November 29, 2021

Campaign 2021: ‘Infected by the virus of polarization’ – Politico

Send tips | Subscribe here | Email Nick | Follow Politico Canada

WELCOME TO OTTAWA PLAYBOOK. I’m your host, Nick Taylor-Vaisey with POLITICO’s Zi-Ann Lum. Today, a former clerk of the Privy Council worries the federal campaign has been “infected by the virus of polarization.” Also, Erin O’Toole calls an audible on his platform’s plans for gun control. And the Curse of Politics gang talks about the toughest decisions campaigns have to make in the last two weeks before election day.

THIS IS CANADA — After the election, the next prime minister, be it JUSTIN TRUDEAU, ERIN O’TOOLE or JAGMEET SINGH should not move into 24 Sussex, says former clerk of the Privy Council MICHAEL WERNICK.

“The price of entering political life is pretty high. My specific piece of advice to Mr. O’Toole and Mr. Singh is you cannot move into 24 Sussex,” the newly retired top government official said of the prime minister’s official residence. “Your family will not be safe.”

The 153-year-old house on the Ottawa River, filled with lead, asbestos and mould, has been vacant since 2015, but that’s another story.

Wernick was flagging what he describes as a dangerous trend line in polarization — one on display last evening in Newmarket, Ontario, where Trudeau’s meet-and-greet was, and this will sound familiar, disrupted by cries of “traitor,” “fake news” and other obscenities.

Zi-Ann caught up with Wernick last week, just after the Trudeau campaign canceled a rally in a rural Ontario community citing safety concerns.

— We were warned: In February 2019, Canada’s top public servant used a parliamentary committee appearance to alert Canadians to polarization, political violence and the social impact of “trolling from the vomitorium of social media.”

“I worry about my country right now,” he told MPs. “I’m worried that somebody is going to be shot in this country this year during the political campaign.”

Sixteen months later, an armed Canadian Forces reservist rammed through a gate at Rideau Hall, a 79-acre estate that houses the governor general’s official residence and Rideau Cottage, where the Trudeau family has lived since 2015.

— The 2021 campaign: Reading and watching coverage of the 2021 campaign, the retired senior public servant says “it’s clear that we have been infected by the virus of polarization.”

He mentions cyberbullying and the fact women and people of color are disproportionately targeted. “We saw lots of incidents over the last couple of years where individual MPs and ministers were harassed, physically threatened,” he said.

“Once you have the language of patriot versus traitor in your body politic, that’s the kind of language which has led to all kinds of really horrible outcomes in other countries. And so we are infected. There’s no question about it. The question is really whether the body politic is robust enough to resist that and how virulent and dangerous this trendline will continue.”

The polarizing force-multiplier effect of social media is turning people away from politics, he says with a nod to people he knows who have declined invitations to run. “They said, ‘No thanks, I’m not putting my family through that.’ ”

— Advice for new politicos: Wernick, who served prime ministers JEAN CHRÉTIEN, PAUL MARTIN, STEPHEN HARPER and Trudeau before retiring in 2019, says he advises transition teams and new governments to take the security briefings seriously. “You are stepping into a world where you are suddenly in a more risky environment and so is your family,” Wernick says. “The price of entering political life is pretty high.

— Coming soon: Wernick’s book “Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics” is slated for release Oct. 25.

POLITICO Pro subscribers can read the rest of Zi-Ann’s Q&A with Wernick here.

IT’S DEBATE WEEK — POLITICO’s crack team will watch every moment of the French and English debates Sept. 8 and 9. On Thursday, we’ll be joined by colleagues from New York and Washington in a live chat packed with expert analysis and a fine balance of snarks and smarts.

GUNS, GUNS, GUNS — Liberals seem to think they’ve (finally) found their winning wedge. Trudeau’s insistence that an O’Toole government would allow abortion to be criminalized didn’t move the dial. Neither did a suggestion that O’Toole was courting the anti-vaxx vote … and keen to dismantle universal public health care.

Liberals spent Labor Day weekend pummeling the Tories on gun control. Three ministers and assorted sidekicks fanned out Saturday to remind voters in Canada’s three biggest cities that O’Toole would repeal regulations banning “military-style assault weapons.” It was right there on page 90 of his platform.

HARJIT SAJJAN and KEN HARDIE held a presser in Vancouver, PABLO RODRIGUEZ and RACHEL BENDAYAN talked to reporters in Montreal, and BILL BLAIR and MARCI IEN gathered in Toronto.

