Even Without An Election, Trudeau Hits The Campaign Trail (Analysis)

Althia Raj
·Ottawa Bureau Chief, HuffPost Canada;
·6 min read
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference on Oct. 20, 2020 in Ottawa.  (Photo: CP/Adrian Wyld)
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a news conference on Oct. 20, 2020 in Ottawa. (Photo: CP/Adrian Wyld)

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau might have hit the campaign trail today, but the opposition ensured he wouldn’t get the chance.

He wouldn’t have had the travelling national media in tow but virtual visits to three battleground ridings the Liberals hoped to hang onto might have made a decent kick-off — as would evening appearances planned in two Toronto byelection ridings up for grabs next week.

Whether they wanted a race or not, the NDP decided Wednesday to hand the Liberals a lifeline — voting to defeat a Conservative motion the prime minister deemed so toxic that he said its passage would be considered a defeat of his minority government that would see him walk over to Rideau Hall to ask Gov. Gen. Julie Payette for a dissolution of Parliament. That would send Canadians to the polls in the middle of a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liberals had insisted they didn’t want an election. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he also didn’t want an election, as did NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, even Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said so — though his House leader, Alain Therrien, suggested the Liberals were a bunch of cronies who should be stopped by pulling the plug on the government.

Watch: O’Toole says the Liberals can’t threaten an election every time they get a tough question. Analysis continues below video.

The Conservative used their opposition day motion to press for the establishment of a special committee to probe every alleged Liberal government scandal and force the prime minister and senior cabinet ministers to testify whenever the opposition wished.

Trudeau told a Radio-Canada radio station in New Brunswick Wednesday that the Conservatives needed to be told that they couldn’t paralyze the government while it is busy handling the pandemic.

“I understand the Conservatives are in a bad situation because we are helping people directly and all they can do is criticize,” Trudeau said. “But at some point, if they go too far and they make things truly toxic, we have to verify the confidence of the House, and that’s what they have chosen to do.”

It was a power game.

One the Tories overplayed — even their own MPs describe the motion as an overreach, too partisan, or “too cute by half.”

And one the Liberals won. Armed with favourable public opinion polls and a majority in sight — never mind a pack of trouble looming ahead in 2021 with an ethics report on the prime minister’s involvement in the WE Charity affair, an expected trillion-dollar debt, and a virus that shows no signs of abating — Trudeau decided to call the oppositions’ bluff.

Pulling the plug early in New Brunswick had given Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs’ minority government a majority. Over in British Columbia, NDP Premier John Horgan has gambled that a pandemic vote might give him a majority too. For some Liberals, the timing seemed ripe.

NDP Leader John Horgan arrives for a seniors roundtable in Coquitlam, B.C. on Oct. 20, 2020.  The British Columbia provincial election will be on Oct. 24.   (Photo: CP/Jonathan Hayward)
NDP Leader John Horgan arrives for a seniors roundtable in Coquitlam, B.C. on Oct. 20, 2020. The British Columbia provincial election will be on Oct. 24. (Photo: CP/Jonathan Hayward)

But the NDP blinked, and got nothing in return for their support. Twenty-three of its MPs sided with the government in voting down the Tory motion, while being accused by the Bloc of acting like Liberal lapdogs.

But what if the NDP had sat out the vote; deciding it didn’t want to partake in the oppositions’ games or the government’s threats?

The Liberal government would still have lived another day. The Grits have 153 MPs — 154 if Speaker Anthony Rota has to vote to break a tie. The Tories and Bloc Québécois have a combined 153.

But with six Conservative MPs missing the crucial vote Wednesday, and one Bloc Québécois MP absent — regardless of how the three Green and two Independent MPs voted — the Bloc and the Tories would have failed to defeat the Liberals.

The vote was lost 146 to 180.

The Bloc Québécois did not respond to a request for comment.

Chelsea Tucker, O’Toole’s press secretary, told HuffPost Canada in an email that “as with any vote, there are always some MPs who have commitments that prevent them from attending.”

Simcoe North MP Bruce Stanton told HuffPost he sat the vote out because of its importance.

“It was a very consequential vote as you know,” he said, in an email. “I decided that, as the Deputy Speaker, I should let the House come to its own conclusion without my participation.”

Although the Liberal leader won’t fly across the country, holding election events outdoors, Thursday will still see Trudeau in full campaign mode.

Though his morning is free of public activities, the afternoon begins with a virtual visit alongside the local MP, National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier, to Couleur Chocolat. It’s a chocolate shop in Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, a small town on the Gaspé peninsula where the Liberals staved off the Bloc Québécois challenger by less than a thousand votes last year.

Then it is off to Oakville, Ont., for a virtual visit to BestLifeRewarded Innovations, accompanied by Oakville North–Burlington Liberal MP Pam Damoff. That riding was a tight contest between the Liberals and the Conservatives, and it is just the type of electoral district the Conservatives need to win if they are to form government.

The Liberals say some of these events were planned earlier to mark small business week.

After that, Trudeau is scheduled to join a Canadian history class at the Institut collégial Vincent Massey Collegiate in Winnipeg with Jim Carr, the MP for Winnipeg South Centre. Carr’s seat is also one the Conservatives would have in their sights were they eyeing a majority. Former MP Joyce Bateman held the seat for the Conservatives from 2011 to 2015, during prime minister Stephen Harper’s majority government.

As he has been doing each day for the past two weeks, Trudeau also has a media appearance planned, this time with the Filipino edition of OMNI News.

Later in the evening, the Liberal leader has two virtual campaign events: an Instagram Live question and answer session with Marci Ien, the Liberals’ candidate in Toronto Centre, and a tele-town hall with Ya’ara Saks, the Grit’s candidate in York Centre.

Those byelections are still on. The vote is on Oct. 26.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost Canada and has been updated.