It’s been a struggle to decide how to vote this election as a progressive desperate for change.
Liberal strength in the polls and various by-elections from 2013 to late 2014 seemed to collapse late last fall for various reasons. The NDP victory in the Alberta election in May this year pushed the federal NDP into major contention. The Tory attack, echoed by the NDP, that Justin Trudeau is “just not ready,” seemed to be sticking.
Then the election was called in August. Suddenly, Trudeau’s muted pre-election appearances gave way to great passion and previously vague policy positions were replaced by a crystal clear message to boost economic growth by lowering taxes on the middle class, raising them on the 1% richest, and greatly expanding infrastructure spending now.
At the same time, Mulcair’s NDP fell into the very same trap that Olivia Chow fell into last year in the Toronto mayoral race: running a bland, frontrunner’s campaign. Mulcair has inspired few with his too carefully devised policies designed to bring about incremental and undramatic change at the federal level. On issues of economic insecurity and employment, Mulcair has offered little inspiration.
On top of that, Mulcair has failed to impress most Canadians with his leadership style. What was once admiration for his tough questioning in the House of Commons and clarity on some important issues has now become frustration with his caution.
Furthermore, Mulcair has consistently failed to impress during all of the leaders’ debates, including the most recent this week on foreign policy, where Justin Trudeau soared with passionate attacks on Stephen Harper’s record. Trudeau embodies the change most progressives want after this election, both in terms of policy but also style.
I will admit that for years I disliked Mulcair. Before he became NDP leader, I found him to be insufferably arrogant and unlikeable. Since becoming leader, he’s mellowed, trying to be perceived as more prime ministerial. On some counts, he’s succeeded. But the old prickly habits are still there. We saw them in the Globe’s economy debate where Mulcair mocked Justin Trudeau for previously admitting to smoking marijuana.
After the Maclean’s leadership debate in August, I had a nice chat with a family member who usually votes Liberal. She said Mulcair, “still creeps me out.” I remember another friend who had a very negative reaction using similar language to Mulcair’s victory speech in 2012 after winning the NDP leadership.
Clearly, Mulcair is no Rachel Notley. The notion that the NDP’s victory in Alberta would automatically transfer to the federal level is simply untrue.
Perhaps the big story of this campaign can be summed up like this: the public, now exposed to Mulcair on a regular basis, is realizing they don’t like him all that much despite advertised strengths. His muted policies aren’t helping much either. Furthermore, Trudeau has shone in this election campaign with passion and policy clarity on the issues most important to Canadians. He’s performed well above expectations while Mulcair has performed well below them.
This is why we’re seeing the Liberals emerge as the sole challenger to the Conservatives while the NDP falls back to the mid-20s. I expect this trend will continue despite the the NDP’s renewed plans to mimic Tory attacks on Trudeau.
Some words of advice for the NDP: don’t stoop to more personal attacks on Trudeau as the public, like me, is starting to believe that he is, indeed, “ready” to lead Canadians. Instead, focus on the issues that are NDP strengths like ensuring civil rights, better health care for all, a cleaner environment and experienced leadership.
I don’t agree with everything the Liberals are proposing. I have been very tempted to vote NDP in this election. But I’m a pragmatist, and if the Liberals are the main challengers to the Conservatives, they’ll get my vote.
Based on current trends, I’m 80% sure I’m voting for my local Liberal candidate, Bill Morneau, who brings exceptional experience and qualities to the role of MP. If elected, I hope Morneau focuses as much on helping his uniquely vulnerable local communities in Toronto Centre as MP as he does any cabinet portfolio given to him in Ottawa (should the Liberals form government.)
Will Trudeau be able to continue this momentum and win? If Canadians want change, yes. No doubt, the Tories will spend millions over the next two weeks to undermine that Liberal momentum. Hold on to your hats!
Follow Matt Guerin on twitter: @mattfguerin