The next election will be a battle of the sexes
If you want to know why Pierre Poilievre ditched his trademark suit and glasses for a more Miami Vice-inspired vibe, look no further than his dismal polling numbers with Canadian women. Yes, he enjoys a commanding lead over Justin Trudeau’s Liberals among young men, Albertans and those without a post-secondary education. But when it comes to women, polls consistently put him well behind both the Liberals and Jagmeet Singh’s NDP. If he can’t lose that gap, it’s going to cost him an election the Conservatives should probably win.
As the Globe and Mail reported, pollster Quito Maggi’s December 2022 data showed the Liberals with a 12-point lead among women over Poilievre’s Conservatives, a gap that widened to 40 points among 18- to 34-year-olds. A few months later, the Angus Reid Institute came out with its own polling showing that women preferred Trudeau to Poilievre by nearly 20 points. As Angus Reid Institute CEO Shachi Kurl said in an op-ed, “that’s half the electorate, folks.” Or, as NDP strategist Karl Bélanger told the Globe and Mail, “In 20 years in politics I have never seen a gender gap like the one we have now.”
And while there’s a clear temptation among some Conservatives to ascribe this gap entirely to Trudeau’s good looks — the sexism and irony here should both be obvious — there’s obviously much more at play. First and foremost, there’s the fact that one of Trudeau’s signature moments as prime minister came when he announced a gender-balanced cabinet. It’s not quite on the level of his dad’s “just watch me” line, but his now-famous quip that he did it “because it’s 2015” helped cement his reputation as a self-described feminist.
That wasn’t just virtue signalling, either, much as conservative politicians and pundits at the time tried to pretend otherwise. The critiques that Trudeau had abandoned merit for representation were really just confessions by said critics that they didn’t believe women could be as qualified as men. It’s also worth noting only 12 of the 39 ministers in Stephen Harper’s cabinet after the 2011 election were women, with none of them occupying senior roles like finance, defence or foreign affairs. Those posts are all occupied by women in the Trudeau government today.
And yet, those criticisms (and confessions) haven’t gone away. After Joe Biden congratulated Trudeau for his gender-balanced cabinet, and Conservative MPs in the House of Commons very conspicuously refused to clap, Poilievre’s director of communications Sarah Fischer fell on the grenade. “Imagine being a woman in Trudeau’s cabinet,” she tweeted, “and not knowing if it was merit or gender that got you there.”
Fischer wasn’t done. In an attempt to clarify her initial statement, she tweeted: “I find it patronizing, insulting and demeaning when Trudeau expects a pat on the back or a standing ovation for placing women in his cabinet to fill a quota. Women can compete on merit.” That they already do, and already had in his cabinet, didn’t seem to occur to her. Neither did the fact that her statement essentially implies former prime minister Harper only thought 12 women in his caucus were able to compete on merit with the likes of Jason Kenney, Tony Clement and Joe Oliver.
Trudeau’s enduring popularity among women isn’t just a function of his cabinet, though. It’s also about the approach to issues his government chooses to prioritize, from climate change (which has traditionally shown a huge gender split) and gun control. Even on COVID-19, there’s an obvious gender divide between his pro-social attitude towards vaccines and safety and conspicuous attention to the “she-cession” and Poilievre’s freedom-oriented, small-government message.
If Poilievre wants to do something to blunt Trudeau’s advantage here, he should start by listening to people like Marjory LeBreton. As the consummate Conservative insider and former senator told the Globe and Mail, “I think people generally, but women in particular, are so tired of the vitriol and the anger. They are not looking for someone to hype up the rhetoric and point out all that is wrong. They want solutions.”
So far, at least, he doesn’t seem to be taking that advice. His solutions, such as they are, tend to revolve around blaming the prime minister for all of this country’s ails and ills and promising that everything will improve when he’s replaced. That’s why the style makeover (one that includes the sudden presence of his wife at press events) was the only move his team could make to improve his favourability among women. It might impress his more ardent (some might say obsessive) online fans, but it’s not going to do much to move the needle among those who aren’t already convinced.
Instead, he’ll almost certainly double down on his existing advantage among men. Witness his willingness to pose with someone wearing a “straight pride” shirt at the Calgary Stampede, a decision that plays far better among men than women. Or listen to his speeches about housing, ones that talk about the plight of 35-year-olds who have to take their dates home to their mom’s basement — and clearly wink at the incel community in the process. That’s a community, by the way, that he seemed to quietly court in the past by using controversial tags buried in his YouTube videos.
