Justin Trudeau’s top rival in Canada’s October general election is, technically, Andrew Scheer, a pro-Brexit Conservative Party leader running a campaign of suburban values and smaller government in an attempt to hold the prime minister to one term. But lately, Scheer’s had help in weakening Trudeau’s brand—from Trudeau himself.
The famously globe-trotting, feminist, supposedly woke 47-year-old prime minister has committed a string of flubs, from a vacation on a private island owned by the Aga Khan to a state visit to India where he and his wife rubbed elbows with Sikh separatists. That streak was extended on Feb. 7, when allegations surfaced that Trudeau had pressured his then-justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to help fix a legal problem for SNC Lavalin, a conglomerate with long-standing ties to his Liberal Party. This latest scandal exposes Trudeau to allegations that his fresh-faced Liberal Party is, in fact, the same old party with the same old baggage. That could be politically fatal for an agent of change.
Wilson-Raybould’s three-year record as justice minister was largely uncontroversial. Trudeau relegated her in January to the lesser post of veterans affairs minister, part of a larger cabinet shuffle that also saw the appointment of a new minister for rural economic development. The SNC story drew new attention to the demotion, and Trudeau denied “directing” anyone to do anything. On Feb. 12, Wilson-Raybould further escalated the crisis by resigning from the cabinet. Fortunately for Trudeau, his opponents have problems of their own.
Canada has three major political parties: the leftist New Democratic Party, the centrist Liberals, and Scheer’s right-leaning Conservatives. The NDP is in free fall, and Trudeau is poised to pick up many of its voters. Scheer, meanwhile, is still relatively unknown outside the Conservative Party, and he’s facing an upstart right-wing party, led by a former rival.
Scheer, a father of five who was first elected to Parliament in 2004, represents a district in Canada’s conservative prairies. He won the party leadership in 2017 as a compromise pick. A skeptic of globalism, he not only supported Brexit but also has since gone out of his way to remind people of that, even as talks on Britain’s exit deal spiral into chaos.
The prime minister’s virtue-signaling has given his critics plenty of attack fodder, particularly as his gaffes mount. Roughly a year after he was elected, polling data showed that more than half of Canadians were happy with their choice, a major achievement in the country’s multiparty system. Now, barely a third say so. His party’s popularity has slid almost 10 percentage points since 2016, to 37.4 percent, according to a polling aggregator run by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.