Rivers: An Unnecessary Election?


By Ray Rivers

September 21st, 2021



By law there has to be an election four years following the last one, except when there is a minority government. Mr. Trudeau had a choice. He could call an election when the polls favoured him, as Jean Chretien once did. Or he could wait until the opposition ganged up and forced an election, as happened when Jack Layton pulled the rug out from under Paul Martin.

That is what politics is all about – trying to get and keep the most seats in Parliament. Indeed Mr. Harper did exactly that in 2008, even after introducing Canada’s fixed election law. Does anyone remember the media calling that an unnecessary election?

The lineups were long – in Toronto Fort York people waited for an hour and a half. Fewer polling stations and an upset public wanting to express their dissent.

That we are in the midst of a pandemic can be a problem. Longer lines and fewer polling places can be frustrating for the voter. But mail-in ballots and advance voting had been available. And the good news is that there have been no reports of transmission or COVID outbreaks during the campaign. Indeed being in a polling station is likely as safe as a vaccination clinic, except for the long lines in some locations.

Elections cost money, this one came in at about $600 million. All that cash goes to pay for poll clerks, polling supplies, room rentals, travel by electoral officials, and communications services. Some of it will be returned to the treasury in the taxes collected from these activities.

Like CERB and the wage subsidy this is an infusion of money into the community. But unlike the wage subsidy the money flows into the community and not into the corporate director’s pockets. Of course there is always a better use for $600 million, including paying down debt.

At this point in the election Justin Trudeau realized he was in the fight of his political life. It came very very close – even thought the Liberals are now saying it was a win.

Holding an election at this time wasn’t in the Liberal’s election platform but from all the noise one would think that was all the Liberals stood for. The real issues, like climate change, mandating vaccines and passports and national child care somehow got lost in the noise.

This was a nasty campaign by comparison to all others, including violent protesters throwing stones at a sitting PM. And it was cursed with a dysfunctional English language debate. Almost from the start Mr.Trudeau became the target of just about everyone.

Despite propping up Mr. Trudeau since the last election, Mr. Singh complained that the Liberals did nothing over all that time. Ms. Paul claimed Trudeau couldn’t possibly be a feminist or respect indigenous rights since he removed his former justice minister from the Liberal caucus. And Mr. O’Toole appeared to blame Trudeau for the COVID crisis in Alberta.

The election bill came in at $600 million – was there a value proposition in there somewhere.

But the voters weren’t convinced. And election night they have returned the PM and his party pretty much where they had started out – back into a minority situation. Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party is still seatless, though he surpassed the Green Party in popular support. The Greens have actually gained a new seat and lost an old one, but are still without a leader to represent them in Parliament.

Either the Bloc or NDP will be needed to prop up the new minority government once again. But barring a successful non-confidence vote Mr. Trudeau will have another four years of government before him. And nobody should think the Liberals will go back to the people again before those four years are up – unless they can show Canadians that it is really necessary.



Ray Rivers, a Gazette Contributing Editor,  writes regularly applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Harper’s Unnecessary Election – https://toronto.citynews.ca/2008/09/07/why-did-harper-force-an-election

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13 comments to Rivers: An Unnecessary Election?

  • Alfred

    Hi David.

    Let me be crystal clear. Justin Trudeau is the elected Prime Minister of Canada. No question. fair and square, unless vote was rigged.( We won’t go there.) This is according to the election rules of Canada.

    This and your explanation does not negate the fact that he received 320,000 less votes than O’Toole. Or that the minority rules the majority. No whining on my end just the facts.

    So now let’s do the math. It is my respectful opinion that if the PPC Berniers party evaporated as it has no purpose and clearly split the vote to the detriment of the PC’s. taking approx; 820,000 protest votes away. The PC’s would be wise to shift their policies somewhat to the left. I feel they could easily pick up another 1,000,000 Liberal votes and more, if the Liberals try to go into the NDP territory. Time will tell my friend. Good night.

  • Alfred

    Tom and David.

    While I understand the rules of the game.

    The Liberals received 2% less of the popular vote than did the Conservatives. For those that don’t know what a popular vote is. O’Toole got 320,000 2% more votes from Canadians than your boy Trudeau. The minority rules the majority. These are facts you can’t talk around or spin.

    Tom just curious who are you refering to when you use the words. Losers go lick your wounds. The ones that lost didn’t get elected.

    • David Barker

      Alfred LOL

      The system in place, which is first past the post does not always reflect in seats how the popular vote was cast. The Libs win seats in many constituencies with quite narrow majorities. Whereas the Cons win fewer seats but where they do the majorities are large. The Liberal vote is way more efficient.

      Remember Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. Same effect – voter efficiency.

      Keep on whining and you’ll end up with the alternative. That is proportional representation. With a PR system in place the Cons likely would never hold power again. Why is that? Because PR allows the voter to vote on a preference basis. There being way more left of centre voters in Canada than right of centre the left via coalitions would monopolize power.

