John Ivison: In the final stretch of the campaign trail, Trudeau is acting as though he already won


HAMILTON, ONT. – Justin Trudeau’s second stop of the day, on a 20-hour long march across the country, was at fire training facility in the riding of Hamilton Mountain, solid NDP territory for the past four elections.

Trudeau was at his most wild-eyed and fervent – the Liberals know that what people see over the next 48 hours could be enough to push them into the red column.

“Good job he’s in a fire-hall, the man’s on fire,” joked one of his senior advisors. It certainly looked at one point that he might spontaneously combust like a Spinal Tap drummer, such was his enthusiasm for his own candidacy.

Trudeau was particularly ardent in his efforts to point out that the Conservative Party is intent on making cuts and that this election is about a choice between moving forward or returning to the dark ages of the Harper era – so much so that of the 21 questions posed by reporters, 19 contained one or both of those obsessions in the answer.

The Liberals still believe there is a path to majority – and they may be right. CBC’s poll tracker gives Trudeau only a 10 per cent chance of landing the 170 seats he needs. The most recent seat projections suggest he will be closer to 133.

The suggestion from inside the Liberal camp is that they are doing better than the poll tracker projection suggests

But all forecasts should be treated with caution – Donald Trump was five to one against becoming president on election day.

The parties have a combination of metrics to make their own predictions that are more accurate than public polls with their high margins of error, not least the feedback provided by hundreds of thousands of interactions on doorsteps across the country.

The suggestion from inside the Liberal camp is that they are doing better than the poll tracker projection suggests. A more realistic figure going into the weekend would be closer to 150 seats. That still has the Liberals losing ground in all parts of the country but, crucially, holding relatively firm in Ontario. The gamble is that by sending Trudeau into ridings the Liberals don’t currently hold, that the party can find the 20 or so additional seats it needs to reach majority territory. Since leaving Ottawa on Friday, 11th, the Liberal tour has visited 34 ridings – 10 held by the party and 24 by Bloc, Conservative or NDP MPs. My completely unscientific estimate, based on little more than watching the candidates, the crowd size and the riding history is that the Liberals could add five and save five, leaving them short of majority.

But we have seen late shifts in voter sentiment before.

The only line of Trudeau’s that resonated on Saturday, after days and weeks of the same message track, was his contention that “this election is more important than the next four years”. With voters concerned about climate change, that one line might prove persuasive enough to make a difference. We shall see.

Trudeau pays lip-service to all the old campaign clichés about not taking anything for granted and so on, but he has the demeanour of someone who has been told he’s won already and this is his victory lap.

There is no place for ambivalence in Trudeau’s world. His star Montreal candidate, Steve Guilbeault, said this week that the environmental impact legislation that passed through the House of Commons last spring would likely bar any new pipelines in this country. Trudeau batted away the suggestion that the admission could spark political and civil unrest in Alberta, which is already at boiling point. He touted his government’s record on employment insurance and on the Trans Mountain pipeline as evidence that Albertans understand he is serious about a better future for the province. “All Canadians will always be there to help Alberta,” he said.

That has echoes of the sentiments in his victory speech from four years ago: “I will be prime minister of all Canadians,” he said then. It hasn’t always felt like that, particularly in western Canada.

By late afternoon Saturday, Trudeau was preparing for a cross-country dash, 35,000 feet above the issues. We’ll see whether the love is reciprocated when the tour lands in Calgary for a rally at 1am EST. I’m predicting it will be cloudy with a chance of eggs.

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