As the end of July gets closer, it can be said by any objective measure that this has been a relatively good month for the government Liberals. They are rebounding in the polls, with some putting them back in the lead, the Conservatives are on the slide thanks to the effect of the Ford Conservatives in Ontario, and the march of the Greens seems to have slowed, while the New Democrats have slowly started to rebound. They haven’t faced any serious scandals to add to the list and their cabinet ministers have been bouncing around the country re-announcing funds for this and that, reminding people of what they’ve done.
You can add to that the Scheer Conservatives trying to turn chocolate milk into a proxy for the culture wars and the continuing drips coming from the Ford Conservatives appointments scandal. With all that, things should feel pretty good for the Red Team. Given the position they were in months ago thanks to the SNC/PMO Scandal, they should be downright giddy right around now. Yet late yesterday some news broke about the Liberal campaign team that threatens to put a major monkey wrench into all of that, one that’s leaving me shaking my head:
A-freaking-mazing folks! Seriously, I have to put this one in the category of “This is why we can’t have nice things.” To bring back Gerry Butts at this point like this really does boggle my mind for a few reasons. Firstly, he is one of the major protagonists in the whole SNC/PMO Scandal and one of the few who left because of it. He is a walking, talking reminder of everything that happened in that story, the hubris that brought it about and is far from being a shining example of what this government would want people to remember about their record. After you’ve somehow weathered this storm of your own creation, it doesn’t make sense to bring back one of the prominent people who allegedly helped to set it off.
Secondly is the narrative of this story. Remember when Gerry Butts resigned and everyone spoke about the close relationship between him and the Prime Minister? Remember how some commented that Butts was really the mastermind behind the whole operation, the man behind the curtain pulling the strings? Remember how so many questioned if the Prime Minister could get by without Gerry? It could be argued, and I would agree, that their performance over the past few months has helped to quell those comments and put that narrative to bed.
These past few months haven’t been without their issues, yet despite that, the Liberals have bounced back and are now in a position to hold onto government in the fall election. Simply put, others have stepped up, filled in, taken up the slack left behind by Butts and they have done alright for themselves all things considered. They have shown that there was more to this PMO than Mr. Butts, and shown there is more talent in that team than many were giving them credit for. So then why bring him back at all? It seems like they were going to be able to get through this election without him involved, so why bring him back and effectively undo everything they had just done over the past few months? Having Mr. Butts come back now just brings all those narratives back to life in one swipe and surely that doesn’t help the Red Team going forward.
Finally, bringing Mr. Butts back on board makes him a target for the other parties to take aim at. Just as the Liberals are teeing off on the Greens for hiring Warren Kinsella and have gone after the Conservatives for a long time for hiring Hamish Marshall, Rebel connections and all, the other parties are now going to be able to tee off on the Liberals, on Gerry and talk about the SNC/PMO scandal again. What exactly does that do to help the Liberal cause going forward? How does inserting that into this conversation help them to control the narrative and run this campaign on the terms that they want to? I’ll be damned if I know because from my vantage point, bringing Mr. Butts back into this campaign, in any capacity, just opens the Liberals up to all of the above, putting at serious risk of undoing everything they’ve just spent months trying to turn around.
For me, this screams of bad hubris from the Prime Minister, who surely had to sign off on this move. The Liberals aren’t lacking for experienced and talented campaign officials so this isn’t a matter of “Gerry or nothing.” This is a conscious choice they are making here, bringing back a figure who carries a lot of risk with his involvement yet doesn’t seem to bring anything extra back to the table that they couldn’t get elsewhere. The only intangible here is the fact that Butts is the Prime Ministers close friend, and if that is what was the determining factor, then this might prove to be a terrible mistake. We’ll see how this all turns out in the end but in my opinion, this is a move that they didn’t need to make, one that poses serious potential downside risk with little potential upside.