With the way the Liberal government keeps climbing down on key issues lately, you might think they’ve suddenly become afraid of heights. From their signature gun control legislation to proposed changes to medical assistance in dying and the purchase of F-35 jets, they’ve had to give ground on a bunch of key files and issues.

What really ought to have them scared, though, is the fall they’ve already taken in the polls, one that has them further behind the Conservatives than at any point since their 2015 election victory. If they don’t get their act together quickly, the thing that will end up breaking their fall is the political pavement — and a Pierre Poilievre majority.

This isn’t because of their policies and priorities, mind you. While they were slow off the mark in responding to inflation and the pressure it’s put on household budgets in Canada (and, it bears repeating, around the world), their focus on health care, climate change and economic growth remains broadly popular with Canadians. Instead, it’s because they seem incapable of communicating their ideas effectively, which allows their political opponents to define them first.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the climate front, where the Trudeau Liberals consistently pair ambitious policies with atrocious communications. Witness the fiasco that is the just transition legislation, a relatively benign attempt to help workers manage the inevitable decline in the oil and gas industry that has instead become a rallying cry for Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

That’s just the most recent data point here. Their inability to draw a clear, straight line between the carbon tax and the rebate it funds, for example, has allowed Conservatives to confuse Canadians about both its cost and purpose. The decision last year to switch from a tax deduction to a direct deposit helped, but even there it was executed in a way that made it hard to understand for many Canadians. As a result, there are probably millions of Canadians who either don’t know they get carbon tax rebates or refuse to believe it.

This is a weird problem for a government that’s led by a former drama teacher and has a former journalist as its finance minister.

Both Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland are gifted communicators, and the government they lead should be good at telling the story of its achievements and priorities. Instead, they create narrative gaps and informational vacuums that allow conspiracies to flourish and force them to play defence. On everything from gun control to climate policies around fertilizer use, this approach is costing them valuable time and political capital.

This wasn’t a problem early on for Trudeau’s Liberals. His “sunny ways” mentality and the suite of policies he brought forward, from electoral reform to Indigenous reconciliation, were a refreshing change from the negativity and incrementalism that had come to define the Harper government. But after a few years and a failure to deliver on those ambitious ideas, the Trudeau brand became far less potent. And while the revelation of his blackface photos didn’t cost him the 2019 election, it did knock him and his government off their axis — perhaps, permanently.

Federal governments in Canada tend to die of old age, and that’s particularly true of Liberal ones. Time will tell whether the Trudeau government’s current bout of political illness is terminal or merely seasonal. But if there is a path to recovery here, it will have to include a more deliberate effort to tell the government’s story properly.

The Trudeau Liberals are at their lowest ebb since winning the 2015 election. If they want to win the next one, they'll have to stop making mistakes — and start telling their own story better. Columnist @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver

As Evan Scrimshaw wrote recently, “The Liberals have a good record in government — the Child Benefit, the child-care deals, COVID, and now the likely dental and pharma deals in this Parliament. The problems are real — the ethics record and housing, namely — but there’s a good record to sell. The problem is, they defend the record in pieces, not in the whole.”

They also need to stop playing defence so often. Trudeau may be a counter-puncher by nature, something to which Sen. Patrick Brazeau can attest, but that strategy doesn’t work as well outside the boxing ring. That’s doubly true in our current social media environment, where Conservatives are able to create and sustain their own narratives — and, at times, their own realities.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Trudeau here, despite the Liberal Party’s recent poll numbers. He continues to be blessed with opponents who appear determined to keep him in office, whether it’s Jagmeet Singh’s ongoing attempt to mimic Poilievre’s populism or Poilievre’s own gift for losing friends and alienating people. But while that formula has yielded two consecutive minority governments, not losing isn’t the same as winning.

If Trudeau wants the time he needs to pour concrete on his government’s legislative achievements, he’ll have to do a much better job of telling Canadians about them.

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The Conservatives promise to ‘exploit resources’, be corporate shills and cut environmental laws. And even if they are incompetent at building their promised pipeline they generally do what they promise.

The Liberals promise to be socially progressive Climate Warriors then implement Coservative policies as Corporate Shills.

So we might as well vote Conservative since that’s what you’re going to get anyway; and there is less cognitive dissonance.

