Maclean’s editorial: Now it’s time for you to choose

At the end of this very long campaign, the field has narrowed to two well-defined and credible main contenders

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper trade words during the Munk Debate on foreign affairs, in Toronto, on Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper trade words during the Munk Debate. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

The longest election campaign in Canada’s modern era is finally drawing to a close. What began as a fascinating contest between three leaders in a tightly packed field has become, in the final week, a race between two distinct and well-matched contenders.

The lengthy campaign has done no favours to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who started as front-runner. The party’s plan to transform Mulcair from fiery opposition politician into soothing grandfather-like figure has not connected with voters. Neither has a platform that claims it’s possible to balance the budget while simultaneously adding big-ticket items such as universal child care and a national drug plan. Lovable grandpa or not, he can’t do it all. Mulcair’s credibility gap worsens when the topic turns to foreign policy. Vows to abandon the fight against Islamic State and to drop out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) travel over familiar NDP territory, but it’s hardly winning ground. It is impossible to contemplate Canada excusing itself from a trade pact that includes NAFTA partners Mexico and the United States; we’d be triangulated into economic obscurity.

For all these reasons, next week’s race will likely return to that classic Canadian electoral confrontation of Liberal versus Conservative: golden boy against cagey veteran.

As challenger, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has the advantage of a fresh face, a likeable personality and a legitimate claim to the “change” banner. It is an appealing package. Even those ubiquitous Conservative attack ads—“I’m not saying no forever, but not now”—seem to acknowledge a certain inevitability about his future.

Trudeau has bolstered his political charisma with a competent array of potential cabinet ministers and policy proposals. Of particular note is his plan to shift social policy toward greater income-testing. Targeting tax breaks and child benefit cheques to those most in need is an efficient and effective method of allocating scarce government funds. His vow to cancel income splitting, roll back Tax-Free Savings Accounts and raise the tax rate on high-income earners will embitter some Canadians, but it represents a coherent economic platform that plays up important differences between Trudeau’s vision and that of the incumbent government. He adds to his credibility with necessary support for free trade and Canada’s resource industries. A plan to run modest deficits from now until 2019 should have little impact—good or bad—on Canada’s economic health.


Yet Trudeau undercuts his own appeal with occasional detours into pandering. The most obvious example is his promise to cancel recent reforms of Employment Insurance. These reforms, including a requirement that EI claimants accept jobs up to an hour’s commute from home, are meant to improve employment in Atlantic Canada and reduce seasonal dependency on EI. Trudeau will undo this to win the favour of a small subset of East Coast voters. His knee-jerk vow to accept each and every recommendation from the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (including a nonsensical demand to increase CBC funding) seems a worrisome sign that he’s too eager to please. Finally, his promise of umpteen reviews—covering everything from door-to-door mail delivery to electoral reform and the creation of a federal chief science officer—carries the whiff of former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin and his impossibly long list of priorities.

In sharp contrast to Trudeau’s youthful energy and enthusiasm is the staid and deliberately modest platform of Stephen Harper. As the incumbent, Harper has the advantage of being able to point to his track record. And, by and large, it’s to his credit. Harper has never promised Canadians any grand vision of government beyond low taxes, restrained spending and balanced budgets—all of which he’s achieved. He has also been very effective at establishing a more forceful and meaningful Canadian presence in world affairs. The recent TPP deal adds to this positive glow. In the areas that matter most, Harper has consistently delivered.

Against this commendable consistency, however, must be set Harper’s nagging tendency to invent crises where none exist, particularly in the areas of crime, religious accommodation and statistical record-keeping. There’s no excuse for the rapid erosion of Statistics Canada’s efficacy, or the conjured-from-nowhere debate about wearing niqabs during citizenship ceremonies. A Canadian election campaign should be above this sort of culture-war-mongering. The final measure of Harper thus rests on whether his large-scale accomplishments outweigh the many smaller-scale frustrations he has created.

The outsized length of the 2015 campaign has been a frequent source of complaint from many corners. Yet elections are the only opportunity citizens have to directly control the future of their country and, in narrowing the field to two well-defined and credible main contenders, Canadian voters have had to think carefully about what really matters to them and why. It’s been time well spent.


Maclean’s editorial: Now it’s time for you to choose

  1. Most of the MSM is missing the real elephant in the room, and that is, if Mulcair looses his seat in Outremont 2 hours before the polls close in the west, a poll indicated that this week showed Mulcairs numbers dropped. NDPers on the fence for Trudeau, could come out in brut force, and tip the balance for a majority for the Grits, it’s possible.

    • That’s hardly likely, as the polls in Montreal are open from 9:30 AM to 9:30 PM, in Vancouver from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, so only a half-hour of time to vote in Vancouver after polls close in Mtl.

      However, it is possible that someone might conduct exit polling, but are there rules against communicating those results prior to poll closure?

    • Indeed, and at this point it looks like Mulcair will indeed lose his seat.

      Talk about adding insult to injury.

      Honestly didn’t see that coming, but it is somewhat poetic given how the NDP released those bogus polls claiming Trudeau was going to lose his seat, and crowing like idiots.

  2. Good lord, no.

    You guys long since ran out of things to write.

    • No one could accuse you of running out of useful comments. You never had any.

