I know one former senior advisor to Stephen Harper who responds to the mention of Justin Trudeau the way one would expect somebody with that pedigree to respond: with condescending contempt. But I know other Conservatives, some still in the Prime Minister’s employ, who see the way crowds react, still today, to the Montreal MP, and shrug. Maybe we can’t do anything against this guy, they say. Maybe things are what they are and we’re just going to have to watch it happen.
Marc Garneau dropped out of the Liberal leadership contest because he is not a fool. The poll numbers he released, if anywhere near accurate, would have led to futile humiliation. He would have lost badly and then been asked to rally to the new leader. He is an engineer, so he found a more elegant solution. He is rallying now to avoid losing later.
Garneau had spent several weeks trying to thread a needle he must have found annoying: remind everyone that his c.v. is superior to Trudeau’s, while not saying it so loudly that he would just get Liberals angry at him. He managed to get a fair number of Liberals angry anyway, without putting a dent in Trudeau. He must have wanted to shout it from the roofs. He earned his engineering doctorate before Trudeau turned two. He rose to high Navy rank the way one does, by putting in thousands of hours. He hurt himself in politics by doing what so many backseat drivers insist good citizens should do: put in a full life in a useful career, then move into politics when you’re ready to contribute. That almost never works. There is a reason lifers usually do better than late arrivers. Garneau first ran for Parliament in 2006, the year 13 Liberal years in power ended. His timing has not improved since.
Now Garneau is out and the others are welcome to do their best, and if you’re still hoping for a Martin Cauchon triumph then good for you. Me, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that next month a Trudeau will be Liberal leader. In the near term, it matters little. The party still has to wait for the NDP’s table scraps in Question Period, and there will be a long two years (probably!) until a 2015 election, during which time we will have plenty of opportunity to write stories about what a disappointment Trudeau has turned out to be.
The Conservatives have not yet come up with an effective ad attack against Thomas Mulcair — last year’s effort was weak, and it barely ran outside British Columbia and Saskatchewan, the only places where Conservatives and New Democrats effectively compete head-to-head. But they will not wait long to take hard shots at Trudeau. Last weekend’s Manning Centre convention heard poll results that called the Liberal brand “surprisingly resilient.” The NDP will also put resources into giving Trudeau a rude awakening. Their own leader has spent a year working hard to be blandly reassuring. It was a smart play but it leaves them vulnerable to a party whose leader can fill a room and excite a crowd.
I won’t arbitrate between my Conservative source who says Trudeau will collapse under the weight of his own fatuity and my Conservative sources who say he may be unstoppable. It’s worth noting that it has now been 13 years since the Liberals gained seats in a general election; that they would now have to quintuple their seat score to win a majority; and that any opposition party that falls short of a majority will face the same questions about a possible post-election coalition that so annoy the Conservatives’ opponents, but proved so effective in consolidating Conservative support in 2011. I haven’t written much about the Liberals, especially in our print edition, since 2011 because I think the party is as likely to vanish as to come back.
But is Trudeau their best shot at cheating death? Sure he is.