A lot can happen before the next election. But, Andrew Coyne writes, public perceptions of the opposition leaders are beginning to solidify. Justin Trudeau has had a good summer:
The Liberals continued to draft in the jetstream of their leader, Justin Trudeau, who demonstrated at several points his effortless ability to command the media’s attention, as few opposition leaders can. Yes, in part this is mere celebrity fascination — dynastic politics at its shallowest — but in part it is owing to the personal qualities that a life in the public eye seem to have instilled in Trudeau.
What the public seems to be taking away from these repeated episodes is that he is unafraid: unafraid to be candid with them, unafraid to let people see who he is. Polls show him leading his rivals in the “trust” category, an advantage that would seem only to have been strengthened by his late summer admission that he smoked marijuana as an MP.
Tom Mulcair, on the other hand, has had a difficult summer:
What a contrast has been the performance of Tom Mulcair as leader of the NDP. Both face the burden, as opposition leaders, of resolving doubts about themselves and their parties: but where Trudeau is unguarded and transparent, Mulcair has been cautious, often to the point of inertia.
Rather than tell us what he would do — abolishing the Senate to one side — Mulcair seems more concerned with telling us what he would not do: not raise taxes, not legalize pot, and so forth. Where Trudeau was forthright in denouncing the Quebec charter, Mulcair has said little. On the other hand, his response to the Lac Mégantic disaster was so over the top that it attracted criticism that might otherwise have been directed at the government.
Mulcair is a much more seasoned politician than Trudeau the Younger. But, in a strange way, he finds himself in the same position as Robert Stanfield when he faced off against Trudeau the Elder. Perhaps that is why the NDP plans to run attack ads against Trudeau:
Part of the B.C. NDP’s problem, Mulcair said, was an early decision to run an exclusively positive campaign. “Anytime they talked about their adversary, they were told, well, you’re not being positive,” he said.
“There is a big difference in saying you’re not going to attack somebody personally and saying that you are not going to have a robust debate about the differences between your policy and the history of the other party,” Mulcair said.
Needless to say, there is an inherent danger in that strategy. If the next election is about the Liberals and the NDP beating each other up, both parties will play into Stephen Harper's hands. Despite all of his troubles, Mr. Harper must be smiling.