Trudeau stays on message

July 19, 2019

As Liberals continue rising in the polls, PM Trudeau stays on message on key items, ministers continue announcing funds

For a third week in a row, the Trudeau Liberals continue rising in the polls. However, for much of 2019, the Liberals had been on the losing end of narratives on ethics and political interference on the SNC Lavalin affair, the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman affair, as well as on other items such as pipeline politics, to name a few. While Parliament was in session the Conservatives were able to control the political narrative, whereas once Parliament adjourned, without question period dictating the tempo of political discussions, the Liberals have been able to take control of their narrative as opposed to playing defense.

Political spinning aside, the dynamics in Ottawa were simple. In very simplistic terms, the process would be as follows: Conservatives would raise issues where the Liberals seemingly erred. The Liberals would deliver answers that would fail to answer the question, instead deflect to their messaging on accomplishments. Sincte Government scandals are far more interesting than positives (ie committing funding for a bridge) primetime media focused on the Conservative narrative far more than in the repetitive Liberal accomplishments’ narrative. This tends to be the regular flow of news, because, frankly if pundits discussed the nuts and bolts of an infrastructure project being greenlit, nobody would watch the news.

Since Parliament rose, and without question period dictating the direction of primetime news, the Liberals have been able to dictate their own narrative in news cycle, through funding announcements, and various local and international events. With apparent control over news cycles, the Trudeau Liberals appear now more than ever married to the ideals and messages that got them elected in 2015.

The Liberals have also successfully dusted off the tried and true spectre of a hidden agenda, accusing Scheer of wanting to make changes to abortion laws and suggesting he wasn’t strong enough on the issue of banning conversion therapy – in each case getting a willing media to play along with the narrative.

On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau hosted the Canada-European Union Summit, where Governments discussed the need to preserve the World Trade Organization’s Appellate Body (trade dispute resolution) amidst the U.S. continuing to refuse the appointment of new members.

Trudeau and the European Council President Donald Tusk also praised each other on the work done by Canada and the EU regarding the CETA trade deal. Canada’s Parliament has already ratified the pact. Thirteen EU countries have ratified the deal with a vote in the French legislature scheduled for next week.

The occasion also served for Mr. Trudeau to focus media attention on Canada’s progressive trade agenda and work done on export diversification, both in the mantra of the economic growth narrative. Further, timing is of interest. According to a survey by Nanos Research Group for Bloomberg News, Canada’s economic rebound has given Mr. Trudeau momentum ahead of the fall election.

Trudeau and Scheer had been neck-and-neck on the issue for two straight months, though Canada’s economic performance has been firming up, with rising consumer confidence putting a wind in Liberal sails. According to the most recent survey, 31% of respondents say they trust Trudeau most to promote economic growth, compared with 26% for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Nearly a third of those polled don’t trust anyone or are unsure, with the remainder split among smaller parties.

Mr. Trudeau has also been rallying to his progressive and immigrant voting micro-targets via comments regarding inflammatory remarks made by US President Donald Trump. Mr. Trudeau has gone on to say that the comments made by President Trump were hurtful, wrong and completely unacceptable, and should not be allowed nor encouraged in Canada.

A similar rebuke by Mr. Scheer while delivering remarks at the Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce received less attention. The Conservative leader was at a comparative disadvantage. Mr. Trudeau made his remarks in the midst of a summit with considerable media attention, whereas Mr. Scheer did his at a local chamber event.

The Trudeau Liberals perceive their performance on the US file, particularly Mr. Trudeau’s handling of President Trump, as a key area where their Government has “gotten it right”. As shown through his remarks, Mr. Trudeau will also likely continue to make remarks that play a hard line on Mr. Trump and on Canada’s values as a pitch to voters in the lead up to the fall election.

The Liberals’ surge in the polls is to an extent attributed to control of their narrative, fueled by their Government announcements and events. Once the election period is called—expected to take place between September 1st and 16th—the Government will go on caretaker mode, and the Liberals will not be able to make further announcements. Once the election mode begins, debates will take place and media attention will split amongst the three parties. Media attention on the CPC and NDP messaging will have a significant influence in the news cycle again. Amidst these looming changes, the ability of the Liberals to adapt, and retain control of their narrative will be essential to their re-election hopes.