Fawcett: "'This wasn’t a problem early on for Trudeau’s Liberals. His 'sunny ways' mentality and the suite of policies he brought forward, from electoral reform to Indigenous reconciliation, were a refreshing change from the negativity and incrementalism that had come to define the Harper government.'"

You mean the promise on electoral reform that Trudeau reneged on after the 2015 election?
"Canada abandons electoral reform in reversal of Trudeau pledge" (Reuters, Feb 1, 2017)

"Indigenous reconciliation" has not got in the way of buying and building the Trans Mountain expansion, or trampling the rights of Wet’suwet’en opponents of Coastal Gaslink.

Or being rude and dismissive of First Nations's health concerns:
"Trudeau apologizes after telling First Nations mercury poisoning protester, 'Thank you for your donation'" (Global News, March 27, 2019)
"'Unacceptable and offensive': Trudeau gets called out over sarcastic response to Grassy Narrows advocate" (APTN News)

The Trudeau’s Liberals have always been incoherent on climate. Implicit climate change denial with a smile.
Trudeau (2016): "There is growth to be had in the oilsands. They will be developing more fossil fuels while there's a market for it, while we transition off fossil fuels."
Trudeau (2017): "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there."
When the IPCC issued its latest report, then-Environment Minister "Wilkinson reaffirmed Canada's commitment to phasing out fossil fuels and achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but said achieving that target will require money generated by fossil fuels."
"Ottawa says it must maximize revenue from the Trans Mountain pipeline to fight climate change" (CBC, 9-Aug-21)

Maybe the problem is that politicians live in a bubble. Rich political elites are disconnected from reality and ordinary Canadians.
"Freeland acknowledges Disney+ cancellation comment ‘privileged’" (Global News, Nov 7, 2022)
"Freeland faced criticism for being 'out of touch' after telling Global News’ The West Block on Sunday that her family cut their Disney+ subscription to save money."

Clearly, the Trudeau Liberals need a skilled communicator on their team. So happens I know just the guy for the job. He never lets the facts get in the way of a solid pitch for the Liberals.
Fawcett: "If Trudeau wants the time he needs to pour concrete on his government’s legislative achievements…"
Perhaps not the best metaphor. Giving someone cement shoes is a method of body disposal.

"whether it’s Jagmeet Singh’s ongoing attempt to mimic Poilievre’s populism"

Say what?! No, look. Conservatives are populist these days in the sense that they invent bullshit that appeals to low-information voters because how else are they going to get votes? What they actually want to do is always going to be bad for everyone except the ultra-rich and a few people in Fort MacMurray. And the respectable economic theories they used to peddle to give the impression that wasn't so, have become threadbare; you can't win elections on arid free-marketism any more, it's too obviously nonsense.

But the NDP have ALWAYS been populist, in a much more real sense. That is, they want policies that will help the populace. Often the NDP gets watered down in a Blairist direction, but so far never completely. If anything, the Conservatives mimic NDP populism--they often call out some of the same problems the NDP does. The difference is that the Conservatives only complain about the problems, they propose no action that would be useful in solving them and have no intention of doing so--they just try to hijack the issues because that's where the dissatisfaction they feed on is.

So if Jagmeet Singh is actually being populist (I dunno, is he? Still kind of timid in my books), it just means he's turning to the best traditions of the NDP and the left generally: Finding ordinary people's real problems and proposing solutions that would actually help. And pointing out who is on the other side CAUSING those problems.

Incidentally, this kind of line is the reason I don't just tend to disagree with Mr. Fawcett, but actively distrust him. I'm almost certain he actually knows better than this, knows his line isn't true. It's a classic "talking point". Which is to say, he's not entirely saying what he believes, he's spinning. For the greater good, no doubt, but you have to watch Mr. Fawcett's columns for lines intended to persuade people to do what he considers the right thing (voting Liberal, basically, and in general trying to reconcile our impulses to do good or stop climate change with the corporate status quo) even if he has to make people believe things that are false to do it.

Amusingly, there is one line here that undermines the article's entire thesis.

"But after a few years and a failure to deliver on those ambitious ideas, the Trudeau brand became far less potent."

Well, yeah. But that's it: When you make ambitious promises and then FAIL TO DELIVER, you don't have a communications problem. You have a substance problem.

