Liberals Now Going for Gold

Justin Trudeau reacts to the results of the delegate vote for a National Transportation Strategy
Justin Trudeau reacts after delegates vote to adopt a National Transportation Strategy

When a new narrative sets in, it’s oh so easy to forget the old narrative. But as I compared this weekend’s Liberal Party convention to the last time Liberals gathered, I was reminded at how quickly the story has changed.

First, let’s flash back to January 2012. Newt Gingrich was alive and well in the Republican presidential race, Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana to most of us, and our biggest concern about Rob Ford was that he sometimes texted while driving. A few people worried about the Mayan Doomsday, but the larger concern for Liberals gathered in Ottawa was not the end of the world, but the end of the Liberal Party. Nearly every article about that convention speculated about the party’s demise, and the very real possibility they could be squeezed out of existence by the Conservatives and NDP.

It wasn’t farfetched. It had happened in the UK and in several provinces, and while the “Nycole Turmel bump” had the Liberals showing signs of life, the leadership picture was murky, at best. Bob Rae had agreed not to run for leader, but was definitely thinking about it, leaving a lot of Liberals uneasy. Not that the alternatives were setting the world on fire – David McGuinty or Denis Coderre, anyone? While it feels like we’ve been living in Trudeaumania forever, fewer than 1 in 7 people thought he’d actually run for leader on a straw poll I posted on my website that winter.

I wouldn’t call the mood bleak at the 2012 convention, but there was definitely a lot of trepidation and nervousness.

Flash forward two years and the picture is unrecognizable. The Liberal Party is coming off its best fundraising quarter ever, and candidates are lining up for hotly contested nominations. For the first time in 50 years, there wasn’t a whisper of leadership speculation in convention hospitality suites. The fact that those same suites contained late night poutine bars is certainly a sign these are times of plenty.

This all led to a more energized atmosphere among delegates. I’m sure even Green Party conventions feature speeches describing Elizabeth May as the “next Prime Minister of Canada”, but in candid conversations, even the most optimistic delegates have a sense of realism. Two years ago, there was a lot of talk about “two election strategies” and “catching the NDP”. This time, the focus is squarely on making Justin Trudeau Prime Minister on October 19th, 2015 (or earlier).

That may still be an overreach. But it serves as a reminder of how quickly things have changed in Liberal land, and the type of game changer Trudeau has been.

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12 responses to “Liberals Now Going for Gold”

  1. Undoubtedly, the Liberals are in a better position than they were two years ago. I’m still not convinced it is a great position.

    If current polling numbers held up, Trudeau would likely win a minority with one of the weakest mandates in Canadian history. Moreover, like Paul Martin’s 50%+ polling numbers in 2003, the coalition of voters backing Trudeau is as soft as Justin is ill-defined.

    This is a reversal of the historic trends in Canadian politics. Typically, tired Liberal governments would find themselves replaced by Conservatives following major scandals. But the Tories were winning based on issues of general issues (e.g. corruption) rather than the kind of divisions that mark Canadian politics (e.g. core vs. periphery, French vs. English). As a result, their coalition would implode (as happened in 1935, 1962/3, 1980 and 1993).

    The lesson, however, is clear. Yes, polls matter in elections. But in the long run, there is a big difference between soft and hard polling numbers.

    • We’ve a ways to go before the next election, but Trudeau’s polling surge has basically held for a year now, and withstood innumerable media cycles and Tory attacks. I’d question how “soft” it really is.

      Is it built around really strong policy identification? No. But that’s rarely the case in politics.

      • Hard support isn’t built around policy identification in a really specific way, sure. But it is built around some of the basic tradeoffs politicians have to make.

        This is obvious if you look at any electoral map. Urban areas vote differently from suburban/rural areas. French-speaking areas vote differently from English-speaking ones. Western Canada votes differently from Central/Eastern Canada.

        Voters *do* respond to where politicians stand on questions that are relevant to those cleavages. That is why an issue like the gun registry can matter a lot more than other issues, say Harper’s changes to the census.

        If we are to believe the latest poll, the Liberals are at something like 39% in Alberta while also leading Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes. There are clearly people supporting Trudeau with conflicting ideas of what he represents.

        And soft numbers can hold up for longer than a year. Softness of support isn’t determined by duration, but rather, by robustness in the face of adversity. ~30% of the country will back a tired, scandal-plagued Conservative government. That’s hard support – and an underlying coalition impervious to shattering.

  2. It will be a great day when Justin is prime minister and sends harper and Alberta packing. Canadians will finally have the equality and social justice we deserve. The rights and treaties of the First Nations People will finally be honoured. The rights of the French and the Nation of Quebec will be respected. And finally the rights of visible minorities, immigrants, the poor and women will be the forefront of our just and equal system of democracy.

    • My Canada includes Alberta.

      Comments like yours are an excellent example of why the Liberal party has lost so much support over the past decade.

  3. Liberals may have enjoyed the convention, but reading about it, it seems most commentators say it was mostly about sprinkling Trudeau fairy dust on cliches and slogans.
    The Liberals seem to think having Trudeau baby pictures on the cover of Hello Canada magazine is the key to 24 Sussex.
    Only a studid person can buy the big spending with no new taxes routine. Are there enough to give Liberals a majority? Trudeau’s advisors can shield him from the media after the convention, but they can’t hide him from the debates.
    I’m confused about the Liberal policy on tax cuts. If the next budget has tax cuts, will they say they support the budget because Trudeau is so concerned about the middle class? Or will they be oppposed to tax cuts because the Liberals want to spend up to one percent of GDP on infrastructure?
    Are the Liberals going to attack Harper on years of deficit spending? Or are they saying more debt is needed to pump the economy?

  4. What a difference two years make.

    The question is if this generation’s Trudeaumania can be maintained for a year and a half.

    Two years minus six months gives the media plenty of time to tear down what they have built up (so they can have a competitive election).

    CalgaryGrit, I hope the Trudeau folks value and take advantage of your insight and contributions!

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