First day in the campaign: surprises for everyone

di Joe Volpe del September 13, 2019

TORONTO - It’s hard to imagine a worse way to launch a campaign. Two, surprisingly, “new candidates” appeared on the scene: the Press - more specifically, the Globe and Mail – and Quebec Premier Francois Legault.

The first appears determined to keep the issue of personal ethics and honesty - credibility – in the exercise of government, front and centre in the debate for who should form our next government.

The polls have been suggesting that Canadians are either not overly concerned about issues reflecting on ethical behaviour by the political leaders, or that they have “moved on”. It is a theory worth testing.

Without suggesting that the country cannot abide cynical behaviour and still put itself forward as a progressive democratic society that respects integrity in its institutions, the Globe and Mail threw the SNC Lavalin grenade into the election campaign with a breaking story about the RCMP investigating the obstruction of justice, hence criminal behaviour, by the Prime Minister.

Caught off guard, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reverted to a °talking points° responses. Weak and wobbly. The Opposition did not fare much better with their talking points. It happens when the RCMP decides that there are grounds to investigate. Ethical issues morph into criminal allegations. None of the Parties could put a shine on dirt.

They were equal “bumblers” on the issue of Bill 21, Quebec’s secularization of the Public Workplace legislation. Whether one agrees that the issue is one that impinges on human rights and dignity or levels overt displays of religious/ cultural differences in the exercise of public office is a debate that should be had.

In a federal election campaign, however, that debate is limited to what role the Federal can play in response. Will that response cause the Provincial government to invoke a Notwithstanding Clause? What then?

Suffice it to say that none of the candidate, save the leaders of the Bloc Quebecois, is interested in getting into a spitting match with the cultural ultra-right-wing Quebec Premier. His focus is exclusively on his Province and its interests. Or as a predecessor, former Premier of the province said: “on veut un pays” – we want our own country.

Legault’s views on immigration as well are bound to frame the discussion going forward, given the nature of the immigration spilling into the province that prompted the issue in the first place. Trudeau’s lieutenant in the portfolio, Ahmed Hussen, is unlikely to be a convincing or persuasive voice. It will be up to Trudeau to bear the brunt of that debate. He was shakey, yesterday.

Lucky for him, the others did not or could not enunciate a clear plan of action. Everyone has a second shot at it tonight in the debate sponsored by the Munk School for Global Affairs. Well, not everyone Trudeau will not be present.

Bets are that the campaign strategists for all parties wish they could take yesterday back and start over. The Liberal Team will have been asking “what else?” after a vehicle “clipped the wing” of the campaign airplane. The imagery was not lost on anyone.

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