Dispatch from the Front Line: Who the hell do the Liberals think they are?

What are we going to do when the second wave hits, beat it to death with a solar panel? Fire it and hope it scores a new gig at the OECD? Get serious, guys.

It may have been easy to miss amid the news coming out of Ottawa, but as the government lost its finance minister, appointed Chrystia Freeland to yet another job, prorogued parliament, halted testimony into its latest scandal, prepared for the announcement of a new Conservative Party of Canada leader and braced for a likely second wave of COVID-19, the prime minister promised to announce a transformative agenda. One that promises sweeping social change, and a wholesale re-invention of our economy in line with the greenest ambitions. We here at The Line have but one question.

Who the hell do these people think they are?

It is obvious to anyone who has been reading the news and possesses even residual brain function why the prime minister would like to be talking about a plan for transformative change. Talking about all the amazing things he could do for Canadians with borrowed money beats talking about his government’s bumbling of the WE file and the departure of now-former finance minister Bill Morneau.

Promising an organic chicken in every pot and a solar panel on every shed is obviously more appealing to Trudeau than repeating the last month. But it is astonishing to us — as jaded as we have undeniably become — that the government is talking about this instead of the necessary steps needed to shore up this country ahead of a likely second wave of COVID-19. 

This government has a mandate to respond to the emergency, by mere unlucky virtue of being in power at the moment the virus hit. It is the duty of every Canadian government to safeguard the wellbeing of the population, full stop. But the emergency, contrary to what you may believe if you’ve been reading Liberal Party HQ memos, is not over. We have an urgent need to secure more medical equipment, to harden our long-term care facilities, to prevent any further lockdowns from derailing a fragile economic recovery, to ensure the resiliency of critical supply chains, and to shore up our health-care system. This is what every Canadian official should be focused on right now.

We were caught flat-footed the first time, which is inexcusable. It will be even more inexcusable if we’re caught flat-footed a second time. Do any of you, our beloved Line readers, have any confidence that we will not be?

N95 respirators, more beds in nursing homes, targeted financial supports for businesses and individuals who face ruin should a second wave strike — these are all worthy of this government's time. To the extent that some of the rumoured announcements can be rationalized under the rubric of a pandemic response — the expansion of childcare availability, for example, or a more robust employment insurance program — these changes are both inevitable and potentially necessary.

But can anyone maintain faith that the Liberals will stick to their knitting when we hear buzzwords like “transformative” social change? Sweeping climate-change reforms? Engineering a new green economy? They are all fine notions — let's put them to the people and vote on them. Until calling that election is feasible (mid-pandemic, it is not) this government simply does not have the mandate to undertake such far-reaching efforts.

It's easy to forget now, but only nine months ago this government was reduced to a minority of seats in parliament. The Liberals lost the popular vote, and saw one million of their own prior voters abandon them. They are only in government because the Conservatives, to the surprise of no one, found several novel and exciting new ways to fail.

Since that election, this government has frittered away its rally-around-the-plague popularity bump, lost a finance minister, and hey, maybe, now the PM’s chief of staff. As was reported in Vice on Friday, Rob Silver — the spouse of Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief of staff — lobbied unsuccessfully for legislative changes that would have allowed his company to directly benefit from COVID-19 subsidies. Silver is not a registered lobbyist, according to Vice.

(Our previous tepid support of Rob Silver was, apparently, insufficiently lukewarm.)

The government is proroguing parliament, putting an untimely pause on committee-led investigations into the increasingly damning WE controversy. Facing a talent pool so thin an electric car could hydroplane on it, the Liberals appointed Chrystia Freeland (of course) to replace Morneau.

[Related: Morneau is out — who the hell is left to rein Trudeau in?]

We at The Line live a long way from Ottawa, but the panic is sliding off the city like a shimmering heat wave. And the harder these guys flail, the wider they reach.

So, sure, let’s watch Freeland reinvent society as we know it, on top of all her other jobs, over the next three to four weeks. Let's hope they kept that deliverology guru on speed dial.

Oh, and speaking of the Conservatives. At some point in the next few days they will have a new leader. The Line makes no predictions and offers no endorsement, beyond this: it is likely to be either Peter MacKay or Erin O’Toole, and either would make a completely fine, competent prime minister. Neither man is particularly exciting, but neither is as dumb as the twists and turns of this bizarre leadership campaign has made them seem. Either would be an upgrade to Andrew Scheer, whose name we had to Wiki, so quickly has he been forgotten. Turns out he was once a well-regarded speaker of the House. Who knew?!

If we had any advice for the incoming Conservative leader, it would be to demand this minority government focus on the necessities of preparing us for a second wave. We know what the failures were. The entire country has gone through a system-wide stress test. We need not reset to Year Zero to shore up the identified weak spots. A debate about a grander vision for society can wait until we know we’re not about to lose another 10,000 citizens. Pandemic-proofing Canada may not be what either MacKay or O’Toole would wish to run the next election on, but it’s what Canadians need right now. 

We also note that the incoming Conservative leader, in order to actually be an effective check on the prime minister, needs to have a realistic plan for winning the next election. The party is currently guided by the same folks who, when faced with a lame-duck leader, a politically wounded prime minister and a massive global catastrophe during a minority parliament, could have installed an effective, moderate interim leader, a credible prime-minister-in-waiting, even if it meant sending an elite team of ninjas to kidnap Rona Ambrose and launch her into Stornoway with a catapult.

Instead, the Conservatives decided to keep what's-his-name on for an additional half a year.

We are six months into a public-health and economic emergency that could grind on for years. We are led by a prime minister incapable of learning from his mistakes, whose instinct in the midst of controversy is to purge the grown-ups from his cabinet in favour of sycophants or lightweights. These leaders have got it into their heads that the best use of their time and dollars in the midst of a global crisis is to remake the country into something that the prime minister feels is worthy of him.

It's madness.

The real bad news is, only the Conservatives can put a check on any of this. Which is why, if you'll excuse us, we must get back to work installing these windmills. We're way behind in our quota for the month.


  • Andrew Potter has a novel notion for combating the spread of COVID-19 come fall; host schools outdoors. “Since COVID-19 hit Canada in force in March, our ability to cope with the personal, professional and public disruptions it has caused has been confounded by two related problems. The first is a collective inability or unwillingness to think creatively about the appropriate policy responses,” he writes.

  • In our last Dispatch from the Front Line, we noted that the departure of finance minister Bill Morneau amid numerous leaks from the PMO likely signalled the prime minister’s desire to let the money flow freely. We’re happy to think that, even several very busy news days later, the editorial holds up.

  • Ken Boessenkool & Rob Gillezeau nix the notion that former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney should enter politics. “Past Bank of Canada governors must remain scrupulously non-partisan so as to not retroactively undermine confidence in our central bank. There are many ways former Bank of Canada governors can serve their country, but standing for elected office should not be one of them.”

  • Because we always like to keep you guessing about what we have in store for you at The Line, we spoke to a legitimate prepper about how ready he was for COVID-19. The answer: much more prepared than we were.

  • And lastly, Jen Gerson reviews sexologist Debra Soh’s new book, The End of Gender: Debunking Myths About Sex and Identity. She regrets to inform us that she has not, yet, been cancelled. (Or perhaps she’s been cancelled so many times that cancellation immunity is in effect.)

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