Trudeau vs. Mulcair: The great race of 2015 -

Trudeau vs. Mulcair: The great race of 2015

Paul Wells on small differences in a tight race

(Adam Scott/Liberal Party)

(Adam Scotti/Liberal Party)

This may be my favourite joke. A bear comes crashing out of the woods and starts chasing two hikers. They’re running for their lives, but suddenly one stops, plunks himself down on the dirt, and starts lacing up a pair of running shoes. The other guy says, “Are you crazy? You can’t outrun a bear!”

First guy says: “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you.”

The bear, for our purposes, is Stephen Harper. He is running a different race from the one Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are running. Most of his voters aren’t interested in voting for their parties. Most of their supporters don’t like his. If he keeps enough of the 39 per cent who voted for his Conservatives in 2011, he’ll be back to form another government after Oct. 19.

But this campaign has already been going on for longer than the 2011 campaign did and, so far, there’s no evidence Harper can match the level of support he won then. There’s a persistent desire for change. Trudeau and Mulcair are running as the change agents, but neither has been able to break from the pack. All the polls and seat projections suggest they’re running nearly even with each other. Which means they’re running even with the Harper Conservatives.

Unlike Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair are running similar races. Their hopes are highest in urban areas, each rises at the other’s expense or falls to the other’s profit, and supporters of each left-of-centre party list the other as their second choice. Each spent the campaign’s first month hoping to raid the Conservative vote, with just enough success to encourage false hopes of more. But the main goal of the Conservative campaign now is to make sure long-time Conservative voters don’t stray by reminding them of his positions on issues such as Syrian refugees, supervised drug-injection sites and what he always calls “the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry.” The other parties can’t follow him onto that ground. I doubt they can compress the Conservative vote much further.

So Trudeau needs to outrun Mulcair, and vice versa. The back half of this campaign will be about the narcissism of small differences, as the two leaders whose electorates have the most in common realize they are each other’s biggest obstacle to forming a government.

The best evidence of this dynamic so far came on the weekend, when Jean Chrétien joined Trudeau in Hamilton to criticize Mulcair’s position on Chrétien’s Clarity Act, which outlined the federal response to any future Quebec secession vote. Mulcair wants the Clarity Act scrapped. “Irresponsible,” said Chrétien. Mulcair “wants to make separation easier,” said Trudeau.

Now, if you wanted me to, I could write about the Liberal and NDP position on Quebec secession from now till Tuesday. I came up at the Montreal Gazette when no story was more important to that paper’s readers. I’ve written about this dispute hundreds of times. But it’s not super-helpful to write about it anymore, because nobody’s interested in the fine print. Liberals and New Democrats use it as a totem to remind themselves of their side’s superior virtue. And, as with arguments over hockey teams or Oscar hosts, it is pointless to inject logic.

I’m not saying anyone’s being cynical. Both sides care passionately about the relatively arcane question of the appropriate margin of victory in a secession referendum that will certainly not happen during the life of Canada’s next federal government. They care. They just don’t want to think. The most important thing about Chrétien’s appearance with Trudeau was that it happened in Hamilton instead of small-town Quebec. In Hamilton, it’s fairly easy to get people angry at Mulcair for wanting to replace the Clarity Act. In Trois-Rivières, it would be easier to get people mad at Trudeau for wanting to keep it. That’s all this is about.

And the reason Trudeau has a strategic interest in getting people arguing about Mulcair’s position on secession is that there’s not much else they can argue about. Both want a more active government. Both believe Canadians will pay more taxes, or, at least, will be pleased if somebody else pays more taxes, to afford a more ambitious government. Both are tired of foreign wars and fond of government scientists. Where there are differences—a rounding error’s worth of disagreement over deficits or surpluses—both men are transfixed, enraged, as though a Prime Minister Mulcair would waste more than 10 minutes next spring if he ran a deficit, or a Prime Minister Trudeau would resign over a surprise surplus.

There is more instinct than calculation in this. Each man needs to outrun the other. Each blocks the other’s path to victory. After Oct. 19, one may well need the support of the other to sustain a government. But for now, those choices are so far away, they seem incomprehensible. And it matters enormously to each of them which of the two gets there with more MPs.

This has never happened before in this country, three parties this close together for this long. Election day may not settle much, but the tension caused by its fast approach will ratchet up the heat under every leader. What fun.



