Instead of one big column this week, we have two related commentaries.
The Federal Election About Nothing
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know the feeling of being in an election about nothing.
The provincial Liberals did it in the winter.
Now the federal Liberals are doing it, this time to the whole country.
A week in, the federal Conservatives are ahead in the Ekos daily tracker. What’s more interesting in the Ekos result is the regional breakouts. The Grits are 20 percentage points ahead in Atlantic. But look at the Cons and Dippers. They have flipped, with the Cons in second place.
Take it with a grain of salt, though.
Last week, 338Canada.com produced the lovely scatter graph of polling results at the start of this section. Hard to see agreement there. That’s one thing to bear in mind as you chew through the conventional media commentary during this election.
The other key thing to remember is that these national polls do not have enough detail at the provincial or regional level to reliable tell us what will happen at the district level.
People point to the Nova Scotia surprise but it’s the polling accuracy that we are really talking about there. No one really saw it coming. The most they’d grant is a Pea Sea minority. Polls at the provincial level frequently do not get granular enough to be able to reliable tell us much of real value in pointing to outcomes. Look at the seat projections from the last election in this province to see how phenomenally useless much of the polling-related comments in the media are.
As we head into the second week of the short federal campaign, then, here are three take-aways for you:
Pay attention to the Curse of Politics, David Herle’s election podcast featuring Jenni Byrne and Scott Reid. The three dissect the campaign daily. You can get it every day by 9:30 every weekday morning. It’s sharp and insightful. There are plenty of good commentaries on Canadian politics out there but these three have been at the centre and that makes all the difference.
As I’ve said before, we have five regional parties at the national level these days. The Cons and Grits dominate the west and east respectively and fight over Ontario. The Bloc is obviously Quebec, only. The Greens and the Dippers are fringe parties. They have sprinklings here and there but generally find their core support in Ontario and western Canada. None of the parties can craft a core message that appeals across the country. It isn’t clear they want to. That might explain the way the parties campaign. That might also support the popular consensus that we are looking at a weak majority, at best for either the Cons or, more likely, the Grits. But we could also be looking at a return to a Grit minority.
That conclusion makes sense if you look at the wider pattern of Grit campaigns nationally and provincially since 2015. This is something national media commentators will miss.
The past three provincial Liberal campaigns were all shaped by the current Premier. They used the same core idea: let’s be all things to all people. Rather than give people a reason to vote Liberal, let’s try to slide by.
The Liberals failed to define themselves in 2015. They offered no unifying message that gave voters a reason to support the Liberals. The campaign was about sliding into power.
The result was that in 2016, the public abandoned the party in droves when it delivered a hard-edged but necessary budget. They still suffer as a result. The 2019 debacle and the 2021 catastrophe reflect the same strategic failure.
You can use a tactically adequate notion to beat incompetent alternatives but then have chronic trouble governing. That’s strategic failure. That’s stupid. The Liberals in Newfoundland and Labrador proved that three elections in a row.
The only reasons the local Liberals got away with running an election like that is that the opposition Pea Seas collapsed and didn’t recover. The Dippers remain a political joke, as they have typically been.
Justin isn’t that lucky. He got away with it twice but at the federal level, elections are way more competitive. Even if the Liberals squeak out a Furey-thin majority, Trudeau’s time in the Prime Minister’s Office is short. If Trudeau repeats 2019 - as Andrew Furey almost did - then he is toast by Christmas. Next spring at the latest.
Politically, it’s a five-second chuckle when - as he does a lot - Andrew Furey cosplays Justin circa 2015. It’s potentially disastrous if Justin cosplays Andrew or worse cosplays himself. Let’s see if Trudeau and his people turn it around.
The Celebritocracy and Zero CERO
NTV’s Mike Connors asked Premier Andrew Furey last week how come he was a year into his time as Premier and had not delivered on one of the signature promises he made while he was campaigning for the Liberal leadership.
Furey told people last summer he would appoint a Chief Economic Recovery officer within 100 days of taking office.
In fact, it took until February of this year - way more than 100 days after taking office - for the provincial government to advertise for the job. Here we are six months after *that* and there is still no one in the job.
Furey says he is still looking but what we should really notice is that after a year of experience in the Premier’s Office, Furey says he wants someone to go on TV every once in a while to let people know how things are going. You know, like Saint Janice does. That’s what Furey said last year, too.
It was a thin explanation then and it is thinner now.
Truth be told, the CERO is the same thing that Radio Canada reports Justin Trudeau is now casting around for in the Federal Election about Nothing 2021. It’s a big idea. Something with juice. That looks good. Has a « wow” factor.
But that’s all it is.
Trudeau is looking for brain farts, in other words, not solid policy.
And in the same way, that’s what Andrew Furey has been about. In the words that Andrew Furey still uses to describe the CERO, the brain fart Chief Economic Recovery Officer remains something from Twitter, something from a person who really had no idea what he was talking about in the first place. You can see the Origin Tweet at the start of this section.
Andrew Furey picked up the words and has run around with them for a year. But Furey still hasn’t figured out what this CERO will actually do. There’s no depth. No growth. No development. We’ve gone from a notion that might have made the naive go “wow, that could work” to something that prompts people to go “wow, that’s just bullshit.”
Furey hasn’t figured out other things. Like the old idea that if people want a government official to tell us how the government and the economy are doing, then he is that official.
That’s the Premier’s job.
Or the finance minister’s job.
It isn’t the job for someone who doesn’t have the power to do anything. But if we want an unvarnished version of things, then better to appoint a parliamentary budget officer, someone who works for the House of Assembly and functions like the Auditor General.
Ottawa has got a good one. Come to think of it, since the Parliamentary Budget Officer has already been doing a fine job each year of fixing our province’s position at the headwaters of shit creek down to a few centimètres of actual, we could just look there for the information. If you want another version of the same thing, you can try Don Drummond and C.D. Howe Institute.
Heck, Furey just paid a gaggle to not only tell us how badly shagged up we are but offer ideas on how to unshag ourselves. Listen to that.
We never needed a CERO.
We don’t need government by Fernando.
We don’t need Celebritocracy.
We don’t need brain farts.
The problem we have is not the lack of an official to tell us how things are going. The problem we have is a shortage of officials who will actually - you know - *do* something to fix problems.
There’s a big idea for Justin and Andrew.