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Dispatch from The Front Lines: Well, okay, back to work, we guess
Hey, so what's happened since June? Anything?
Happy belated Labour Day, Line readers. We bring you this live video of your Line editors emerging from their summer hibernations and stumbling forth once more into the news cycle and all its awfulness:
All kidding aside, we are pleased to be back. The kids are back at school (or heading off) and our houses are strangely quiet and peaceful. It’s a bittersweet thing, as parents the world over know. So we’re going to fight back against the silence and fill our homes with the sounds of click-clacking keyboards and ceaseless email notification pings.
So let’s do this — enjoy our (relatively brief) welcome back dispatch. We won’t so much cover the ongoing news stories of this week here — we’ll do that in the usual dispatch at the end of this week. For now, let’s just recap some of the big stories we’ve been following over the last few months, and get everyone updated on where they stand.
There are two big-picture stories worth watching on the federal front. Both the Liberals and Conservatives have had interesting — sort of — summers, but in very different ways.
Let’s start with the Liberals. Last spring, even before our summer hibernation began, your Line editors made a note that they were starting to think the Liberals had crossed the point of no return. There’s nothing objective or scientific about this opinion. It was based entirely upon a gut feeling. Hey, maybe we’re wrong. But in one of our dispatches months ago, we made explicit our sense that the government was starting to take on the familiar stench of death that we have detected on governments past. It wasn’t any particular story or scandal. It was the accumulation of them, and the government's obvious fatigue. The only thing worse than the challenges that they were facing was how befuddled and helpless they looked before them.
Some Liberal friends of ours assured us last spring that it wasn’t as bad as all that. All the government needed to do, we were told, was drag its exhausted carcass across the Canada Day finish line and then rest up for the summer. Canadians tune out from the news over July and August. Governments use that as an opportunity to relax, reflect on what is working and what is not, and come back recharged and ready to reset an agenda.
Sure. That's the conventional wisdom, and the usual way of things. Are you seeing any sign that this has actually happened, though?
First of all, the summer was not exactly kind to the government. It wasn’t brutal, either. But when we think back over the federal stories that did manage to grab our attention during July and August, what we come up with is a shortlist that is not particularly flattering to the prime minister: the airports were a disaster, the task force intended to fix the airports became a running joke, investigations into possible federal interference in the 2020 Nova Scotia massacre investigation continued to get news (not as much as we think warranted, but still), and then, to cap at all off, the government handed an anti-Semite a big cheque and then came off as flatfooted when people found that objectionable. That last one at least had the fringe benefit of setting up this monumentally silly tweet by Chrystia Freeland, who did that hilarious thing politicians do when they've been caught doing a bad thing: they state that the bad thing must not be done.
And yet, it was! How strange!
We don’t think all this will really hurt the government much. We would probably agree with our Liberal friends that most of the public wasn’t paying much attention. But to the extent that they were paying attention, the news was mostly bad. Instead of resting and resetting, the government was forced to defend itself from extremely credible allegations of incompetence or worse.
We took a peek at some poll numbers this morning. There weren't many federal polls over the summer, but there were enough to confirm our gut feeling. There hasn’t been any significant movement. The support numbers have been pretty steady — weirdly so, really — for years. The bottom line? Right now, federally, it's a toss-up between the CPC and the LPC, with the CPC maybe a point or two ahead, but as always, due to lopsided support in areas they'll win anyway. It’s up to the Liberals to tell us if that’s a glass half full or half empty. The prime minister’s party is still essentially tied with the opposition in most polls (if not trailing), and his personal approval numbers are garbage.
We will see what the fall brings. The prime minister will soon have a new Conservative leader to spar with, and the Liberals are setting out on a series of cabinet and caucus meetings that may help them sort themselves out.
But maybe not.
On the Conservative front, we are in a holding pattern. The new leader will be announced in Ottawa this coming weekend. Your Line editors share the widely held view that it would take something of a miracle for it to be anyone other than Pierre Poilievre. We have heard from some of the Charest people that the former Quebec premier has a path to victory thanks to the party's vote-weighting system. We can’t really comment on that one way or the other, except to say that even if it’s technically possible, it strikes us as unlikely. But, hey. Christine Elliott was supposed to beat Doug Ford for Ontario Progressive Conservative leader back in 2018, and she did, in a sense — she got the most votes. Dougie won on points, though. So it can happen.
The leadership race hasn’t been particularly interesting. We further think that this is likely to the Conservative party’s advantage, as they did not look particularly good anytime the spotlight was shining upon them. If you had to ask us, the only interesting development over the summer was watching how rapidly Patrick Brown’s social media accounts pivoted from being a candidate for high national office right back to campaigning to remain the mayor of a Toronto suburb. Maybe we shouldn’t laugh. But we can’t help it. If any one of you had been following Patrick Brown on Twitter and missed the news of his ejection from the leadership race while you were up north hunting or fishing, and then you came back and checked out his Twitter page, you would have been extremely confused. Gone were the statements on matters of national importance, foreign policy positions and proposals for revitalizing the Canadian economy and our society. Instead, you had photos of Brown at various backyard barbecues and birthday parties.
Should we giggle at this? Maybe not. But we’re only human, here at The Line.
We'll save our more substantive comments on the race for later in the week when the results are made official. But for now, all we can say is that we find ourselves in September feeling much the way that we did in June: it’s Poilievre's, and he will be a way more credible threat to the Liberals then we believe many people realize. That doesn’t mean we think his ascension is the thing of destiny. The Liberals are good at politics, and we see in PP what could easily prove the seeds of his own future destruction, if he’s not careful. He has a nasty streak he still hasn't fully contained, and he's flying awfully close to some nasty populist suns. He could find himself suddenly badly singed, if not falling into the primeval ocean altogether.
