with the fine-tuning of self-interest.

He proposed to do politics differently, yet could not be any more alike in releasing a child-like dark side when the door approaches. It makes one wonder at what point in the pandemic, at what stage of its spread and savage effect, did the prime minister have the epiphany about an electoral opening.

Was it when the coronavirus was ripping through long-term care facilities and factories?

Was it when we stopped seeing loved ones in hospitals and hospices?

Was it when our favourite stores and restaurants were shuttered?

Was it when jobs were lost, careers were upended or graduations to launch work forestalled?

Was it when we couldn’t get the vaccines others elsewhere were getting?

Or did the breakthrough moment take a little longer, when just enough of us were getting back on our feet for him to concoct the rationale for an election before another wave of variants sends us back on our heels once more?

Was it when just enough of us were getting cheque after cheque to distract attention from the impact on our productivity to provoke reflective worry?

When program after program and project after project were financed with our money today and tomorrow to momentarily satiate enough of us from coast to coast and from right to left?

It begs a question: How much of what we have heard from this government about its concerns about inequality, beliefs in reconciliation, desire to build a sustainable middle class, wishes for civilized child care and strategy for industrial innovation, was only about spadework for an election? And it begs another question: When the outsized ambition of Trudeau’s agenda can be gambled before it takes hold in the quick service of turning a Liberal minority into a majority, how much credibility is there to his commitment?

In short, have we been played?

Now, it is naïve to suppose that any political organization will stand on principle when persuasive expedience is on offer.

The context of this campaign launch is encouraging if you are on Trudeau’s team, even if incumbents often lose altitude on the hustings.

His principal rival, Erin O’Toole atop the Conservatives, starts the campaign as a relative unknown painted better by adversaries than he is presented by allies. Despite a climate change plan and a more progressive conservatism than his party has branded in ages, his path to victory needs him to sail and Trudeau to sink in mainly the same parts of the country.

It is also possible the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh – not so long ago considered to be experiencing what they call in the rocket business a “rapid unscheduled disassembly” – might rise from near-ruin to deny a Trudeau majority.

As for the Greens, their ideas have been stolen, their party has imploded, and their leader Annamie Paul deserves sympathy and empathy but will likely receive apathy.

It has been a seminar in cynicism to watch Trudeau buy – er, court – the country’s premiers one by one, ours included, on child care and transit over a White Spot meal. His crafty benevolence to Quebec’s François Legault outmanoeuvred the Bloc Québécois and earned him the once-separatist popular premier’s accolades. Trudeau’s only first ministerial foe might be Jason Kenney of Alberta, already a Liberal wasteland.

Case counts are surging again. The Delta variant is hitting the unvaccinated. The Lambda variant is ready to take centre stage. We have no national strategy for a sufficient herd immunity in the crucial weeks before we head indoors and no policy (yet, although it may come) for a vaccine passport.

We are sending children, teens and young adults back to school in the next weeks amid evidence they are the newly, deeply afflicted coronavirus cohort. An election will send candidates knocking on doors and shaking the hands of total strangers, into all-party events for hours at a time, and voters to line up indoors at the polls.

And, oh yes, there remain wide economic swathes in shambles.

What problem is this election attempting to solve? There are neither impediments in Parliament nor unseemly opposition demands. Any misdeeds of the administration haven’t toppled it. There is hardly the dysfunction that might call for the writ, yet Trudeau thinks nothing of coaxing new Governor General Mary Simon to bite her tongue and consent to an election. In doing so he stains the significance of his selection of an Inuit leader to represent the Crown in the country he leads.

A minority government is a message to collaborate. It is supposed to run its course properly, not just when it suits its largest participant. This call has the strange feel of sabotage of that institution and self-sabotage of Trudeau’s own hard-earned pandemic image – needless commotion when polls show the country wants calm.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if this situation provoked in Trudeau a different strain of opportunism – the kind that offers him agency to see this challenge through before he asks for a new mandate, the kind that builds his stature instead of sullying it?

More troublingly to think about: What is it the prime minister fears in further waiting? What does he know that we don’t? 

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.