From left, Erin O'Toole, leader of Canada's Conservative Party, Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, Annamie Paul, leader of Canada's Green Party, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), and Yves-Francois Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Quebecois party, during a federal leaders' debate in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, September 8, 2021 [File: Justin Tang/Canadian Press/Bloomberg via Getty Images]
If taking the measure of the candidates competing to become prime minister is any litmus, then Canada is a pedestrian nation.
Now, before Canadian readers, in particular, begin howling in indignation or accuse me of defaming such a lovely country filled with such lovely people, that, I assure you, is not my uncharitable intent.
My aim here is to reveal to an international audience how transparently unserious – and in, one case, sinister – are the “leaders” vying to win a federal election on September 20 to steer that, of course, lovely country filled with lovely people.
I will begin with the incumbent: Justin Trudeau. Faithful readers of this column should, by now, be familiar with my antipathy towards Trudeau – whom I have previously described as the Willy Wonka of Canadian politics.
Every disparaging word I have written about Trudeau’s disingenuous, vacuous core has been confirmed by his selfish decision to call an early election that only he, and his equally myopic advisers, thought necessary in the midst of a resurgent pandemic.
Trudeau has built a hollow identity as a progressive, even altruistic, politician who was motivated solely by the national interest, and not the pursuit of any petty, parochial political dividend.
So, less than two years into a minority government, Trudeau’s abiding hubris and the Liberal Party’s genetically programmed thirst for unrestrained power meant quickly sacrificing the national interest to satisfy the pursuit of a petty, parochial, political dividend – a majority.
Trudeau has tried to disguise his eager pursuit of that petty, parochial, political dividend by framing this election as a referendum on his handling of a pandemic that, guess what, stubbornly remains a pandemic.
Stripped of Trudeau’s banal, rhetorical shuffle, the “referendum” is this narcissist’s code for finding out whether Canadians still love him. That, ultimately, is what this gratuitous election is about.
Trudeau’s performance during the campaign has been signature Trudeau: a daily diet of trite bromides delivered with the sincerity of a garden gnome, coupled, lately, with calculated flashes of a juvenile martyrdom complex triggered by a roving, gravel-hurling band of irritating imbeciles who believe vaccines are the devil’s brew.
In any event, for someone who claims to have the welfare of Canadians ever close to his intuitive and sensitive bosom, Trudeau may have miscalculated badly and, as a result, sealed his suddenly uncertain political fate.
If public opinion polls are an accurate gauge, most Canadians are still preoccupied with the pressing day-to-day matters of life (and death) in the midst of a lethal pandemic to be bothered with Trudeau’s manufactured “referendum”.
Apparently, less than a week from election day, not enough Canadians are in love with Trudeau to quench his rank, greedy yearning for a majority government.
I suspect that if Trudeau returns to the status quo in Parliament, he, like his father, will, after a little reflection, take a walk – literally and figuratively. (In early 1984, Pierre Trudeau announced he was resigning as prime minister after an evening constitutional through an Ottawa snowstorm.)
Then, the perpetually effervescent heir apparent, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland – who much of the political press gush over like starry-eyed K-Pop groupies – will assume the job she has had not-so-quiet designs on for some time. Freeland will, no doubt, be celebrated by her giddy fans in the fourth estate for restoring long-absent “gravitas” to the prime minister’s office. Oh, the irony.
Another prevailing possibility is that Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, ekes out an improbable victory.
A slimmed-down O’Toole seems convinced that losing weight will establish that he is a new and improved man and not the plodding, faithful disciple of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper who spent nearly a decade disfiguring Canada to reflect his crass, xenophobic, and libertarian self.
A devout and obedient cabinet minister, O’Toole patiently emerged from the Harper alumni swamp to win the party’s helm after the instantly forgettable Andrew Scheer – another limp facsimile of their dear leader – lost to Trudeau in 2019 in tepid, uninspiring fashion.
If O’Toole was meant to be a rousing antidote to the somnolent Scheer, I, and many other Canadians, have missed the blinding allure. O’Toole combines the charisma of a bored furniture salesman with a pitchman’s facility to “pivot” like a weathervane on issue after issue to cajole a hesitant customer.
O’Toole is bereft of any discernible convictions other than that building oil pipelines is the answer to the unfolding and accelerating reality of climate change.
That, alone, should be disqualifying. But some Canadians’ lukewarm attraction to the monochromatic O’Toole can be explained this way: He is not Justin Trudeau.
For a time, momentum appears to have been, unexpectedly, on O’Toole’s side by default, not because he invigorated Canadians with his “ideas” – as predictable as they are.
Alas, and to the chagrin of Canada’s pervasive right-wing-media-industrial-complex pining for Trudeau’s comeuppance, that momentum has stalled, and O’Toole looks destined to mirror Scheer’s depressing result and resume being the opposition chief.
The leader of Canada’s pretend socialist party, Jagmeet Singh – who has not, to my knowledge, uttered the verboten word “socialist” since the writ was dropped – is scoring well among Canadians as competent and trusted.
That is nice. Still, the purpose of campaigns is to win and the New Democratic Party (NDP) has, since its inception, been content with moral victories at the polls that have translated to remaining the “conscience of Parliament” election after election. That is, I suppose, nice, too.
Being a nice guy, Singh is well-suited to discharging the NDP’s traditional role in the House of Commons. Indeed, Singh has spent much of his time and energy as a leader attempting to prove to Canadians that he is nicer than Trudeau. This has meant mimicking Trudeau’s glibness and trying penchant for spouting meaningless chestnuts in lieu of thinking and speaking like a serious adult to adults.
It has also meant pasteurising the NDP’s near-invisible socialist ancestry to appear less “radical” when the obscene and escalating chasm between the uber-rich and the rest of us and the existential threat posed by climate change require radical, undiluted solutions.
Singh is poised to finish where nice guys always finish.
The fortunes of the Greens, led by Annamie Paul, are, to use an unpleasant term familiar to emergency room doctors, “circling the drain”.
Paul, who some veteran Green members privately and only half-jokingly consider a fifth columnist, appears determined to erase the party’s already faint footprint from the Canadian political landscape.
Bedevilled by a brewing and costly insurrection prompted by the defection of one of only two Green members of parliament to the Liberals and the hysterical, Stasi-like efforts of her (ex) senior aides to purge the party of phantom “anti-Semites” for supporting the Palestinian cause, Paul is likely, and mercifully, to get the blunt boot soon.
Finally, and perhaps most worrisome, is the halting popularity of Maxime Bernier, an avowed anti-vaccine, anti-Islam, anti-everything-that-makes Canada-a-largely-agreeable country, demagogue.
Once a card-carrying Conservative cabinet minister, Bernier now leads the so-called People’s Party of Canada (PPC). Like all populist charlatans, Bernier camouflages his toxic stew of ignorance and intolerance with soothing-sounding appeals to his supporters’ ingrained fears, grievances and prejudices.
A more apt name for his mob of gravel-throwing yahoos may be the Pestilent People’s Party of Canada.
Alarmingly, recent polls show that Bernier has the backing of almost 7 percent of voting Canadians – tangible evidence that Canada is not the anti-Trump oasis some dewy-eyed commentators think it is.
While it is unlikely that the PPC will make a parliamentary breakthrough, it could bleed crucial votes from the Conservatives and, in so doing, help Trudeau hold on, precariously, to power.
From this mundane, motley crew, Canadians are expected to choose.
Bonne chance à tous.
(PS: Dear readers, I have not mentioned the separatist Bloc Quebecois because becoming prime minister of Canada is, understandably, anathema to separatists.)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.