Liberal Twitter, always a place to find clues about where the party senses momentum, was seriously wound up all weekend.

— O’Toole’s response: The Tory platform promises to repeal both Bill C-71, a 2019 law that tightened gun ownership requirements, and a May 2020 order-in-council that banned 1,500 “assault-style weapons.” Liberals say O’Toole, purportedly a friend of the gun lobby, would undo all that..

During Thursday’s French-language TVA debate, O’Toole had said he’d maintain a federal ban on assault weapons. He’d still repeal the recent Liberal ban, but would maintain a 1977 law banning clearly defined assault weapons. Critics complained he was playing a game of semantics.

— Flip-flop: By Sunday, the Conservative leader had substantially changed his position. He promised to leave the Trudeau-era ban in place pending a public review of the firearm classification system.

— The counterattack: The oppo proxy wars produce endless content. Tory STEPHEN TAYLOR unearthed a video of Liberal candidate RON MCKINNON firing a semi-automatic AR-15. Taylor had lots of other material. ANTHONY KOCH posted a letter in which Liberal candidate MARCUS POWLOWSKI raised the alarm about several flaws in his own government’s approach to gun control.

— What’s next: If guns really do influence national daily tracking polls or key regions across Canada, that shift could take a few days. Expect repeated barrages from Trudeau on both debate nights this week — especially if votes are moving.

ICYMI — The Native Women’s Association of Canada wants the Liberals to explain why a non-Indigenous man, BRUNO STEINKE, is heading up a new Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Secretariat meant to “support federal coordination with partners” in implementing a national action plan.

— LYNNE GROULX to CAROLYN BENNETT: NWAC’s CEO had sharp words for the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations. “It is clear you are intent on doing what you think is right, but not what is right for Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people. Colonialism is clearly alive and well in this country!”

IN OTHER NEWS — Liberal candidate RAJ SAINI has ended his bid for re-election in Kitchener Centre, though he remains on the ballot. … Central Nova candidate STEVEN COTTER apologized for sharing racist Facebook posts. CTV’s GLEN MCGREGOR has that story.

COVID WATCH — As a Delta-driven fourth wave of Covid hits the four biggest provinces and school-aged kids return to their classrooms, the pandemic could become a defining preoccupation of the 2021 campaign. Every day, we’ll update the most recent provincial data on Covid patients in critical care in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec. The change since the last provincial update is in parentheses.

Ontario: 179 (+7)
Alberta: 118 (+4)*
British Columbia: 118 (+6)*
Quebec: 49 (+7)
* These numbers reflect data reported for Sept. 2.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will stand alongside Finance Minister CHRYSTIA FREELAND in Welland, Ont., for a 10:30 ET announcement. Niagara Centre is the domain of Liberal VANCE BADAWEY, but he benefited from a three-way split in 2015 and 2019. The New Democrat who used to hold the riding, MALCOLM ALLEN, is this time running in nearby Hamilton Mountain. The NDP’s MELISSA MCGLASHAN and Tory GRAHAM SPECK are Badawey’s competition.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is in Ottawa where he’ll make an announcement at 11 ET at the Westin Hotel.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is back in Hamilton — where else but Steeltown would he spend Labor Day? He’ll mark the holiday at 9 ET with a “plan to help workers.” Find him at Sam Lawrence Park — in the riding Allen hopes to retain for the NDP.

We’re collaborating with Curse of Politics on 2021 campaign coverage. Each day in Playbook, DAVID HERLE, SCOTT REID and JENNI BYRNE tackle a key question. Find out more about them here.

Today’s question: What are the toughest decisions a campaign has to make starting now?

HERLE: First of all, the word is difficult. Second, I think we might be four or five days from the most difficult decisions, which are made by retreating campaigns. Removing air support, rearranging leaders’ tours, and movement of paid staff all involve explicitly or implicitly acknowledging defeat in certain areas.

REID: All the decisions are hard now. Where to send the leader — and where not to. What attacks to launch. What attacks to ignore. Where to pull your workers to — and from. Which lies to tell the media. In a race this tight, any of these decisions could be the one thing that makes the entire difference.

But if I had to highlight one thing in particular, it would be the paid advertising. The right ads with the right weight, aimed at the right targets. That’s make or break.

BYRNE: If you are in either the Liberal or Conservative war rooms right now, every decision seems like life or death. In some cases they are.

