Interference: Liberals Aren't Paying A Price (Yet)
Reports Of Liberal Death Exaggerated
There is no evidence, so far, that the Liberals are paying a political price for the various allegations around Chinese interference in our democracy. I say so far because in theory there could be more revelations, there could be better journalism by Global that allows me and others to believe their allegations, an inquiry could expose the Liberals, all of that’s possible. If there are, then declarations that this scandal will do more damage will look silly.
But, as of right now, the Liberals are not paying a political price for this scandal. I doubt that it’s just partisanship above all – that didn’t stop sharp decreases in Liberal polling post SNC or WE (although the Liberals were doing unsustainably well at the time of WE). In my view it’s the rightful response to a story that doesn’t add up to anything (again, yet), but that’s kind of irrelevant to the much more important and interesting development.
The majority of the press aren’t reporting this story, they’re covering the reaction to other people’s reporting, and that’s a hard thing to cover. So, there’s an instinct to cover that by covering the politics of this, and people are covering this as if it is SNC or WE 2.0, but it’s not.
And plenty of places don’t know how to handle it.
We’ve seen Don Martin write a column about the end times for the Liberals, Tom Mulcair do a segment on CTV TV saying that he thinks some Liberals are starting to think Trudeau’s time as Liberal leader “is up”, and now former Jean Charest national co-chair Tasha Kheiriddin has a National Post column up about how the NDP needs to “put country over party” and cause an election over this. Where Kheiriddin, who worked for someone who literally lobbied for Huawei and took Chinese money, finds the temerity to suggest that the Liberals are betraying this country on this issue when she worked for Charest, is unclear.
(What is also unclear is why someone who was national co-chair of a campaign that got less than 12% of the vote and 16% of points in a Conservative Leadership deserves to get her National Post column back after that campaign, but I don’t understand the value of lionizing bad political advisors, as anyone who knows my contempt for *that* podcast. Nor do I get why someone who wrote the book on a dead ideology with zero constituency in the country that has been roundly rejected in both interal selections and Canadian elections is treated as an expert on anything other than self promotion, but again, your mileage may vary.)
Some are choosing to use the absence of much to talk about the actual substantive issues, but a lot of people are running the playbook that was used to cover SNC and WE to cover this, without any actual evidence this matters to the vote intentions of voters in the way those did. There is actually nothing that suggests that the Liberals are paying a price, but a lot of the commentary is that the Liberals will suffer for this. And it’s leading to a lot of analysis that will look very dumb in time.
Say what you will about the man, and lord knows I have said much about him good and bad, but the Liberal Party will not force out Justin Trudeau. If he were to leave before the next election, it will be because he thinks the party has a better chance under a successor – and for the sake of this conversation, let’s just say Chrystia Freeland, since we all know she’s the next leader if she wants it – but it will not be because of discontent with the members. Remember, 10 years ago the Liberals were in 3rd place and on 34 seats. Now, they’re in government. Trudeau will get to choose the timing of his exit.
The problem with all of this is that the instinct to cover the political fallout of this in the same way as SNC has flattened a key distinction – this isn’t nearly as rock solid and unimpeachable a case as SNC was. I remember where I was the day Jody testified, I remember the anger and outrage I felt as she told her story. There’s a tweet of mine from that time saying that if Trudeau was unable or unwilling to spell out line by line everything he claimed Jody was lying about, that he should step aside as leader.
I know I piss off a lot of my big-L Liberal readers when I say this but leaning on an Attorney General to override a decision of apolitical prosecutors because of perceived electoral risk in Quebec is very very bad. If this was Boris Johnson or Donald Trump doing the same thing – even if it was legal! – most people who think SNC was fine would be screaming about the abandonment of norms and process. It was bad.
This might be bad, but there’s a lot of shit that’s been thrown against the wall that might be bad if true, and a lot of frankly shitty journalism from Global in reporting intelligence without independent verification and potentially mischaracterizing how senior the report that forms the basis of naming the PCPO MPP was intended for. It’s a story with a load of issues regarding its accuracy and its scope, and acting like this is exacting a political price on Trudeau in the face of evidence that so far it’s not is dogshit.
Both Abacus and Mainstreet have clear majorities of Liberals wanting an inquiry into this, which makes sense – as of now, there’s no real reason to think an inquiry would hurt the Liberals. Only in the hearts and minds of the most rabid partisan Conservatives does anyone actually believe that Justin Trudeau is working for China or in cahoots with Beijing. An inquiry, or a report from the I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Public Inquiry, likely ends with a list of sensible re-writes to security legislation that was mostly written before the invention of the Blackberry. What it likely doesn’t include is a smoking gun that hurts the Liberals or Trudeau.
At the end of the day, this is probably the biggest policy challenge of this government outside of setting up CERB and the wage subsidy. Getting this right is incredibly important as a policy matter and anything that can try and make sure our elections are secure should be done. But that’s not the same thing as thinking this is a political crisis for the government and the Liberals. It’s not yet. May it become one? Sure. But it’s not one now, and to the parts of the punditry and the commissioning editors out there trying to narrative build a crisis for the Liberals, stop trying to re-run the past. It’s not nostalgia, it’s just wishcasting. And as someone with more than a little experience doing that, all it does it make the wishcaster look like a fucking fool.