Several major national public polling companies are testing the mood of Canadians.
So are the political parties, which are holding their information close.
Yet if early polls, the direction of the leaders’ tours and the pace of big policy announcements coming from the Liberal campaign are any sign, Justin Trudeau is worried.
The Liberal leader is steering the conversation, and his tour, back to where he wants it — the contrast between him and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer — aiming at the Greater Toronto Area and the swath of middle-class voters in southern Ontario.
Scheer flew to Prince Edward Island and St. John’s on Sunday, but soon returns to the battlegrounds in and around Toronto.
There, Scheer will focus on pocketbook pledges and press what his team believes is now — in the wake of the Trudeau blackface revelations — a more resonant message captured in their political slogan, that Trudeau is “not as advertised.”
Singh, the only visible minority party leader, highlighted his climate change pledge on Sunday, and will focus on housing and the “climate crisis” throughout the week as he heads first to Nova Scotia, and later to British Columbia.
On Sunday, in Ontario, Singh would not rule out working with a Trudeau-led minority government, but said the Liberal leader has bad judgment.
On CTV’s news program “Question Period,” Singh said he would work with anyone who would advance NDP policies such as universal drug and dental insurance coverage. Yet Singh questioned Trudeau’s sincerity in the wake of his apologies for the blackface incidents. “There’s two Mr. Trudeaus … Which one is the real Mr. Trudeau?” Singh said, suggesting the Liberal leader’s public and private personas are different.
Pollster David Coletto, head of Abacus Data, which plumbed the public reaction to the blackface revelations that strike at the heart of the Liberal leader’s political brand, said if anything, the affair has soured the mood of the electorate even more towards party leaders generally.
And it may not yet have substantially changed the electoral prospects of the two major parties, which remain close, with the Conservatives appearing to retake a lead by a small margin.
An Abacus survey to be released Monday suggests that the blackface revelations were not yet “a game-changer kind of event. It doesn’t mean it won’t be,” said Coletto, adding so far he has seen “no evidence of a mass exodus from the Liberals.”
It’s not because Canadians weren’t paying attention.
A huge majority were aware of the controversy after Time magazine published the first brownface photo of Trudeau as a 29-year-old teacher in 2001. Two earlier images of Trudeau in blackface quickly emerged and were acknowledged by the Liberal leader.
“It’s broken through, there’s no doubt about that,” said Coletto.
However, it doesn’t appear “this has moved the numbers in any substantial way.”
Trudeau’s personal approval ratings are down, and his “negatives are up — so it has affected perhaps how people feel about him, but all the leaders are kind of in a worse place today than where they were at the start of the campaign,” Coletto said Sunday.
The impact appeared to be greatest among young voters, aged 18-29, and among visible minorities, he said.
And for the Liberals, Coletto added, the concern is clearly that “this election is so close though that even one or two points might be enough to deny them victory.”
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“It’s not settled yet. This whole election seems to be about which of these two gentlemen do you want to be prime minister, and this adds a further layer to it but it doesn’t change the basic premise of what this campaign has been about, pretty much since day one.”
Other pollsters have found the controversy has had a mixed impact on voters.
The New Democrats said the scandal has clearly shone a spotlight on Singh.
A party official, who spoke on condition they not be named, said amid the breaking news, in a moment of “strain” that required leadership, Singh spoke “eloquently” to Canadians, and articulated the hurt and insult of Trudeau’s actions, and didn’t “overreach the way Andrew Scheer did.”
The NDP did not send out a fundraising appeal immediately afterward, but the next day had its best fundraising day ever and saw volunteer numbers go up. Internal polling suggests there is clear movement among younger voters and particularly among voters in Ontario, the official said.
The Conservatives declined, as did the Liberals, to discuss their own data on the political impact.
Scheer heads to Ontario on Monday, to the ridings of King-Vaughan, Markham-Thornhill and St. Catharines.
In P.E.I., where he unveiled a pledge to improve federal support for veterans, Scheer declined to say whether he believes there are lessons in the Trudeau scandal about the extent of racism in Canada.
“I think what it shows, ultimately, is who Justin Trudeau really is, and someone who has one set of rules for everyone else and one set of rules for himself … Now Canadians can make their ultimate determination about whether or not they trust Justin Trudeau, and they’ll have that opportunity on October 21.”
Trudeau was in Brampton South on Sunday. After a day and a half of apologies last week, the Liberal leader didn’t just double down, but tripled down on big, headline-grabbing promises.
First it was gun control measures, announced on Friday, then on Sunday, two pledges aimed squarely at middle- and lower-income households.
He suggested his plan would best the Conservatives’ one per cent universal tax cut that he said helps the richest the most. Trudeau pledged the Liberals would eliminate income tax charged on the first $15,000 earned — a targeted measure to be phased out for top earners. And he promised to slash cellphone bills by a whopping 25 per cent but with little detail on how that could be accomplished.
All the while, Trudeau sidestepped specific answers to questions about when he realized the error of his ways.
He would not answer when he first revealed his blackface antics to his senior advisers, or why he didn’t reveal them to Canadians before now.