Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday October 19, 2019
How the 2019 Federal Election Became a Vote for Nothing
The first drinking straw known to archeology was reusable. True story. It is a glamorous gold thing encrusted in blue lapis lazuli, buried in the tomb of a Sumerian queen at Ur in modern Iraq, the reputed birthplace of the patriarch Abraham, but long before his time.
Three millennia later, Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May was having a drink from a disposable cup when she was photographed. This was a problem for her 2019 election campaign. To solve it, her party digitally altered the picture to show instead a reusable cup with a metal straw. This indicated May’s ideological rejection of plastic straws, which are no longer a symbol of royal affluence, as in ancient Sumer, but an environmental menace as numerous as the stars in the sky, like Abraham’s descendants. Caught out by a reporter, the party lied about it, and was caught out again.
That may seem like nothing to get worked up over, but this was an election where nothing was the whole point.
For a few days, the Greens’ ridiculous self-own and own-goal of a pseudo-scandal was the temporary focus of a general election campaign that never actually found a permanent one. And not for lack of trying.
It could have been otherwise. In Canada, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, was a flurry of high-spirited national activity, quite unlike the solemn day of remembrance and reflection it was in America.
Andrew Scheer, the former Speaker of the House of Commons about to fight his first campaign as Conservative leader, had his morning flight from Ottawa diverted by nasty weather to Quebec City, then carried on to Trois-Rivières, Que., by bus.
Jagmeet Singh of the NDP was in London, Ont., where he once studied undergrad biology, and where on this day he observed to his supporters that his Liberal rival Justin Trudeau “is not who he pretends to be.” It was a run of the mill political dig from an underdog about campaign trail idealism and the realities of governance, but it was soon to become a lot more poignant.
For his part, Trudeau had official duties as prime minister in Ottawa, walking up the lane to Rideau Hall to advise Governor General Julie Payette to dissolve Parliament, where his Liberal Party then held a 177-seat majority, compared to 95 Conservative, 39 NDP, and a few others.
Holding hands with his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, he was trying his best to evoke optimistic memories of his cabinet swearing-in day at this same spot all those years ago, when he so wryly told everyone that half his ministers were women because it was 2015.
Not anymore. The National Post’s John Ivison noted that Trudeau’s eyes on this final day of Canada’s 42nd Parliament “radiate broken glass.”
At the beginning, the campaign seemed to have a clear focus. Trudeau was saddled with an Ethics Commissioner ruling that his campaign of pressure on former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to cut a deal on corruption charges with SNC-Lavalin was improper. This affair, which led her to resign from cabinet after Trudeau demoted her in a shuffle, tarnished his image with constituencies she represented, both women and Indigenous people.
Contrary to his hair-trigger apology instinct for national crimes, however, Trudeau had been uncharacteristically stubborn in accepting anything resembling blame. He claimed to accept responsibility, but did not apologize, nor admit he did anything wrong. Quite the opposite. His chief of staff Gerald Butts had resigned for his central role in the affair, and to protect Trudeau. As the campaign started, though, Butts was back in the hot seat, running the show.
It was the first clue that, in the campaign of 2019, nothing mattered. Things briefly seemed to matter, until they did not. People would talk about them until the next thing came along, and then that too would fade to irrelevance.
By the end, the whole thing would have a carnival feel, all flashing lights and calliope music, with well-dressed grifters barking for attention in what was preposterously promoted as a leaders’ debate. The earnest curiosity of voters about platforms and issues melted away like soft-serve ice cream.
The campaign was at times such a fun-house freak show that the Rhinoceros Party found another guy called Maxime Bernier to run against Maxime Bernier, leader of the upstart alt-right People’s Party of Canada.
It was not that people did not care about political issues, like health care or the economy. It was just that the parties offered so many other things to not care about instead. (Continued: National Post)