Trudeau can crow about the economy

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals head into the fall election campaign with one huge advantage: The economy is hot.

At 5.5 per cent, Canada’s unemployment rate is near historic lows. Inflation-adjusted wage rates are rising again, and the stock market is rocking.

Even hard-hit Alberta is doing better.

While worrying signs are emerging about the future of the world economy overall, in North America, at least, things are fine.

Last week’s decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve to goose the American economy by reducing interest rates marginally means the boom Canada’s largest trading partner now enjoys is virtually guaranteed to last at least another few months.

This is good news for Canada.

Voters whose economic fortunes are on the way up are usually less inclined to throw the bums out.

None of this means the Liberals have a lock on the Oct. 21 election. In election campaigns, anything can — and often does — happen.

But it does mean the governing party is going into this campaign with one built-in advantage. Whether this will be enough to overcome the disadvantages of incumbency is not clear.

Certainly, there are disadvantages. Once in power, politicians almost invariably disappoint. Trudeau has been no exception. He broke one promise to reform the voting system. He broke another to balance the budget by 2019.

His attempts to curb global warming have satisfied few. On the one hand, are those who find the government’s approach too timid. On the other, are those who think his methods, such as imposing a carbon tax, are too draconian.

Trudeau argues this shows the Liberals are hewing to the middle way. That’s one explanation. Another is on this file, he has managed to please no one.

The Liberal government has made significant efforts to help Indigenous people improve their lives. But so much remains to be done that these efforts have earned it little political credit.

As for Trudeau himself, the patina has faded. Canadians are no longer gaga over his star quality. Many, I suspect, are sick of it.

In 2015, he was able to present himself as someone new. Now, he is a known quantity.

Andrew Scheer’s opposition Conservatives understand this, and they are doing their best to rubbish Trudeau. They present him as a self-absorbed dilettante who is out of his depth in serious matters of state.

They focus on scandals, real and imagined — the SNC-Lavalin affair, the alleged attempt to silence critics of the government’s China policy, the holiday spent on the Aga Khan’s private island.

They calculate if they can persuade enough disillusioned Liberal voters to abandon Trudeau, they will win.

The Liberals’ response has been puzzling. Instead of emphasizing their record, which is what incumbent governments usually do, they are focusing their attention almost entirely on what their Conservative opponents might do if elected.

To that end, they are inventing bogeymen to tie Scheer to — such as former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper or Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Negative campaigning is not new. But there is something odd about the Liberals’ campaign to date. In a strange way, they are acting as if the Conservatives were the government and they, the feisty Liberals, were the opposition.

Which, I suppose, is fine. But it does make it harder for the Liberals to do what most incumbent governments would do when faced with a strong economy: Claim credit.

Thomas Walkom is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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