  3. Why isn’t Elections Canada hauling off Justin Trudeau in cuffs for accepting illegal corporate donations from TransCanada for his election campaign? Macleans has reported that Trudeau and the Liberals were aware that Gagnier was being paid by a corporation.

    TransCanada was paying the “salary” of his campaign co-chair, for over six months.

    Why isn’t Elections Canada, del-Mastro-ing him?

    Elections Canada doesn’t ever investigate Liberals.

    • Sounds good!
      Hey, could you just cite the law which requires volunteers for political parties to quit their jobs? I seem to have misplaced it….
      Thanks in advance!

    • Um…The guy may have been on a retainer to provide lobbying services to TransCanada. How do you construe this as Trudeau (or the Liberals) “accepting illegal corporate donations from TC”?

      Way to confabulate. Do you typically engage in such slander?

      And give it up with the tiresome tripe about the Cons being poor victims of the Ottawa media and bureaucracy. It’s patently absurd.

  4. Of all the recommendations to pick on from the TRC (I don’t know them all) better support for the CBC is hardly frivolous.. But coming from the team who televised a debate many northerners couldn’t see, I guess it’s not surprising. And if it’s pandering for Trudeau to respond to long-expressed concerns about postal service and EI, I guess that explains the inexplicable willingness of MacLean’s political writers to keep agreeing with Harper’s dubious claims to being “a good manager of the economy” and ignore the valid concerns of a great many Canadians. If Trudeau is committed to looking into those things Harper has dismissed for 10 years, I say good on him.

  5. Here’s how I read this endorsement: half-baked. They really want to endorse Mr. Trudeau [note the photo only shows his face], but in the event he ends up being an embarrassment, or the latest scandal catches up to him after he’s elected, they can say: well, we gave Canadians a choice between the two.

    My POV: a) Macleans ignores Mr. Mulcair in favour of Mr. Trudeau – Mr. Mulcair who can get down in the weeds on details re the economy and on foreign policy – as can Mr. Harper. Mr. Trudeau clearly cannot.

    b) Both Harper and Mulcair have costed out their platforms; the Liberals have not. If elected, 50% of those who voted Liberal will feel hugely deceived, since you can only tax the 1% about 20% of 150 billions in promises. The rest will clearly come from the middle class. It won’t be from income or sales taxes, but in the form of a carbon tax, which will be a HUGE money-maker for the Liberal gov’t, since you can tax just about anything under its banner – but we’ll all pay big time. Lord help us if they get elected.

    • This editorial is really not getting on board any party but I agree – In my view Mulcair is an unmitigated disaster. Trudeau in his inexperience is leaning on old school advisers whom the electorate dismissed years ago. The occurrence of this ghost of the sponsorship scandal is a strong clue that Trudeau isn’t strong enough to make his own way. If he gets in I see more slop bucket corruption on the horizon. I think he is just a front for the real Liberal power.

      See ya Monday!

      Despite goofs and insensitivity, I prefer to have solid track record on the economy and would not gamble on the Libs. While he may not either win or get a minority, the Conservatives are the best bet for me.

      • Many Canadians, myself included, find Harper’s ethical lapses and basic disregard for openness and accountability beyond anything I could support. I don’t believe in “the sky will fall unless we re-elect the Conservatives” mindset and feel the economy will be in good hands. As a last note, I wonder what will be revealed when the “books” are finally opened up. All of Harper’s secrecy is there for a reason, no?

  6. I like the way Macleans di their endorsement. Although I think much more highly than them about the NDP, it sure is a lot better than the Globes endorsement.

    I think endorsements are a thing of the past and if a paper or magazine wants to try to be neutral they can not do endorsements. These days there are many partisan websites and papers, so for a magazine like Macleans that want legitimacy, they should not outright endorse anyone.

  7. Anyone we vote in.. will disappoint us, lies to us and eventually, crumble under corruption… as they ALWAYS do.. so my choice became economically driven.
    what I am looking at.. is track records… how does one party’s ideology affect economic policy? Which party will cost ME the least amount. I was surprised to find the “fiscal” conservatives are ANYTHING but.. based on the info below.. what would we EVER vote for them?.. thanks for the MASSIVE, long term debt..2.5 the debt of the libs.. in HALF the time..tax breaks my-ass.

    DEBT – Raw Numbers Pre-Inflation Calculations (actual numbers that have to be paid)
    CONS: $428.3 billion over 46 years in power.
    LIBS: $178 billion over 86 years in power.
    DEBT – Numbers Post-Inflation Calculations
    CONS: $735.6 billion over 46 years in power or $16 billion per year.
    LIBS: $624.9 billion over 86 years in power or $7.3 billion per year.

  8. “Harper has never promised Canadians any grand vision of government beyond low taxes, restrained spending and balanced budgets—all of which he’s achieved.”

    This sentence from the article nails it I think, but is not the favourable statement it appears.

    The subtext suggests that Harper never offered anything more than any caretaker might be expected to deliver, i.e. no ideas but hey at least they didn’t break the bank.

    And now, in the longest election in our history, Harper has only offered to do what he’s already accomplished…. and if the work is already done, why vote for him?

    No wonder Trudeau is winning.

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