Canada’s housing crisis is off the charts, and half the country lives paycheck to paycheck. In a classic show of disconnect, some Trudeau Liberals think the party’s greatest problem is that people don’t understand how fabulous a job they’re actually doing.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau addresses local Liberal Party supporters on August 26, 2023, in Edmonton, Canada.
(Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Hey, people of Canada — if you’re struggling to get through the day, the Trudeau government wants you to know . . . it’s done great things. At least that seems to be the approach the governing Liberals are taking at a moment when half the country is living paycheck to paycheck, enduring punishing debt, and weathering a housing and homelessness crisis, while working families increasingly rely on food banks to get by.

In response to all this, the Liberals are resting on their laurels and promising solutions to come. In fairness to them, they are almost certainly working on something, but that’s cold comfort to those who are struggling to pay their rent and stock their kitchen cupboards right now. After eight years of the Liberal Party in power, Canadians are, more than reasonably, asking whether they’re getting a fair shake.

“But Don’t You See How Great We Are?”

Early September brought welcome news that the Bank of Canada was, for now, holding interest rates steady. Governor Tiff Macklem indicated the bank could raise rates again down the road if inflationary pressures persist, however. Days later, the monthly jobs report from Statistics Canada found that after three months of rising unemployment, the rate held at 5.5 percent as the country added 40,000 jobs.

At the same time as the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) met in Quebec with its fortunes and polling numbers on the rise, Liberal backbench members of Parliament vented to the media about how frustrated they are with their government and Trudeau. In a recent column in the Toronto Star, Althia Raj runs down a list of MP grievances that include being ignored, the party being too “woke,” going too soft on CPC leader Pierre Poilievre, and a few claims that the government has simply failed to communicate just how great it is!

Raj quotes Surrey Center MP Randeep Sarai, who told her “Communication is a big challenge,” adding that “we’ve reduced millions of tonnes of carbon but we haven’t been able to communicate that.” That must be the problem: not enough communication about carbon reduction.

For years, critics have argued that the Liberal government is all communications. It doesn’t suffer from a lack of comms, but a surfeit — as if the end goal wasn’t accomplishing things, but convincing people you’ve accomplished things. The truth is somewhat adjacent to that claim. The Liberals have come up short in policy areas, especially housing, but they’ve had some successes that range from minor to significant. The Canada Child Benefit helped boost families out of poverty. The nascent childcare, pharmacare, and dental care plans, which we can partially credit to the New Democratic Party, will help some people too, though none of these plans is sufficient and who knows when they’ll be fully up and running. The Liberals also did a world-class job at procuring COVID-19 vaccines. That success saved lives. It’s no small matter.

Let Them Eat Rankings

The government rightly recognizes that effective communication about accomplishments is a part of sustaining public support. But that’s secondary to actually accomplishing things — to delivering real, material results for people. Today, millions of Canadians face several crises, which Liberal government shortcomings have contributed to, and no amount of communications work is going to change that. The housing crisis, climate crisis, health care crisis, and affordability crisis aren’t communications failures. They’re policy failures. They’re material challenges stemming from the way government policies — at home and abroad, local, provincial, and federal — shape Canadians’ lives. What we have here is not a failure to communicate.

The housing crisis, climate crisis, health care crisis, and affordability crisis aren’t communications failures. They’re policy failures.

There’s some truth to the contention that many of these failures fall within provincial jurisdiction. But the federal government has a long history of intervening in and shaping policies at the provincial level, so that’s hardly an excuse. Indeed, federal leadership is often essential in delivering the goods, especially if intransigent premiers refuse to help. Moreover, people have a funny way of deciding for themselves who is to blame when they’re suffering. They don’t care about jurisdiction. They care about results.

People who can’t afford groceries or who face eviction or who are underpaid for their labor want to hear what is being done for them. They don’t want to hear that Canada ranks first or second or third on some global index of liveable countries. You can’t eat rankings. These people don’t want to watch the government take a victory lap, or to be lectured on how others, elsewhere, have it worse. They don’t live elsewhere. They live here. They struggle here.

Wise politicians, and presumably some Liberals among them, know that governments stay in power because people feel that they’re getting a fair deal and that their lives are improving. The Liberals, circa 2015, understood this. They came to power arguing that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper had failed Canadians. That deficit spending was sometimes necessary to boost the economy. That increasing taxes on the 1 percent was warranted. That restrictive drug laws on cannabis had failed Canadians. That the electoral system had failed Canadians. That even globalization had, in some ways, failed Canadians. They were laser focused on the middle class — and those working hard to join it. Now, eight years later, they’ve lost even that focus and they look more like the Harper government of 2014 than the Liberal government of 2015.

The Right Swoops In

One of the saddest things about this moment is that if the Liberals can’t or won’t deliver on key files, like housing or consumer affordability, desperate, angry people will turn to Pierre Poilievre and the Conservative Party for answers. A recent poll has the Tories up fourteen points on the Liberals. And while we should never take a single poll on its own as indicative of the absolute and immutable truth, and while there’s plenty of time between now and the next federal election, the trend is clear: the blue side is up, and the red side is down. If you’re betting today on a winner, the smart money is on blue.

But what will that get people in the end? The Conservatives and Poilievre’s anti-woke libertarian crusade risks retrenchment and state abandonment of the people at the worst possible time. We know from history that voters will cut their nose to spite their face. And it’s hard to blame them when, desperate, they see no alternative — and when the Left seems to be missing in action. But none of that leaves us better off.

Herein lies an opportunity for the Left. This moment offers a chance to go all-in on class politics, to speak to deep, material grievances across the country, and to offer structural solutions that will shift the balance of economic power, shifting resources along with it. But that program must be clear and plain, speaking directly to the pain and suffering people feel day to day, backed by credible ideas to remake the country. Funny enough, that’s the equivalent of saying that the ideas must be communicated well. They must be. But the ideas themselves matter, too. Without them, the Left will never have a chance to communicate its accomplishments, because it won’t have a chance to accomplish them in the first place.

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