The following is a column by Dwight Duncan, the former Ontario finance minister and current senior strategic adviser at McMillan LLP.
Close observers of politics in this country have noted that, in addition to declining audiences, revenue and profits, the quality of political commentary in our traditional media has flat-lined.
This was painfully evident last week in the aftermath of “elbowgate,” as breathless commentators prognosticated on how much damage Justin Trudeau had done to his reputation or, as many of them say, his “brand” - resulting from the “thrilla on the hilla”.
Just the coining and repeated use of these terms is evidence of how shallow and void of depth political analysis can get in Canada. Over-the-top, brain-dead commentary, is similar to the quality of debate that is plaguing Canada’s House of Commons and legislatures.
The NDP were “outraged” at the example of “workplace violence” inflicted on Canada by the Prime Minister. Imagine that, outraged New Democrats! Oh, and by the way, that little attempt to block the Conservative whip from taking his seat, pay no attention to that.
The Prime Minister made a mistake and realized it immediately. He didn’t need a gaggle of aides to tell him that. Sniffing blood, the opposition forced him to repeatedly apologize and tried to make the matter into something more egregious than it really was.
Now it appears that the blood they were smelling was their own.
I must confess that as I read, watched, and listened to the colour commentary immediately following the “brawl,” I found myself swimming in the same dirty bathwater as the gurus and pundits. How much political damage did the PM foist upon himself and his government?
Turns out that Canadians weren’t all that fussed or, at the very least, were prepared to cut him some slack. Top notch analysts, including Bruce Anderson and Nik Nanos, using actual data, discovered that, in fact, the PM’s numbers had improved in the aftermath of the “incident”.
So what lessons can we learn from this?
First, this Prime Minister is well liked by the citizenry and will be tough to beat in any circumstance. At the end of the day, to be successful in politics people have to like you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how experienced you are, or what you you bring to the table. The people will be more willing to forgive, or overlook, a transgression committed by someone they like. If you are not liked by enough of us, you won’t be successful in politics. Period.
Second, getting it right in opposition isn’t easy. The NDP overplayed their hand and in the process looked and sounded awful. I thought the most impressive in all of this was Elizabeth May. Why? She told the truth about the PM’s so-called “manhandling” and actually focused on something I think was overlooked by many of the more thoughtful commentators - until she raised it. Underlying everything was the way the government was managing its legislative agenda. Dominic LeBlanc, to his credit, picked up on the criticism and moved quickly to calm the waters. That is the mark of a good government house leader.
Finally, what is often seen to be big and important among the political and media elites can be quite far removed from the population and of little concern to average voters. We saw this manifest itself in the last Canadian election and are certainly seeing it in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
Since last summer, we have witnessed political changes that were unthinkable a year ago. A Liberal majority in Canada, Donald Trump the Republican presidential nominee, Bernie Sanders giving Hillary Clinton a real run for her money in the Democratic nomination battle.
Something profound is happening out there that few, if any, saw coming. Heck, within the next month Britain might vote to leave the European Union!
Canadian commentators, by and large, got it wrong last week. They took the real elbow - in the head.
Senior Strategic Advisor, McMillan LLP
Dwight Duncan has been a senior strategic adviser to McMillan LLP, the Toronto-based business law firm, since March 2013. He advises the firm's clients on investing and operating in Canada and abroad. A long-time MPP from Windsor, Duncan became Ontario finance minister in 2005 and held the cabinet post until he left politics in 2013. Duncan was also minister of energy, revenue minister and deputy premier, among other posts in the McGuinty government.