But we think his strengths as a politician would line up very nicely against Justin Trudeau’s weaknesses. So we will be watching.
We have commented over the summer on the state of our health-care system. Although the details vary a bit by province, the same is generally true everywhere: all of the problems we have been repeatedly warned about over the decades are now biting us all on our bottoms.
We have been dismayed but also darkly amused to see many of the discussions surrounding the crisis in our system immediately devolving to the same-old tired debate between choosing between some hypothetical idealized Canadian system and the absolute worst of an American-style alternative. Sigh. There are many advanced peer countries Canada could look to to reform our health-care system, and many of these countries accomplish better health-care outcomes while spending less money. But we won’t do that. In all-too-typically-Canadian fashion, we look only to the problematic U.S. system and declare ourselves the better of the two options.
What does surprise us a little bit is the abject lack of any humility on the side of the system's most ardent defenders. We, too, have no desire to see a U.S.-style system in Canada, but we can feel that way while acknowledging the blindingly obvious: our system is failing too. It is failing differently, but it failing all the same. And anyone who wants to defend the concept of a Canadian-style health-care system has to start with a recognition that the way we've implemented it is failing. Period, full stop. It's failing.
We all know the bargain at the centre of Canadian health care. All of us will wait longer than necessary for non-urgent tests and procedures, suffering in the process, but in exchange, the system will take excellent care of us in genuine emergencies, when life and limb are truly on the line. We didn't have to accept this bargain, but we did, and for decades, it basically worked.
It's not working now. Talk to anyone who truly understands our system, and they will concede privately, even if they won’t say so publicly, that there are Canadians who are dead today because they urgently needed care in recent months, and the overwhelmed system was unable to provide it. There are also Canadians who are alive today who will die in the near future for the same reason. Meanwhile those long wait times for non-emergency tests and procedures are only getting longer.
Seriously. If the system's benefits are being lost while it costs increase, what else can that be called but a failure?
Your Line editors aren’t particularly freaked out by the notion of some private delivery of services. Blended systems work well all over the developed world. Hell, they work well enough in Canada. Significant parts of our health care are already delivered by private practitioners working in private businesses, whether publicly funded or otherwise. This isn’t a Bogey Man for us. But at this moment of crisis, we mostly agree with those who oppose further privatization, because of the practical issues rather than philosophical ones. The number-one challenge for Canadian health care today are widespread personnel shortages. Many health-care professionals retired or quit during the pandemic. We are not training replacements fast enough. We are not accrediting foreign-trained professionals nearly fast enough. And this health-care crisis is contributing to severe burnout and stress by practitioners, which will in turn further exacerbate the exodus of trained staff. Privatization of the delivery of certain services, or even wholesale system privatization, won’t address this staffing bottleneck.
There is no quick fix that will get us out of this mess. The system has broken and will need years to recover, assuming we put in place smart policies and incentives, and enact needed reforms, to enable said recovery. Again, none of this is a secret, all of this is well-known, and yet there is still very little humility on display. Our vaunted health-care system has failed, evidently and widely. We’d like to hear more honest reckonings with this hard reality. Thus far, a few notable exceptions aside, we’ve waited in vain.
And that leaves us very skeptical that we'll actually fix it. You know what they say about admitting there's a problem being necessary before it can be fixed, right? We're admitting part of the problem. But a part of the problem has also been decades of closed-minded arrogance. There's a cure for that! Humility! Let's see some more of that, eh?
Here’s a quickie for you all, our beloved readers: a few months ago, Line editor Jen Gerson made an interesting prediction. After two very difficult years, she said, people would find a way to enjoy this summer. They’d run up their credit card balances, travel, see friends and families, take time off. And then, come September, they’d face whatever reality has in store for us.
And there are two fronts which we think bear careful scrutiny.
The first: inflation and the economy more broadly. There is some good news here. Gas prices have moderated and inflation seems to be slowing. Good! But we aren’t sure the general public understands that inflation has slowed, but not stopped (or returned to its normal expected range, anyway). It’s still getting worse, burning through savings, compromising buying power and worrying central bankers. It’s just not getting worse as quickly as it was before. We may yet tame the beast, but not soon. And we all have to live through the time between then and now.
Inflation and economic pain are rocket fuel for populists, of which we have an abundant supply in the West. Much like with health care above, many of our expectations are proving problematic. The world is not behaving in ways that we were told we could count on, and that leaves people angry and afraid. It was a wonderful summer for Jen and Matt both, and we hope for you, as well. But reality looms once more. The bills are literally coming due. It will be challenging here. We worry more about Europe.
And speaking of Europe, that’s our second front of concern, and we use the term in its traditional military sense. We will have more to say about Russia’s continuing war of aggression against Ukraine here soon, but for now, we say simply this: Russia is losing. It knows it’s losing, and is trying to adapt, and losing there, too. This is good news! The Ukrainians are not just holding the line, they’re driving the invader back — and it appears they are doing so in multiple sectors.
So what does Putin do? Does he escalate? Double down on his energy export cuts? Do something wild?
We don’t know. But we will be watching that, too. Like we said, more to come soon. But for now, we wait and see what is coming, now that the summer is ending, and fall looms.
Okay! That’s it for now — we are back to work and preparing a spread of content for you all in the days to come. On Friday (or maybe Saturday, depending on how our parenting schedules shake out), we’ll have our normal weekly recap dispatch ready — and since summer is over, the full version is going back behind the paywall, friends. If you don’t want to miss a thing, there’s an easy solution. Click the little blue button below and help us hold The Line.
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