By Sally Barnes
Dear prime minister,
Far be it from me to second guess the highly paid experts and grey-beard campaign veterans around you, but I think you could be making a big mistake.
This one would surpass that real doozy when you chose a governor general who was a star in outer space but a disaster down here among mere mortals.
Calling a federal election in the middle of a pandemic, with polls showing most Canadians don’t want or need it, is in a class all by itself.
What we so desperately need in Canada right now is collaboration, strong leadership, and direction.
Needless to say, if you come back with another minority, you’ll be toast. The knives will be out so fast in the Liberal backrooms it will make your head swim.
How can you brag about your many accomplishments and at the same time insist you need a majority government because the current minority status makes it impossible to govern? That’s a bunch of hooey. The NDP has supported you on almost every measure and is committed to keeping you in power at least during the pandemic.
I happen to believe people have to be in a certain mood for elections to provide decisive results. They have to love someone new and different (like your Dad back in 1968.) Or they have a hate-on for the incumbent (Stephen Harper, 2015).
May I remind you that you won 184 seats with 39.5 per cent of the vote when you were new and different in 2015 and your opponent was shelf-worn. In 2019 your support fell to 33.12 per cent and you were reduced to 157 seats.
Hello! After six years in office, a lacklustre front bench, and a record hardly unblemished, it takes some huge ego to think you can come roaring back.
There are a lot of us out here who are bone-weary and mind-addled from the pandemic. No wonder we don’t want an election.
Mercifully, we’ve had the Stanley Cup playoffs and now the Olympics as much needed distractions and something to cheer for.
Too many have lost their jobs or their family businesses. Frontline workers are simply worn out. Our kids are freaked out from being out of school and isolated. Parents and teachers are anxious about what to expect this fall with the reopening of classes.
The pandemic has taken its toll on the mental health of so many. Addictions have soared. So have suicides and disease and illness caused by the backlog of diagnosis and treatment in our overloaded healthcare system.
Most would agree that you were right to borrow the billions needed to fight the pandemic—although few are probably aware of how unaccountable much of that money is and the extent of our debt.
You probably found no joy in the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report that our federal government could be running budget deficits until 2070 if your current spending plans are not altered.
Today’s toddlers will spend most of their working lives paying back the borrowed money you are now dispensing in pre-election promises in every nook and cranny of the country.
In late July, it was the grand daddy of them all so far. The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant in Labrador, a boondoggle whose cost has almost doubled to more than $13 billion, will get a bailout of another $5.2 billion in taxpayers’ money.
Talk about a gift to your six out of the seven Newfoundland and Labradors MPs who are Liberals.
Then last week it was $6 billion to be transferred to Quebec. It’s supposed to be for day care but a grateful Quebec premier says there are no conditions attached.
Does it occur to you and your masterminds that this massive display of pre-election goodies at a time of record debt could backfire?
Recent public opinion polls show you are in the lead in popularity but you’re the first choice of only about one third of the electorate.
Surely, if spreading money around actually buys support, you would be in the stratosphere by now instead of just moderately leading the pack of uninspiring other party leaders.
You like to say you have our backs but I’m not sure you have our hearts and minds.
There is great unease across the land.
We are far from out of the pandemic woods. New variants are on the upswing and as more and more restrictions are lifted, your own healthcare experts warn we could be into a fourth wave.
Sadly, children seem especially vulnerable this time around.
Wildfires and extreme heat have cost lives and massive destruction in many parts of the country. Drought threatens to bankrupt farmers.
For some reason, the mainstream media has shown little interest in rising gas prices. We’re edging up to $1.40 a liter at the pump and some experts predict we could be paying around $1.70 by the fall.
The impact of carbon taxes? Ubetcha.
Along with the rising cost of just about everything from lumber to lamb chops, increased voter angst can be expected, despite the pandemic-related cheques still arriving from Ottawa. (The age 75-plus group receives another $500 gift from you this month.)
Meanwhile, your promised return to happy relations with the election of a new president in the U.S. is beginning to look more like a bad date.
It’s nice that you and President Joe Biden kibbitz about wins and losses in Canada vs. U.S. hockey and soccer. But what about the two Michaels who continue to languish in a Chinese prison? A Canada-U.S. extradition treaty lies at the root of that tragedy and help from Biden doesn’t seem too much to expect.
And what about the hope for co-ordination in the opening of the Canada-U.S. border and help in dissuading Michigan from blocking the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline that is so vital to the fuel needs of Ontario and Quebec?
It seems the lights may be on in the Biden White House, but there’s nobody home when Canada comes calling.
I don’t think you appreciate the underlying malaise about where Canada is heading.
So-called cancel culture is threatening freedom of speech, open discourse in our universities, and respect for our institutions and democracy itself.
Many ask who will stand up to and prosecute those who desecrate and destroy the traditions and memorials to historical figures many Canadians honour and respect.
You are complicit in the campaign to humiliate and erase from history the memory of our founding father and first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. As you know, without him, we would all be singing the Star-Spangled Banner these days.
It was passing strange that the recent spate of burned churches warranted only slow and tepid response from you and others in offices of authority and influence.
And there’s our military and your support of your defense minister under whose watch public confidence has eroded as the top brass topple like bowling pins and morale plummets among the rank-and-file.
We watched silently as a respected officer’s reputation and exemplary 30-year career were ruined by an allegation of sexual impropriety dating back to his youth as a student at military college.
Dany Fortin was head of your government’s vaccination rollout when the claim emerged.
His real misfortune was bad timing. The charge emerged just when you were leading the charge for a zero-tolerance policy to combat sexual misconduct in our military. Another head had to roll.
And it’s a head-shaker for many who remember the accusations against you for practicing stupidity as a callow youth—groping of a young woman in British Columbia, wearing ethnic costumes and painting your face and body brown or black. You said you didn’t recall the BC incident and you apologized publicly for the latter events. All became yesterday’s news.
Deny Fortin is long gone. You’re still there.
Is there a whiff of hypocrisy here?
There remains public unease about your treatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott—two of the bright lights in your cabinet who challenged your leadership style and treatment of women and kissed Ottawa and politics goodbye.
Another sad sign of our times is that our Canadian flag hangs at half-mast on all our federal buildings, including Parliament Hill. It’s been that way since May 30 as a sign of national grief over residential schools and their consequences for generations of Indigenous people.
It is right for a nation to mourn such tragedy. But when will this period end? “Until further notice” is the only word out of Ottawa.
You, prime minister, will get the final say on that and I suspect that to avoid controversy the flags will remain as they are until after an election. Perhaps longer.
So, there you are. Just something to think about while you study the calendar and wait for President Joe to return your phone calls.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com