This election campaign has not been what some had hoped for, and many had expected. The Liberals were expecting a sleepy, boring election that would naturally end with their return to Parliament with a glorious majority, which was why they sent us all to the polls in the midst of the 4th wave of the COVID pandemic. That’s far from how things have gone, with the Conservatives no leading, the NDP continually rising and the popularity of Justin Trudeau continuing to drop.

Ever since the wheels started to come off the Liberal campaign, they have been grasping at straws trying to find something to staunch the bleeding, something to do the usual Liberal trick of scaring progressives into supporting them to stop the big, bad Conservative. Most of those attempts had fallen flat so far, mostly because of the lack of trust in Trudeau and the fact that his election call was the only thing that put anything at risk.

Also when they have tried to attack the Conservatives on issues like private involvement in the health care system, it rang hollow because the Liberals have allowed for the same things to happen. It all came off as quite desperate. But finally the Liberals have seemed to have stumbled upon something they feel is working, or will work; gun control. Specifically, we started to see attacks like these from Mr. Trudeau during last weeks TVA debate in Montreal:

First off, I must say off the top that there is something unnerving that we’re having this pandemic election and there are so many huge issues at play, yet we’re on gun control. Not that gun control isn’t important, but it hasn’t been anywhere close to the top of peoples minds as people try to stay healthy and are worried about their jobs. But the Liberals feel they have their way to create the much-needed boogeyman in blue, and they are hitting at this hard.

For this to work though, it wasn’t enough for Trudeau and Co. to hit on this endlessly. It also required for the Conservatives to botch the response, something they had managed not to do now for a few weeks. It looked like maybe, for once, the Conservative team might avoid stepping on the rakes spread out around them. But that would have been too much to ask for. Firstly, Erin O’Toole spent a couple days refusing to answer the question about what he would do regarding assault weapons, which clearly didn’t put the story to bed. Finally he was forced to respond, and here is what he went with:

If that had been the answer the first time or the first day, he was asked the question, this attack might not have hurt as bad. But the delay and dithering just pilled on more and more pain. Of course, taking this position of basically turning his back on a part of his platform during the campaign was going to hurt him with some in his base, which was the first shot in the foot here that maybe could have been avoided with a quicker response. They might not have been able to avoid that shot, but given the way things were going, it might have been possible. If that was where this all ended, he might have muddled through it all, but of course, it wasn’t. Here’s what came next:

First off, having a sitting member of your caucus go public basically saying “don’t worry, he doesn’t mean it”. No better way to send that signal to say when asked about this that “our position hasn’t changed”. You knew that once that got out, the press following the O’Toole campaign would ask him what was up. Surely it was legit to ask about why his candidate and caucus colleague was saying one thing while he was saying something very different. But when asked, O’Toole fumbled this badly, point blank. When asked if an O’Toole government would change the classification of those weapons in question, he refused to rule it out. He tried to couch it in saying that he didn’t want to “pre-judge the process”, but that doesn’t wash here, especially when his caucus members are basically suggesting what the result of that process will be.

And with that response, O’Toole got his second shot in the foot. In the process, managed to look duplicitous to both members of his base that are upset about this issue and to other Canadian voters who are considering voting Conservative. Seriously, what’s the value of your word or promise if you refused to say that you’ll uphold it? Cripes, this was just bad, all around, and what makes it worse in my mind is that it was something that you could see coming. The Liberals have gone after the Conservatives for so many elections on gun control, just like they have on social issues, health care and others. For the longest time they have talked about the Conservatives “Hidden Agenda”, and most of the time it worked for the Liberals. How were they not ready for attacks like these? They knew what was in their platform and it’s totally reasonable to assume that they should have seen such attacks coming.

With that being the case, you would think that they would have had lines in place or some kind of response ready in case this time ever came. Yet here we were, in a campaign where the “hidden agenda” attacks were falling flatter than flatter and they weren’t ready for this attack that many could have seen coming from a mile away. Earlier in this campaign polling was even showing that more Canadians believe that Trudeau was the one with the hidden agenda, not O’Toole, so they should have been in the best position possible to fight this off. It seemed like maybe, for once, this old tactic was going to fail miserably. Yet in this moment, right before this week’s debates, O’Toole has managed to give the “hidden agenda” CPR and brought it back to life. Bang, bang, two shots from the chamber into the foot, all because he was trying to have his cake and eat it too!

Will this episode change the outcome of this campaign? It’s hard to say, but its clearly stopped any momentum that they had built up to this point. If the Conservatives end up losing this campaign, people will be able to point to this mistake as the turning point that brought it about. We’ll see what comes of this, but it continues to amaze me how unprepared some can be for what was clearly coming, if everything was going well. You’d think you’d plan for something that has been done to you time and again. But as this shows us, we can never really assume much, or at least we shouldn’t.