David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Reflections on the 'Big Shrug'

Brandon Sun, October 4, 2021 – David McConkey

Tempted to forget about the election from two weeks ago? Well, before you do, I would like to share six observations.


Don't blame Justin Trudeau for the election. A prime minister with a minority calling a snap election when they think they can grab a majority? Please. Others – like Stephen Harper – did it. If a prime minister had a job description, it would be right there. What was awkward was Trudeau’s inability to come clean and say the truth out loud.


Cocooned in our bubbles of Brandon-Souris and Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa, we can underestimate how left-wing the country is. Even though many have soured on Trudeau, Canadians still vote for him.

“The fact that a corrupt, allegedly groping, parlour-room racist could win again says more about us than it does about him,” political operative Warren Kinsella noted after Trudeau’s victory. “It says the country’s attachment to the Liberal brand is real and deep.”

Conservaive leader Erin O’Toole re-tooled (sorry – couldn’t resist!) his party to align with the left-wing nature of Canada. Although O’Toole ran for party leader as True Blue Tory, he ran for prime minister as Liberal Lite. O’Toole shocked and silenced not only his own followers, but also Trudeau, who was stymied in trying to portray the O’Toole Tories as right-wing and scary.

Minority governments may be our new normal. And the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh may be settling in for the long term as leader of our fourth party. Singh has found an agreeable role making folks feel comfortable as he nudges the Liberal government – and the country – leftward.

The biggest difference among the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP may be more tone than policy. You could see it in the leaders’ sartorial and social media showing. Recall these images from the campaign: O’Toole in a suit standing at a lectern, Trudeau in jeans with rolled-up shirt sleeves, Singh in casual clothes on a skateboard. They also ranged from staid to cool on social media: Conservatives on Facebook, Liberals on Instagram, NDP on TikTok. And we can’t wait to see Jagmeet's new baby!


This election saw the implosion of the Green Party. Perhaps the Greens are superfluous now? The major parties agree on the importance of climate change action and a carbon tax or pricing scheme. Too bad, though, to lose Green leader Annamie Paul from the political scene. As has been said, her party didn’t deserve her.

With the Tories moving to the centre, there could be room for an alternative on the right. Hello, People’s Party of Canada. Their anti-vaxx and anti-mask positions are ridiculous (and irresponsible and dangerous). But could the PPC also present a thoughtful libertarian critique of the country’s left-wing consensus?

Some wags called the Green Party a gathering of serious policy wonks and anti-science cranks. With the Greens disappearing, maybe the PPC could fill that special role?


“An election,” prime minister Kim Campbell said almost 30 years ago, “is no time to discuss serious issues.” She was right, of course, but it still bothers me. Debates can never be more than leaders repeating memorized sound bites. A disconcerting emptiness is at the centre of every election.

Big questions seem to slip by. Like: are we ready to learn from this pandemic to be prepared for the next one? Can we really spend as much money as we want? What about issues that are hard to grasp like reconciliation, China, technology, media, inequality, Canadian culture, global security? And a big one clouding our future: are we blithely paying lip service to climate emissions targets that we are going to simply blow right past?


I hope we can remember the on-going challenge to improve our elections. Voter turnout stuck at 60%? Citizens, we can do better. Let's keep alive the discussion of proposals like proportional representation, ranked-choice voting, compulsory voting, online voting and a spot on the ballot for “none of the above.”

This election, my wife and I tried mail-in voting. We applied online well before the deadline. Elections Canada said our applications were accepted and our election kits had been sent out. But we never received them, making our mail-in voting impossible; probably the first election in our lives that we missed. Please do better next time, Elections Canada!


Now that it's over, at least we can say we’re not the United States. After all, the U.S. has deep societal divisions, doubts about their election legitimacy, conspiracy theories and the Big Lie.

We could sum up our election as the Big Shrug. Boring, somewhat soothing and Canadian, eh?

* * * *
See also: 

Time to Awaken Our Inner Patriot 

Which One is the Head of State Again?

Telling the Truth Today

Getting to Good Ideas

2019 Election Put Race, Religion in Spotlight

Reflecting on Trudeau, Leadership and Wisdom



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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