Dispatch from the Front Line: Crying “MAGA bigots” won’t save Trudeau
A certain stench hangs over the Liberals. Oh wait, it's O'Connell's fart bomb.
Happy weekend, Line readers. Hope you're having a great one. If you're not, perhaps our dispatch video will cheer you up!
Podcast version, too, as always!
A few years ago, Gerry Butts, close confidant of and the former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, made a simple observation on Twitter that really resonated with us at The Line. The topic was the last-ditch effort by then-prime minister Stephen Harper to scoop up a few extra Toronto votes at the end of what would prove, for Harper, to be a losing 2015 campaign. In the final days before the Liberals would win their majority, Harper joined Rob Ford and his brother Doug — remember that guy?! — for a bizarre rally and posed for photos with the Ford family. This was after weeks of the CPC campaign studiously trying to avoid any links to the Fords. Rob Ford was no longer mayor — his term had ended in disgrace a few months earlier, and John Tory — remember that guy?! — had taken over. But the Fords remained politically powerful, if controversial, and staring defeat in the face, Harper decided to have a rally with them.
Years later, reflecting on that event, Butts said simply, "People do weird things when they're losing."
Yeah. They do.
Even those resolutely opposed to the Liberal politicians and policies that Butts has advocated for have to agree with the profound truth of that terse observation. And it's not just limited to politics. In sports, in business, in love ... people do weird things when they're losing. We suspect that every last one of you out there can think of some example of that. The more honest among our readers might, like us at The Line, even be able to think of a few times when they were acting weird because they were losing. What Butts was speaking to there is a very real and sometimes very tragic part of the human condition. When we are losing, we get wrapped up in a mix of shame and fear and bargaining and wild hopes and surges of bravado and ego, and yeah. We do weird things.
We open our dispatch on this this week because this, as much as anything else, is what feels to us like the throughline for a lot of the news stories floating around this week. We have been telling you for some time that we are starting to look at the federal Liberals and wonder if we're seeing the start of a death spiral.
Don't take that as a prediction of the next election's outcome. God only knows when that'll even be, and we never, ever underestimate the ability of the Tories to fuck things up. (See below for a long chat about that.)
But if the Liberals win the next election, which they very well might, we think it'll be a fluke of timing or a gift of Conservative self-immolation. The Liberals, as we've said over and over in recent months, don't look good. They're screwing up in ways they wouldn't normally screw up. Even when we've disagreed with them in the past, which is a Godawful lot, we have at least been able to see the strategy behind their actions. Bad policies, to our minds, can still be good politics for the Liberals, right? In recent months — starting back in about June of last year, actually, when we first mentioned it — and more and more lately, we're having a harder time seeing the political wisdom behind a lot of what they're doing. And we think the reason why is the one Butts identified: people do weird things when they're losing.
Consider the big scoop from last week, when the Globe and Mail reported that it had seen documents produced by CSIS showing that our intelligence service had assessed that China has been actively trying to influence our elections, in the hopes of producing a minority government led by the Liberals. The Globe's report was in line with other recent reports by Global News, reporting much the same thing. The Toronto Star jumped in this week, as well, in a piece by the excellent Stephanie Levitz, which reported on how and why the Conservatives became convinced they were being sabotaged in 2021. (Mitch Heimpel covered some of the same ground in his piece for The Line this week.)
The Line does not believe that the alleged Chinese interference swung the election. It may have swung certain races, though, and in any case, this is the kind of thing we should be paying attention to, no? It's an absurdly on-brand manifestation of Canadian complacency for us to pretend that someone trying to disrupt our democracy only becomes worth worrying about if and when they succeed. As Line editor Gurney quipped on Twitter this week, if your neighbour is blasting away at you with a rifle, you wouldn't shrug it off just because he has lousy aim and kept missing. The effort is alarming enough!
The federal Liberals, alas, are not alarmed. Indeed, earlier this week, in response to opposition questions, Liberal MP Jennifer O'Connell accused the Conservatives of "Trump-like" tactics in even raising the issue, and said that the questions themselves amounted to an attack on our democracy.
What could maybe have been written off as a bozo eruption by a lone nobody Grit MP actually ended up looking like a pattern when, days later, in response to questions about Conservative criticism of the government's inability to shut down the Roxham Road irregular border crossing, Trudeau also played a Trump card, as it were. "Could somebody put up barricades and a big wall? Yes," the PM said. "If Pierre Poilievre wants to build a wall at Roxham Road, someone could do that."
This isn't subtle. It also isn't going to work.