      The Cons were the only real losers on Monday (the Greens don’t count). So they should be licking their wounds.

  • Tom Muir

    Ray describes the politics of the election call well – that’s what it is.

    What I don’t get is the opposition politicians calling the Trudeau Liberals win an actual loss. How can this be? Trudeau is still PM, his Party is still in power, he has a cabinet to govern, etc etc, and as Ray says he likely has this power for 4 more years.

    After all the racket made about the election being unnecessary how dare anyone call a vote of confidence or another election before that.

    What I also saw was a lot of gaslighting during the campaign – lying and exaggeration are the building blocks, and denial of the real reality with a make-up to contain the lies etc.

    Trudeau did not promise no election during the pandemic – he said no one really wants one, which is a statement not a promise. Politics decided.

    The Liberal finances and budget deficits were pretty much all caused by Covid – decreased economic activity and tax and other revenues along with very high expenditures to support business and workers. These together added up to a huge deficit which continues to build with the 4th Wave. This of course is all standard Keynesian economic budget policy in the situation.

    It is a deep hole for sure, but it is another lie that any of the other parties and leaders could have done any better, and would have been just as stunned.

    Other lies included him doing nothing – how did the pandemic policies and huge costs now amount to “nothing”; and what about the climate policy movement to try and get a sense of public sense, and to try to get some some momentum?

    I also read that Erin O’Toole said that Trudeau was to blame for Alberta’s self-inflicted loss of pandemic control and health system collapse. I will allow this to be mere political exaggeration and not lies.

    Finally, regarding the pandemic, Trudeau managed well the fact that Canada buys and does not make vaccines, and his policies resulted in Canada being one of the highest, if not the highest, vaccinated nations in the world. His government arranged in advance to buy a great many vaccines during the delays in approval and supply chains. These are among the best and most effective in the world.

    So losers lick your wounds and cut the gaslighting crap and get back to the job all of you were elected to do.

    • David Barker

      Tom, your points are all bang on the mark.

      I must say it annoyed me every time I heard that PC commercial. The one that claimed Trudeau promised no election during the pandemic when in fact he said no one wanted one. I thought some “standards body” would have required that ad be changed.

      Thank you for touching on the vaccine supply. One will recall PC attack dogs like Remple and Poilievre chastising the Liberal government daily for mismanagement of the vaccine acquisition. They are now very silent on that subject. I was going to say, rightly so. But they should actually now say they were wrong and in fact the government has done a great job.

      A sad state of affairs is that all major parties mounted negative ad campaigns that took aim at their opponents. None asserted why one should vote for them.

      I’m interested to hear Mr. Wooster’s PC tinted spin on the election results. Hopefully the PCs will change strategy and make their candidates more accessible to constituents and their questions.

      • Phillip Wooster

        Barker, I just called Ripley’s. You just wrote something that stands the test of factual analysis: “A sad state of affairs is that all major parties mounted negative ad campaigns that took aim at their opponents.” But I believe that O’Toole and Emily Brown put forth a very realistic and positive vision to get Canada back on track. Sadly, it was drowned out by all the negativity from the Liberal side.

        However, here is my analysis of what went wrong with the Conservative campaign–no spin, spin doesn’t solve problems. This election was an instant replay of 2019; in both elections, the Liberal War Room stopped Trudeau’s downward slide by refocusing the narrative on wedge issues to take the focus off Justin Trudeau and put it on the Conservative leader. And the Conservative War Room was inept in failing to anticipate the wedge issues and deal effectively with them. At the end of May 2020, I had written a rather long letter to the Conservative Party warning them that the Liberal gun ban was not about public safety (the Liberals tied it to the tragic mass shooting in NS but deceptively failed to mention that the guns used in that tragedy were illegally imported); the gun ban was the creation of a wedge issue to be used by the Liberals against the Conservatives in the next election. I had urged them to strongly shift the focus one year ago to the Liberals “soft-on-crime” agenda and to keep hammering it home. The Conservatives didn’t listen and they paid the price big time.

        Similarly, the Conservatives handling of the vaccination debate was articulate and realistic; in fact, it was little different than the Liberals’ original idea in their famous “disappearing memo”. But the Conservative argument withered in the face of the Liberals’ misleading simplicity. The Liberals got lucky–the divisiveness of Trudeau’s attacks on so-called anti-vaxxers created a surge for the PPC and sapped Conservative support. At last viewing, I counted 14 seats where the combined Conservative–PPC vote was higher than the leading Liberal. Again the Conservative War Room had no effective strategy to counter this; while they were undoubtedly afraid of losing some right-wing votes, they lost the centrists/blue Liberals in the 905. Not a good trade-off. (While I don’t like to go off topic, I must add that despite being double-vaccinated myself and contemplating a booster shot, I am reading some very disturbing medical research from legitimate sources about the negative effects of these “safe” vaccines. I wonder how history will view the anti-vaxxers?)