That said, I do think the Liberals have been bad at communicating some of the good things they did. I think that's often because most of the best things the Liberals have done, they did because the NDP pushed them into it. It's harder to communicate effectively a policy you don't really believe in and were reluctant to implement. Especially when you have that uneasy realization that your corporate masters, who were not happy that you let yourself get roped into them, are watching, and if they start to believe you were actually into that stuff you might be out a lot of bribe--ah, campaign contribution money.

The Liberals are objectively better than the Conservatives. The Conservatives want to take everyone's money, homes, and the whole natural environment, and give it all to the rich. They see it as a battle, and their top honchos know which side they're on; when the last mere billionaire is a trillionaire and the last of the rest of us have signed ourselves into slavery to pay our debts, they'll be happy. And if we all have to attend compulsory evangelical Christian church while gays and so on and so forth are put in prison camps, that would just be icing on the cake.

The Liberals are much nicer. They don't see anything as a battle. They like everybody. They wish the poor could be better off, and the billionaires could get richer, and the middle class could prosper, all at once. They wish there could be ample social programs, without taxing anyone to get them. They wish the environment could be pristine, and the oil and mining companies could have fun pulling stuff out if it wherever they wanted. Unfortunately that can't happen. In government, they deal with that problem in two ways: By denying reality and kicking the can down the road (as with Mr. Fawcett talking as if carbon capture was a viable way to stop climate change). And by compromising, kind of. But when push comes to shove and they're forced to decide, well, the people they have lunch with every day is wealthy lobbyists, so they tend to compromise in the wealthy lobbyists' favour. Some of these "compromises" come after they've already started a theoretically good policy--you check a couple years later and most of the money didn't get spent, because they were dissuaded from really doing it.

All this leads to their communication and substance problems: They talk about the things they'd love to do in a perfect world, but they actually do mainly the things their wealthy donors want, and after a while people notice that there's a difference.

The "communication problem" is endemic to those who consider themselves the political elite; the only people with the ideas or the skills to implement "reform" or the "status quo" or restore "old fashioned integrity and probity" - depending on your ideology. The communications problem is rooted in the purblind lack of imagination elites generally exhibit, having no experience of a non-elite existence. These elites accumulate like barnacles on the ships of state in nations that abandon, or never had, notions of democracy, equity or integrity. Their only metrics revolve around money and power and polling numbers. Never mind the foundering of the barnacled hulls.

Why on earth is the ability to change your mind on policies automatically relegated to a "humiliating climb down?!" That's how Poilievre put it!
When it comes to government, why is the default always to classic conservative nastiness and paranoia (i.e. they're liars, they're out to get us, they're only thinking about themselves) and/or childish oversimplification like "You promised!" How old are we all? Why doesn't anyone recall that governing is like any other job in that once you're responsible and have to actually DO it, it's far more complicated than you thought?
Witness the recent meeting in Ottawa between the provinces and the federal government which simmered with hostility because Trudeau had refused to meet with them when they wanted, similar to what happened with the convoy. That disrespect is new, was started by conservatives and is being perpetuated primarily by them, but its inherent drama seems to dominate everything now. Consistent, intractable belligerence IS also a trait of toddlers.
And the majority of premiers are conservative at the moment which philosophically suggests a preference for more privatization of health care, but the prairie provinces are always the most crass of course, wanting whatever amount they want and NOW without conditions despite their own overt failures with covid AND budgetary surpluses. Did you see the photo of Danielle Smith refusing to simply shake hands like any reasonable person?
But somehow, the Liberals came up with a plan where even the most fractious, petulant premiers who want to hive off into their special council to gang up on the big, bad federal government (despite it getting all of them and their constituents through the pandemic) will have to collaborate with them to actually address the particular problems in their provinces with the generous (i.e. liberal) assumption that everyone just wants better "outcomes." Right?
Quite the skillset I'd say.

Current right wing politics is a nasty mess of proto-fascism, yes. And its sponsors seem to like it that way--they sense a breakdown in the status quo, and they want to make sure their side is the one riding the crest of the destruction tsunami.

But as to the Liberals . . . the day I see articles about how the Liberals are ignoring the needs and perspectives of oil companies because they spend three times as much time meeting with environmental groups and unions, I will take your objection, about how it's complicated so we shouldn't judge failure to deliver on promises, seriously.