What’s Puzzling About the Polls

October 27, 2020 Updated: October 27, 2020


Polls suggest if Canada had a snap federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals would win fairly big. It’s a strange result that raises questions about the electorate and the Opposition.

It’s not strange that Trudeau might triumph though I don’t want him to. A lot of elections have results I don’t like. All of them, come to think of it. But surely his record in office is problematic for two key groups: his supporters and his non-supporters.

It’s obvious what bothers the latter: A string of arrogant scandals arrogantly suppressed, fiscal recklessness on a global scale (we lead the world in deficits and government spending as a share of GDP and just abandoned any concept of a “fiscal anchor,” not that the chain would have held anyway), fecklessness facing foreign aggression, etc. But then again, his non-supporters didn’t support him and mostly wouldn’t, so their dismay isn’t a big deal electorally regardless of its merits.

What then of his supporters? Judging by his 2015 promises, not obviously insincere flank-covering ones like small deficits then a balanced budget but big progressive ones, from ending First Nations boil-water advisories to full implementation of UNDRIP, ditching First-Past-The-Post for Wonderful-PR-In-The-Sky, and the achievement of true human fulfillment or even mere transparency in government, he’s been a cruel disappointment.

No wait. He hasn’t. And that’s the weird thing. He has failed to keep most of his promises through a combination of cosmic impracticality and worldly ineptitude. Even gender equity; he made token cabinet appointments but when Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott defied him over SNC-Lavalin, it was back to the kitchen faster than you can say “It’s good to be the king.” And all those woke voters just told pollsters, “You go Justin.”

Possibly the answer lies in the song “Somebody Super Like You” from “Phantom of the Paradise.” Oh Justin, save us from this disease and from ourselves. But since nobody reading this column ever watched the movie, let alone sang along, and arguably shouldn’t, I need another explanation pronto. Namely Trudeau would win because the Opposition is unelectable.

I’m no fan of the NDP worldview. But their current leader has done little beyond prove that just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean a suit can’t be empty. He snarls their usual stuff in such a trite way that nobody can remember anything he said and wouldn’t care if they could. Then he backs the Liberals whenever the chips are down, despite betrayals on key NDP issues from electoral reform to clean government, paving the way for a well-earned drubbing in the next election.

I appreciate that they’re in no position to face a campaign because they have no money and their leader is a dud. But not that they can’t see the connection.

As for the Tories, their genuinely conservative leader Andrew Scheer, a.k.a the Invisible Man, only materialized periodically to deny that he was genuinely conservative or, if he secretly was, that it could matter. This cunning plan having disgusted conservatives without reassuring progressives, they went with Erin O’Toole, hard to see on a sunny day protesting that he only faked conservatism during the leadership contest then snarling that the Liberals stink and he’s just like them.

This approach never works. I shudder to recall that I was in my 20s when the Tories won a federal majority under Brian Mulroney (twice) for the first time since before I was born. By the time Stephen Harper did it again (once) I was past 50. So they’re on a pace to do it again when I’m about 83.

Periodically I have mentioned to the Tory brain trust that they win majorities on those rare occasions when they run to the right (Mulroney 1984, Harper 2011), and lose when they run to the left (Stanfield, Clark, Campbell, Charest, Clark again) or govern to the left (everybody). Ditto provincially; they only win with Ralph Klein, Mike Harris, or Doug Ford Mark I, then lose when they fatuously turn big-spending progressive.

They always reply: John, you don’t understand practical politics. Conservatism is fine in newspaper columns, academic conferences, and leadership races but we have an election to win in Quebec and “vote-rich Ontario.” OK, they once said “Kid, you don’t understand,” then “John,” now “Mr. Robson,” and soon it’ll be “Shut up geezer.” But they’re convinced they have a great practical plan that just strangely never works in practice.

The reason it never works is you can’t beat something with nothing, or real Liberalism with the fake kind. And no, persistence is not a virtue here.

If you doubt me, and they do, look at Trudeau’s record, then the polls. He has disappointed supporters and infuriated non-supporters, but is riding high because his opponents are covered in loser dust they sprinkled on themselves. And they’re reaching for the box again.

John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”