So rest assured, as divided as the electorate is now, it could easily get worse by the time the next election arrives. What we need are political leaders who try to bridge divides and close rifts. What we seem to have, unfortunately, are ones on both side who’d rather double down on them instead.
Oil prices are soaring — but not those ones
Another day, another alarming chart documenting the impacts of climate change. This time, it’s one about surface temperature anomalies in the North Atlantic, which are breaking new (and bad) records. And I would bet heavily that it will change almost nobody’s mind.
After all, if you haven’t been convinced about the dangers posed by climate change by now, it’s hard to imagine a new set of data would suddenly shift your perspective. That’s especially true given the considerable overlap on the Venn diagram of “people who are skeptical of climate change” and “people who can’t understand basic scientific data.”
But if there’s one chart that might just hit closer to home for them, it’s the one about olive oil prices. They’re at a 26-year high right now, thanks to — yes, you guessed it — heat and drought in the Mediterranean (what, did you think I was going to say “Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax”?) “The entire western Mediterranean is feeling the strain of climate change on olive oil production,” Quartz’s Clarisa Diaz wrote. “Italy suffered its worst drought in 70 years in 2022, impacting olives in its northern region, arborio rice used to make risotto, and tomatoes. Italian production of olive oil has fallen an estimated 37% this year, to 208,000 tons.”
Other countries in the region like Greece and Turkey are trying to pick up the slack, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to deliver the yields that traditionally come from Spain and Italy — or the quality. Either way, one thing is for certain: this won’t be the last time climate change makes its presence felt in a kitchen near you.
Good News of the Week
My position on the energy transition in the electricity sector is clear: we need all the wind, solar and other renewable electrons we can possibly generate. But as I’ve said more recently, my position on nuclear energy has evolved a bit. I still think new nuclear facilities are far too expensive for most jurisdictions to even bother contemplating. The refurbishment of existing ones, on the other hand, makes all the sense in the world.
In Ontario, we’re seeing some important progress there. The Darlington facility is undergoing a major refurbishment process, and it’s actually going… well. “Milestones have been knocked off one by one,” Matthew McClearn wrote in the Globe and Mail. “The first refurbished reactor (Unit 2) was restarted in 2020, four years after the project’s official commencement. On Friday, OPG received regulatory approval to resume normal operations of Unit 3, poising the utility to restart it months ahead of schedule. Disassembly of Unit 1 is complete and rebuilding recently commenced. Work on the final unit is expected to begin soon.”
This is a stark contrast to the Darlington’s own history, which is filled with over-budget outcomes, and nuclear energy in Ontario as a whole over the last two decades. But if Ontario Power Generation has learned from those mistakes, and it seems like it has, then that bodes well for further decarbonization efforts.
Nuclear isn’t the magic bullet that some of its advocates would like to pretend. But as Ontario’s showing, it’s definitely part of the solution.
There’s been all sorts of talk about what could happen after the next election, when it’s unlikely either the Trudeau Liberals or the Poilievre Conservatives will have a majority. As I wrote last week, Conservative thought leaders seem intent on poisoning the water when it comes to a potential Liberal-NDP coalition amid a CPC plurality of seats. And while this might be every political science nerd’s dream come true, it could end up being a nightmare for the legitimacy of our democratic institutions.
If Poilievre does end up winning a majority, though, it will have something to do with the Trudeau Liberals’ inability to wrap their heads around the housing crisis. As I wrote this week, their housing minister’s op-ed was a telling indication of how seriously they’re taking the problem — and how far off the mark their proposed solutions are.
I also encouraged Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault to call the oil and gas industry’s bluff when it comes to carbon capture and storage. No, that doesn’t mean “phasing out” the industry, as the premiers in Alberta and Saskatchewan keep trying to pretend. But if the industry won’t invest in the carbon capture projects it claims are so essential to its decarbonization efforts — and ultimately, its survival — then it’s high time we all found out why.
Finally, in a “pox on all their houses” item, we have the CBC and former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and a truly ludicrous story about a speech he gave in Australia. Baird was tasked with introducing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and he began with a perfectly defensible description of him as one of the most successful politicians of his generation — something that’s a fact, whether you like it (and him) or not.
But the CBC presented it as some sort of “gotcha” moment, as though Baird had unwittingly admitted he was a lifelong Liberal supporter. Not surprisingly, Baird reacted — overreacted, really — to that framing with a public admonition of the coverage and a declaration of fealty to the Conservatives and Pierre Poilievre.
Everyone came out of it looking bad, and everyone involved ought to know (and do) better. If members of one party can’t say something nice about members of another without fear of recrimination or accusations of disloyalty, then we’re well and truly on the way to an American-style political culture. In other words, hell.