This is when focus and discipline is most important — not just messaging from the leader and central campaign, but also tour and local campaigns.

This would also be part of the campaign when I would be laser focused on what was happening in terms of voter ID and GOTV [get out the vote], riding by riding.

Find the Herle Burly panel on their campaign pod — Curse of Politics: Subscribe here. Each morning, POLITICO’s Nick Taylor-Vaisey kicks things off with lively banter and keen insight.

THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS — Swing Voters should be appointment viewing for anyone working in or around a campaign. Ten voters from British Columbia and the 905 have been meeting weekly to discuss the unfolding election. On Saturday over the Labor Day weekend, they gathered with a sense of the changing dynamics on the trail. “This thing is far from decided,” Herle said after the session. “This is no longer a referendum on Justin Trudeau. This is now a referendum on Erin O’Toole. He’s got two weeks to withstand that scrutiny.” Catch Through the Looking Glass here, an episode that includes a screening of the latest campaign ads.

Each day throughout the campaign, DAVID COLETTO from our polling partner Abacus Data is sharing a data point on the 2021 campaign.

Today: The “who will win the election” perception gap is closing.

When the election started, 44 percent of voters thought the Liberals would win, compared to just 19 percent who thought the Conservatives would t.

Today, 37 percent think the Liberals will win compared with 28 percent who think the Conservatives will win. That’s a big swing in three weeks.

— Why does this matter? A mismatch between perceived and preferred outcomes can influence voting behavior. Think about the NDP-leaning voter who would prefer a Liberal government over a Conservative one but thinks the Liberals will win versus the same NDP-leaning voter who thinks the Conservatives will win. The perception of who will win could cause that person to vote Liberal to stop the Conservatives.

Right now, 4 percent of the electorate would prefer the Liberals to form government and think the Conservatives are going to win. That’s double the number from last week and I think it will continue to grow. For the Liberals and NDP — this week is about either growing that number or keeping it at bay.

For information about this survey, including the methodology, follow this link.

A FAMILY AFFAIR — Playbook took the scenic route home from Ontario cottage country in the Kawarthas, and spotted a cluster of signs in Bancroft: JENNIFER SLOAN, SHELBY KRAMP-NEUMAN and MIKE BOSSIO.

Sloan is married to DEREK SLOAN, the former Tory leadership candidate who was booted from the party but held Hastings-Lennox and Addington at dissolution. He’s running an insurgent campaign in Banff-Airdrie, Alberta, where he’s hoping to take down Conservative BLAKE RICHARDS. Jennifer, like Derek, is running as an indy candidate.

Kramp-Neuman is a teacher and municipal councilor who also happens to be the daughter of DARYL KRAMP, the former MP for Prince Edward-Hastings who lost in 2015. Daryl then won a seat at Queen’s Park as a Progressive Conservative when DOUG FORD rode to power in 2018.

Bossio is the man who beat Kramp in 2015 before Sloan bested him in 2019. His margin of victory, boosted by Trudeaumania, was 0.5 per cent — just 225 votes. Four years later, he lost by 4.3 points. 338Canada gives the edge to the Tories.

1,000-day milestone focuses campaigns on Canada’s ‘Michaels’ and China relations.
Canada’s Liberals promise to ban thermal coal exports by 2030.
Steelworkers warn Biden against lifting tariffs.
Everything you need to know about the California recall.

— KATE HARRISON of Summa Strategies Canada says “enough already” with the notion that Canadians have not been paying attention to the campaign. “Unless you’re a civil servant or a school teacher, you’re likely not mentally checked-out for the summer months,” she writes.

The election mood in one word chosen by the Star’s SUSAN DELACOURT: Unsettled. For the Liberals, she writes, “prime minister Erin O’Toole” — may be the most unsettling prospect of all.

— “The growing distaste for politicians and politics we have seen evolved over the last 30 years has not led to apathy about politics, but rather an erosion of partisanship,” pollster ALLAN GREGG writes in iPolitics.

MICHAEL FRISCOLANTI writes on the opioid crisis in “Every 49 Minutes,” a longread from Maclean’s.

NATAN OBED, head of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, talks to CBC about what hangs in the balance in this election.

Birthdays: HBD to MICHAËLLE JEAN, 64 today. … Auto-parts magnate FRANK STRONACH, father of BELINDA, is 89. … And how could we not note that today would have been Father of Confed GEORGE-ÉTIENNE CARTIER‘s 207th birthday?

