Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Earlier this summer, I sat on a cottage deck on the shores of a central Alberta lake with a handful of former Tory MPs and staffers as they commiserated about the bleak political landscape ahead for the Conservatives.
Yes, yes, they all nodded in unison, Justin Trudeau is an intellectual lightweight who cannot keep his campaign promises and has made a hash of governing, but his celebrity status is so great there will be no beating the Liberals in the 2019 federal election.
To a person, we were certain Canada was doomed to another Liberal majority and a second term of Prime Minister Selfie Socks.
But maybe we all underestimated the sensibility of the Canadian voter.
Within the last week, a pair of opinion polls have been released that might prove our lakeside prognosticating wrong.
For the first time since the Liberals’ triumph over the Harper Tories in October 2015, there is a faint hope the Tories might win back power two years from now.
To be honest, there still isn’t much hope. A lot of things would have to go just right for the Conservatives to dump the Liberals next time around.
But a Liberal win now seems less of a sure thing.
Maybe, just maybe, Canadians are awakening from their fling with the hunky pool boy and realizing they shouldn’t have cast off their bland accountant hubby so quickly.
According to the pollster Angus Reid this week, while Justin Trudeau is still seen by Canadian voters as the best leader to be prime minister, 45 per cent want a change of government (versus just 34 per cent who don’t). And 36 per cent say the Tories would be the best government versus just 33 per cent who want the Liberals again.
It is the first time since the last election that the Reid organization has found voters favouring the Tories over the Liberals, even slightly.
Those results, too, are similar to results from a week earlier by Forum Research.
While Forum found Trudeau was still the top choice for PM (34 per cent), the Liberal leader was “underwater” for the first time. Trudeau’s disapproval rating (47 per cent) was greater than his approval rating (43 per cent.)
That marked an astonishing 11-point swing from August when Trudeau’s approval number was 49 per cent and his disapproval just 42.
Could it be that after a string of broken promises and bad decisions, voters have clued into the fact that looking good shirtless is no substitute for grown-up governing ability?
That would be bad news, indeed, for the Liberals who have always relied on Trudeau’s personal popularity to lift up their party’s overall fortunes.
Forum said it had found one other occasion since the last campaign when the Liberals had dipped (only a little and only briefly) below the Tories. That was this past spring after Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered his second straight runaway-spending budget with a $30-billion deficit.
Canadians seem to like the idea of Trudeau better than the reality of being led by him.
I guess this shouldn’t surprise. Before becoming a party leader, Trudeau’s job was as a motivational speaker.
He was very good at coming to your conference or banquet and pumping everyone up with his glad talk and “sunny ways,” and then disappearing before any real decision-making or work had to be done.
That’s been his governing style, too.
On budget deficits, middle-class business taxes, refugees, anti-Islamophobia edicts, democratic reform, Omar Khadr, changing the rules in Parliament, weakening access to information laws, the carbon tax and so on, Trudeau talks a good talk, then disappears before he has to do any heavy lifting.
Maybe voters are finally seeing the real Justin.