TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER, 7  - Susan Delacourt
Logo headshots of Toronto Star staff shot in Star studio.
December 7, 2015

Opinion: Elections come and go, but bad moods like this linger

This election campaign, soon to be over, has essentially been a bad mood looking for a place to land.

It isn’t just those wild-eyed crowds dogging Justin Trudeau’s tour and expanding the support of the People’s Party of Canada, either.

For Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, all the roiling, negative emotions running loose in this campaign may make the difference between victory and defeat on Monday. The sheer closeness of that red-blue contest, in fact, would seem a testament to a lack of widespread enthusiasm for either option.

Trudeau’s biggest problem isn’t the ugly mob anger he’s denounced so frequently along the trail. It is anger’s close relation – disappointment – and the prospect of disillusioned former Liberals flocking to the New Democrats and other parties.

O’Toole’s biggest problem, on the other hand, is anger that threatens to weaken his party from either side.

Some disaffected Conservatives don’t find O’Toole sufficiently aggrieved and are drifting to the People’s Party, the outlet for white hot resentment of everything from pandemic restrictions to Trudeau.

Other potential voters – those disappointed Liberals, for instance – may be worried that the face of the Conservative party remains too angry and negative, even after all O’Toole’s efforts to put a confident, smiling face on the campaign.

In the past week, we had a chance to ask them both directly about the disappointment and anger.

O’Toole acknowledges that some voters have been put off by the Conservatives’ history, but insists that his efforts to put that past behind him – the “I’m a new leader” refrain – is drawing disaffected Liberals.

Intriguingly, O’Toole hinted that the campaign may soon be trotting out one or more of these former Liberals to give their endorsements.

“Look, I will tell you I’m blown away by the number of prominent former Liberals, current Liberals voting for us in this election,” O’Toole said.

Presumably, some of these Liberals have had to look beyond all the ways in which Conservatives have demonized them over the past few years – not just Trudeau personally, but liberalism in general, which former prime minister Stephen Harper has a habit of describing as “adolescent.”

(This may say more about Harper, who was an avowed Liberal when he was a young man, but that’s a whole other discussion.)

O’Toole says he likes to see himself as a leader who “is not showing contempt for people that haven’t voted for us in the past.”

One wonders whether this memo has gone out to MPs who have made their mark casting Liberals as evil over the past few years – Pierre Poilievre, for instance, or Michelle Rempel.

The Conservative leader did not talk about the People’s Party at all, and whether this kinder, gentler face of his party was sending irate partisans over to Maxime Bernier’s team.

Trudeau, for his part, admitted that he has his own problems with drift and disappointment, especially among progressive voters.

“First of all, we’ve been through a really tough year and a half, and I think people are exhausted. I think people just want things to get back to normal,” he said. “And I don’t know that they want necessarily to have to be deciding about the future of their country… So I totally understand how people can be frustrated by having to engage in a political exercise.”

The Liberal leader is accusing the other progressive parties – whether that’s the NDP, the Greens or the Bloc – of fuelling a lot of this disappointment, to the point of outright cynicism. Rather than accuse the Liberals of not doing enough, Trudeau says, their strategy in this campaign has been to say that the government has done absolutely nothing on reconciliation, on income inequality or child care.

Neither Trudeau nor O’Toole is denying that the election has unleashed this array of anger, disappointment and cynicism, which could be chipping away at the positive campaigns they both claim to want.

What neither of them has confronted yet is what they will do with all this grumpiness when the election is over on Monday. Elections come and go, but bad moods like this can linger.

Susan Delacourt is a National Affairs writer.