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LPC: Together, Alone
On Abacus And Mainstreet
It’s funny to think about it now, but early on in the week the polling story was looking, dare I say it, better for the Liberals. Based on Nanos and Pallas, the Liberals weren’t continuing to bleed, and the big CPC leads of July were fading. And now today Abacus and Mainstreet have thrown double digit national leads out that blow the Liberals out of the water and put the Tories comfortably in majority.
I’m not going to relitigate any of the old terrain – it’s still unclear why the June byelections went as well for the government as they did, why the polls broke decisively in July, and there’s no answer coming. When we get the Durham byelection, we’ll get another test of the landscape. Maybe the pattern holds, and the Liberals beat their polls again there, and we can reassess, but until now there’s essentially only one question.
Any election held today would see a Tory government. If Pallas (run by a former senior Mainstreet executive, and therefore a new entrant I take seriously) and Nanos is correct, it’s minority government. If Abacus and Mainstreet are, it’s a bigger landslide than 2015 was for the Liberals. The question is not what would happen in an election tomorrow, because it’s an academic one. The question is more simple, and it’s why I’m listening to The Strokes.
Have things changed in a permanent way?
“Things they have changed in such a permanent way”
The fear, of course, if you’re a Liberal is that this is right – that the damage is done and all that can be hoped for is mitigation, either by sticking with JT when he has no chance of winning again to save the furniture or by tossing him to try and save the polls. I don’t have a strong take on whether he should stay or go, and never really have – there’s risks with him and without him. But the fear is that the rot inside the government is permanent, and never going away.
What we don’t know the answer to is whether that fear is justified. The Artist Formerly Known As Twitter certainly thinks that it’s a permanent change, that things have changed in a permanent way, but as I forced to remember far too frequently, I am what passes for an elder statesman on the corner of the internet that is Canadian Politics Twitter. That said, having been sentient and in Ontario during McGuinty and Wynne’s tenure, the idea that politics can’t move a lot from now till the election feels an absurd overconfidence.
In a lot of ways, if this was another country I’d have an easier time working through this, and I have been entirely doubtful of whether Keir Starmer will actually get the massive win he is supposedly tracking for (although the UK Tories are trying their damndest to give it to him). Let’s be honest here – I didn’t see this coming. Even when the government had bad polls in the winter or spring, it was easy to dismiss them as not that bad, because a situation where the left block had 6 seats less than a majority isn’t exactly a crisis before the election. Now, if the left would be within 60 seats short is unclear.
What 2020 Scrimshaw, or even first-half-of-2022 Scrimshaw, would do is find a bunch of examples of big polling leads for oppositions that ended up failing and present that as evidence that this will similarly do so. It’s certainly what I did in confidently predicting a big Democratic result compared to the polls in Virginia, which had a lot of pseudo-intellectual backing for my position but was actually just well presented bullshit. Now, I’m trying to separate the fact that I didn’t see this coming from how likely some form of revival or comeback is.
Multiple things can be true at the same time: the government needs a radical offer on housing policy, Poilievre isn’t coming across to people as some crank lunatic, the Liberals are tone deaf, and it’s summer. All of these things can be true at the same time, and the Liberals can be both victims of circumstance and fucking up in ways they can and should be doing better in. A housing offer and some form of relief on cost of living pressures have to be on the table, and if they’re looking for a political solution, wouldn’t be surprised to see some way to take some money from oil and gas to pay for that relief, either in removing subsidies or an excess profits tax.
Plainly, the Liberals need to get their heads out of their asses, and they need to eradicate the tendency in their party that thinks they are owed anything by this country. The fact that not a year after the 2015 win there were Liberal hill staffers using the language of “Natural Governing Party” again to openly gloat about why they didn’t need to work with the opposition on a committee report was terrifying if you want the party to understand why it loses when it does. The rush to blame this on comms failures is another outgrowth of this at this point. In the winter, you could make the case comms failures were why the Liberals were sluggish, at this point it’s clear it’s the policies (or lack of, on housing) that’s the problem.
Everyone acting like Poilievre is going to win as a pro-forma certainty at this point is overreading this data. He’s Spieth at Augusta, but what we don’t know is whether this is 2015, where he cruised to a then-course record, or 2016, when he collapsed down the stretch. Everyone is overreading a bad stretch as terminal, which leaves me in the unfun situation of having to make an argument that leaves nobody happy and doesn’t exactly condense down well.
The Liberals are in trouble and would get whipped at any election now. They’re not dead, and plenty of governments have come back from bad midterm polls. And Friday has made the hole to climb out of much bigger. All three are true. That the government is doing badly and making their lives harder is undeniable. That they’ve done so much damage that they’re dead, or as close to it as to be functionally so is an overreach of what this actually says.
Things are bad for the Liberals, and much worse than I thought they’d be. Poilievre is still an Opposition Leader with exploitable flaws, but this is on the verge of becoming a government unable to exploit them. And more importantly, if the government doesn’t find some fucking courage, a policy agenda fit for purpose, and some fucking energy, then none of the other stuff matters.
The Liberals at their worst feel aimless, adrift, and fundamentally lacking in any sort of cohesive reason for existence. In the early days there was an activist policy agenda that was connective tissue, but now it’s all silos, a technocratic government in style providing shitty results. I don’t know what this government’s equivalent of Dorchester Square is – the thing, the place, the whatever that can always bring life and ambition back to me in my darkest times – but they need to fucking find it. Or they’ll be on the Opposition benches for 10 years.
Today’s polls might not be the death knell some are acting like it, but whether the Liberals have the theoretical capacity to come back and the actual capacity to do so aren’t the same question. To butcher Kyle Dubas and Julian Casablancas, they can stop this from being change in such a permanent way, but I have no idea if they will.