Trudeau vs. Mulcair: The great race of 2015

  1. I find this a rather funny article, because the author seems to think Trudeau and Mulcair are running a similar campaign, well I beg the differ, there is clear contrast between Trudeau and Mulcair, even Harper for that fact, Mulcair and Harper are lying to Canadians and Trudeau is trying to tell the truth, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Harper is still as corrupt as his controlling PMO, corruption breads in the PMO. The other similar thing between Harper and Mulcair is, they have both decided to run a 5 question campaign, I don’t see Trudeau doing that, Trudeau is running one of the best campaigns I’ve ever seen a political leader to this day in politics, as truthful as he can be inspiring, he answers every question put to him, and very tough questions too, whether you like the answers or not, but he faces his public and throngs of reporters, while the other 2 are running junkets. When Harper and Mulcair speak at rallies, Harper, for a PM for the last 10 years, he still has to use a script, I find that amazing after 10 years in office, that he can’t speak for himself. Tom looks like he is on remote control every time he speaks by his staff in order to try and keep his demeanor in check, and Harper has to hire foreigner to try and cheat his way through another election, didn’t Harper go after Iggy because he didn’t come back for you, how hypocritical are the media, they buried Iggy along with the cons ad attack machine because he came back from living next door in the states, and Harper imports from a foreign country an ocean away to try and cheat and corrupt his way back to office.

    • Trudeau loves to hear himself talk. He can talk all day surrounded by fawning LPC and Media supporters. It’s what he says is the problem. Remember this litle gem? “We have to realize that the way of thinking that got us to this place no longer holds. We have to rethink elements as basic as space and time, to go all science fictiony on you in this sense.” Or how about this one? “if you were to talk to a caveman millennia upon millennia upon millennia ago. it’s not programmed into our gut thinking that we do have to think broader. Except this, right here, is a generation so globally aware that you get that.” He’s a drama teacher… he can read a teleprompter and can memorize some lines. That’s not important. What is important is what he says when he can’t rely upon his handlers and is in the room with other world leaders or setting policy in the PMO. He’s not only just not ready, he will NEVER be ready.

      • The first thing that popped in my mind when reading “We have to rethink elements as basic as space and time, to go all science fictiony on you in this sense” was thinking this was setting up an initiative to develop the warp drive. :-)

    • Trudeau’s honesty is why many of us dislike him. He thinks China’s form of government is the best in the world. He think small-business owners are really just a bunch of tax cheats. He thinks government departments should spend every dime budgeted to them, even if they’ve got nothing to spend it on: just burn it. Sure he’s honest, but he’s also an idiot.

      • That you can rattle off a comment entirely composed of lies without even blushing suggests calling you simply an “idiot” would be flattery.

  2. Marginal tax rate of 40% kicking in for those making as little as mid $40,000 is just wrong. Trudeau only one addressing that issue.,

    It’s about time. The burden of high marginal tax rates on those falling within about a $40,000 – to $90,000 range falls hard on salary/wage type earners who get taxes taken off at source with few to no write-offs.


    • Complete claptrap. For every tax cut Trudeau’s proposing, he’s proposing a matching tax increase. And then he’s promising a deficit for 3 years, which is just a tax hike in the future. But at least he’s got the uninformed voters on his side, for now.

      • I am by no stretch of the imagination a Trudeau fan. I thought the entire LPC must have been on drugs when it selected a leader based on who his father was. Having said that, a LPC government would cut income taxes for the much coveted middle class voter, while also increasing the tax rate for those making more than $200,000. So Colleen Pellatt’s statement does seem about right.

        And although I’m not a fan of deficits, being old enough to remember the absolute mess created by P.Trudeau and Mulroney, in fairness, the deficits Trudeau is proposing are apparently small enough that economic growth will take care of them. Of course, there is the slippery slope argument that can be made against deficits, and I do give much credence to that. But at face value, Trudeau’s plan for deficits seems not unreasonable.

  3. And John Baird?

  4. Trudeau’s running a great campaign. Win or lose, he seems to be following a game plan. He should get some credit for that. I’ve never heard him say anything dirty, he really sticks to the policies and neither Harper nor Mulcair can claim that. And Trudeau is gracefully impervious to that slighting tone that even reporters have taken when asking him questions (which might be over now). Honestly, people should try taking a look at what he’s doing, because he’s setting a standard for the honourable, competitive campaign.

    Mulcair trying to run a “frontrunner” campaign is just arrogant. But the NDP has that streak.