Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has had his rallies and public appearances disrupted multiple times in recent days by shrieking protesters.
The largest group of protesters are opposed to masking, vaccines, or both. There’s been screaming, swearing, and racial slurs. There’ve been bizarre signs and conspiracy theories (Trudeau is accused of turning Canada over to some international communist conspiracy, etc.). The campaign has shut down one event entirely at the request of security. Most recently, someone threw gravel at him as he boarded his campaign bus.
Trudeau and his campaign team must be so, so happy.
The Liberal leader entered this race thinking he would ride the wave of public support that had swelled under the early phases of the pandemic and the broad expansion of the vaccine rollout that took place in the late spring and early summer.
But by the time the Liberals had all their ducks in a row, the vaccine campaign was struggling to convert the last few stubborn vaccine refusers, Delta was burning through the country like a wildfire (which were also burning through the country) and everyone was worried about a second pandemic autumn.
Trudeau entered the race facing a Conservative leader probably known to most Canadians as “Erin who?” and a Green Party in disarray.
But Erin O’Toole has done the totally unexpected – running to the left of his own party (and sometimes to the left of the Liberals and even the NDP) with peculiarly progressive policies designed to soften the Conservative image, and win votes in moderate suburbs where folks like tax breaks but aren’t too keen on guns.
Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, has continued to be the most popular leader in his own right, and has dragged the NDP up a couple of points in the polls – mostly at the expense of the Liberals.
The Conservatives were ahead, the Liberals were slipping… and then people started throwing things and threatening Trudeau.
There’s some family history here that Trudeau is most certainly aware of.
In 1968, his father, Pierre Trudeau, was contesting his first election as the new Liberal leader, having succeeded Lester Pearson. At the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day parade in Montreal, Que. separatists flung rocks and bottles at Trudeau Sr., but he refused to leave the grandstand as other officials scrambled to safety.
Trudeau projected an image of cool, collected bravery in the face of thuggish rioters. In a campaign already defined by Trudeaumania, it cemented his win the following day.
Now Trudeau fils has been offered a chance to repeat his father’s attitude of strength in the face of virulent opposition.
The big question is whether or not it will work. As of this week, the Conservatives were ahead in the polls, but stalled. The Liberals were stalled. The NDP was stalled.
What gets things moving again?
It might be a debate, or a soundbite, or a scandal. Or how a party leader responds to a protest by their opponents.
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