Despite scandals and broken promises that have tarnished his term as Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau is well-positioned to remain in power beyond Oct. 21.
Thanks to a campaign that includes veterans of Vision Vancouver and BC Liberal war rooms, whose specialty is diverting attention from a baggage-laden incumbent and defining the opponent as undesirable.
In 2019, the Liberals defined Conservative Andrew Scheer as a dual Canada/U.S. citizen who had a short career as a junior insurance salesman before he enjoyed big paycheques as a politician. The Liberals have painted him as a social conservative friendly with the alt-right who would adopt Doug Ford’s Ontario cost-cutting on a national scale — despite both evidence and Scheer’s emphatic statements otherwise.
Trudeau spoke the word “progressive” 20 times in the last seven minutes of his last Lower Mainland campaign rally on Oct. 20. The Liberals are banking on voters choosing the devil they know, rather than the devil they don’t.
Nevermind Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin scandal, the purchase of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the broken promise to balance the budget in 2019, the broken promise to end first past the post elections, the comedic India trade mission, the lack of backbone against Xi Jinping’s China, revelations of Trudeau’s penchant for racist blackface costumes and the notorious “Kokanee grope” sexual assault allegation of 2000. His only major achievement was last year’s cannabis legalization. Because of the black market, it may never be the tax revenue goldmine that pot proponents promised. All items that the Conservatives should have kept reminding voters about on each of the 40 campaign days.
“It’s up to a political party to define itself, it’s up to candidates for that political party to define themselves to do it first and do it better than their opponents,” said Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC. “If they don’t do it better than opponents, you end up with the campaign that we’ve just witnessed. It’s been a horrid campaign in that regard.”
The Scheer Conservatives have peddled their “It’s Time For You To Get Ahead” slogan, promising to “put more money in your pocket,” rather than a sustained attack against the litany of Liberal corruption and broken promises.
A key member of Trudeau’s war room is Ben Chin, the former TV news anchor and Ontario Liberal who helped Christy Clark turn around her fortunes and score a BC Liberal upset over the NDP’s Adrian Dix in the 2013 B.C. election.
The BC Liberals and their proxies took the spotlight off unpopular Clark and demonized Dix, who was a top aide of Glen Clark when that NDP premier was forced to quit over conflict of interest scandal involving an applicant for a gambling licence repairing his deck. The BC Liberals didn’t want to run on their record since 2001, so they made the campaign about Dix and the 1990s NDP.
Rather than running a negative campaign about the contemporary BC Liberals, like he had led his caucus in question period, Dix went positive and lost. John Horgan did not repeat that mistake in 2017.
Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver won a third majority at city hall in 2014, facing the NPA’s Kirk LaPointe. The veteran newspaperman and broadcaster took a thoughtful platform to voters and attacked Vision’s backroom deal with the outside workers union. The union made a big donation after the party pledged it would not privatize any services.
In that campaign, Vision Vancouver exploited LaPointe’s only major sin. He worked in North Vancouver and lived at the University of British Columbia.
Nevermind that Robertson broke up with his wife and never answered questions about his downtown condominium that had been arranged by a donor. Or that Robertson kept secret his affair with a pop singer whose mother turned out to be a corrupt Chinese government official. Vision Vancouver attack ads focused on LaPointe’s residence at UBC, which meant he didn’t pay taxes in Vancouver. Robertson won.
Chin wasn’t there when Trudeau led several Liberals up the Grouse Grind on Aug. 30, but Gabe Garfinkel (B.C. director), Brittney Kerr (national campaign committee); Braeden Caley (communications director) and Ange Valentini (regional director) were. Garfinkel was a Clark aide who ran unsuccessfully for the BC Liberals in 2017. Kerr is a veteran of BC Liberal and Vision campaigns and a lobbyist at Earnscliffe, the shop where veteran Liberal organizer Bruce Young is listed as principal. Valentini co-chaired Vision’s 2018 campaign. Caley was Robertson’s spokesman after working for Ujjal Dosanjh and Raymond Chan.
Clark’s former deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad and developer Peter Wall’s lawyer David Gruber endorsed Vancouver Granville candidate Taleeb Noormohamed, who is running against Jody Wilson-Raybould the year after he withdrew a bid for Vision’s mayoral nomination for what he said were health reasons. Jonah Gowans, an aide to the BC Liberal caucus, is running in Courtenay-Alberni. Former cabinet ministers Terry Lake (health) and Gord Hogg (children and family development) are running in Kamloops and White Rock, respectively.
Another key element to the Liberal campaign is on social media. That also has a west coast connection. Mark Marissen, Clark’s ex-husband, pioneered the BC Liberal “digital influencers” before the 2013 election. It is even one of the product offerings advertised by his Burrard Strategy company, which has produced campaign promotional videos for Surrey-Newton Liberal incumbent Sukh Dhaliwal, among others.
You can see elements of the B.C.-developed Digital Influencers at play in this campaign, whether it’s Steven Joel Kerzner’s Ed the Sock or Neil “Before Zod” Waytowich, the former civil servant exposed by Blacklock’s Reporter, to others with handles like the purported broadcast, web and advertising professional G.T. Lem and “Suburban Voyeur,” whose bio identifies the user as an editor. There is also an army of virulent anti-Conservative, Ontario-centric tech industry workers, hockey moms, soccer moms and grandmothers smitten with Trudeau.
So if Andrew Scheer loses his bid to become Saskatchewan’s first Prime Minister since John Diefenbaker, look to the west coast where the playbook was perfected.
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