Belated greetings to NICOLAS MULRONEY and to birthday twins, SHANNON PHILLIPS and MARCELLA MUNRO. And a slightly late mid-election HBD to ROBERT DEKKER, campaign manager and policy guy for Tory incumbent JOHN BRASSARD. What better celebration is there than door-knocking in Barrie-Innisfil?

Spotted: U.S. Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN recognizing “the Michaels” 1,000-day milestone. “People are not bargaining chips,” he tweeted last evening. CP’s MIKE BLANCHFIELD has more on yesterday’s solidarity marches.
And here’s the Globe’s coverage.

Sen. DENISE BATTERS at at the Labour Day Classic with the Scheers. … CINDY BLACKSTOCK on The Honest Talk … Paramount Fine Foods CEO MOHAMAD FAKIH calling out the party leaders for failing to take on Bill 21 during the TVA debate: “They should all do better.” … DRAKE name dropping TRUDEAU on his new album … BRIAN and MILA MULRONEY, honored by Estonia.

Watch for DAVID COLETTO, SUSAN DELACOURT, CHRISTOPHER WADDELL and JOEL-DENIS BELLAVANCE Wednesday morning on Zoom. They will be serving up an election primer for diplomats and politicos: What to watch in the final days of the campaign.

Movers and shakers: The Climate Action Network Canada has spent the writ period lobbying bureaucrats and diplomats. With COP26 on the horizon, the advocacy group found facetime with PATRICIA FULLER, the ambassador for climate change, and policy people JOANNA DAFOE, LYDIA CAVASIN, KELLY SHARP and FRANCIS PIGEON.

SCOTT MCCORD, the longtime savior of a travel agent to Ottawa’s political class, has sold his company to Direct Travel — where he’ll join the senior management team. Mention his name around anyone who’s ever needed a plane ticket or hotel room immediately, and they’ll spill about McCord’s miracle work. Here’s one testimonial. Here’s another. And another. And another.

Tell us — Has McCord ever saved your bacon? Playbook readers are dying to hear about it. Drop Nick a line, anonymously or otherwise.

What is happening? Questions about the campaign? Send them our way.

Last week first: We asked which area code — 905, 604, 418 or 902 — would net the most leader visits last week.

66 percent of you correctly guessed the 905 region that surrounds Toronto, which scored five leaders’ events: a pair in Markham and one each in Mississauga, King City and Newmarket. But the 604 area code in B.C.’s Lower Mainland also tallied five events: two in Coquitlam, and one apiece in Burnaby, Vancouver and North Vancouver.

This week: Who will lead national opinion polls a week from now on Sept. 12? Vote here.

Friday’s answer: In 1993, a Conservative campaign ad spotlighted unflattering photos of JEAN CHRÉTIEN and asked, “Is this a prime minister?” The spot was pulled after an outcry, including a response from Chrétien: “They tried to make fun of the way I look. God gave me a physical defect, and I have accepted that.”

Thanks for playing, EVERYONE:

PAM FROSTAD, PATRICK DION, KRISTINA GENTES, GEORGE SCHOENHOFER, RON CREARY, LAURIE MACE, PAUL GILLETT, KEVIN STEINWAND, DARIN CHRISTENSEN, BEN ROTH, BARBARA GRANTHAM, GERMAINE MALABRE, ART WHITAKER, TESS ORLANDO, ALAN KAN, MICHAEL MACDONALD, JOANNA HARRINGTON, ANDREW SZENDE, DAVID MCLENNAN, LEIGH LAMPERT, BILL DAY, ARTHUR DRACHE, GARY ALLEN, BOB GORDON and PAUL WESTCOTT.

Thanks especially to BRANDON VAN DAM who sent the correct answer and a very nice note. (Hint, hint.)

Today’s question: What name did the original owner of 24 Sussex Drive give to the residence?

Send your answers to [email protected]

Thanks to Luiza Ch. Savage, editor Sue Allan, Zi-Ann Lum and Andy Blatchford.

Have a petition you want signed? A cause you’re promoting? Seeking to increase brand awareness amongst this key audience? Share your message with our influential readers to foster engagement and drive action. Contact Alejandra Waase to find out how: [email protected]

CORRECTION: An earlier version of Ottawa Playbook incorrectly stated that Mike Bossio was campaigning outside of his riding on Labor Day weekend.