        And here in Burlington, at the local level, the Conservative Party needs to rethink its strategy. I don’t like Karina Gould–she plays the “cute mommy” image extremely well and is superficially very likeable. The local press certainly falls for it as do many voters. But underneath that smiling exterior is a cunning, win-at-all-costs, expedient politician. Her campaign certainly wasn’t above attacking Emily Brown on a personal level and continuing to misrepresent the Liberal record. Gould is vulnerable–she wears the Liberal record of broken promises, corruption, and economic/fiscal incompetence. But she is one smooth and effective retail politician–she is a shameless self-promoter and I have to grudgingly admit quite good at it. But knowing these things, the local Conservatives are smugly complacent about giving Karina a three month head start on an election campaign–both in 2019 and 2021, they pick a candidate at the last minute and hope she can win. Bad news riding association–it isn’t happening! Winning is hard work and it starts by having a candidate lined up six months in advance of the election who is working the riding–talking to voters, holding press conferences, getting his/her picture in the press.

        Anyway, Barker, that’s the short-analysis for now. Policy wasn’t what determined the outcome of this election, rather it was strategic thinking and execution that doomed the Conservative campaign.

        • David Barker


          What a load of old codswollop !

          Cons did not run negative ads? Oh come on, Wooster. Get real.

          Your description of Karina Gould is likely very accurate. Which means she has all the qualities to be an effective politician. For the Cons to be successful they must get away from hiding their candidates away from press and constituents.

          O’Toole in the last days of the campaign was asked, and asked and asked and asked whether he still thought Kenny had done a good job in managing Alberta’s response to the pandemic. He ignored the question time, and time again, which only had the result of ensuring the question to be asked again and again. If he had only responded and said it would now seem Alberta made an error in opening up too soon, the question would have gone away and he would have been seen as a realist.

      • Bob

        Trudeau ran his campaign saying he needed a mandate for change.
        He had one already. He was in a functioning parliament and managed to do all the wonderful and glorious things you claim he did whilst functioning as a minority parliament. The only thing he was unsuccessful at was avoiding Conflicts of Interest….3 times and counting. Shutting down investigations into his governments handling of conflicts etc.

        You say, “The Liberal finances and budget deficits were pretty much all caused by Covid”
        If we want to call a BS on anything, that would rank right up there as your messiah has ran a deficit since he was elected, and planned on running higher deficits for years to come, so that is a complete and utter mistruth.

        David Barker
        The Conservative government had the backbone to show the actual quote from Mr Trudeau on the commercial. The educated public could take that how they choose. It wasn’t just the PCs calling it an unwanted election though, both the NDP and Greens agreed and were quoted often saying it was an unwanted election. When Remple and Poilievre were chastising the government for the mismanagement of the vaccine acquisition (rightfully so and you can ask the thousands of dead seniors in the LTC homes how the feel about it) they were correct. As our supply increased after panic buying by the governing party, where they bought what was it? 8 x’s our needed supply? Then the provinces could get the jabs into the arms.

        It would have been hard for Trudeau to campaign on why we should vote for him. Everything he was saying he would do if re-elected he already had the mandate to do. He had 7 years to lower cell phone rates, tax the rich, election reform, support women in the military from sexual assault.

        • David Barker

          Bob. You are living in xxxxxxxx Edited – gratuitous language

          Please check out the deficit numbers at any one of The Fraser Institute, StatsCan, or RBC websites. Each will show you relatively small deficits until 2020 when it skyrocketed to about 10 times the preceding year. 2020 was of course when the pandemic set in. Canada like pretty much every first world country boosted their spending and thus their deficit so as to support the economy and its citizens. No matter the political stripe of the government each incurred a huge deficit in 2020 and continues to do so in 2021. Here in Canada every Provincial government followed the same game plan.

          Yes, Bob, the PCs used Trudeau’s actual quote. But in that quite he did not promise not to hold an election. He just said no one wanted one, which is correct. Saying no one wants one is not the same as saying I promise not to do it.

          You memory of what happened with the vaccine acquisition is a bit off. Remple and Poilivier criticized Trudeau for the disruption in the vaccine supply chain caused by the vaccine manufacturers. Of course neither ever suggesting what alternative course of action might be available. Why? Because none existed.

          Canada is a non-manufacture of vaccines and yet we have 80% of the population fully immunized. The Netherlands which has manufacturing facilities only has about 64% fully immunized!

  • Ted Gamble

    Depressing that Canadian taxpayers will incur $600 million in additional debt to maintain the status quo for a non discussion of the “real” issues. ( of which “mandatory vaccines” is not one of them)

    The only tangible outcome of this election achieved by Trudeau became his need to further divide Canadians to salvage a minority government by further polarizing the country. He is incapable of leadership.

  • Carol Victor

    Great to have an outstanding MP. Karina really cares about Burlington, supports climate change initiatives, reducing poverty, helping seniors, creating jobs, funding child care etc. We are lucky to have a person of real integrity in our community.