Too Early for a Sleeper Issue?

Welcome to Ottawa Playbook. I’m your host, Nick Taylor-Vaisey. Today, a fight over how to control inflation in which nobody talks about how to control inflation. Also, there’s a pattern to the NDP leader’s movements. And how are millennials planning to vote?

DRIVING THE DAY

ECON 101 — The clip was short and sweet. During a campaign stop in Vancouver, a reporter asked JUSTIN TRUDEAU to comment on the rising cost of living. It was just after StatsCan reported yet another month of uncomfortably high inflation. What would he do about it? “When I think about the biggest, most important economic policy this government, if re-elected, would move forward, you’ll forgive me if I don’t think about monetary policy,” he replied.

ERIN O’TOOLE clapped back: “Justin Trudeau was asked what his government was going to do about the rising costs that Canadians are facing across the country. Instead of answering the question, Trudeau said it’s not something he is thinking about.”

The Liberal response — A party operative who knows a thing or two about economic policy sent this our way: “I find it rich that the Tories, having openly beaten up on the Bank of Canada for months and had PIERRE POILIEVRE raise conspiracy theories about them, have the gall to lay that attack and not say what they would do differently.”

Indeed, a quick Ctrl+F search of the Conservative Party’s Canada’s Recovery Plan reveals no mentions of the Bank of Canada or monetary policy. Poilievre also slammed Trudeau for the “not thinking about” comment — but notably made no comment in an impromptu video about what he would do.

THE HERLE BURLY

What should party leaders say about something like monetary policy? And do voters listen?

Since POLITICO Canada is collaborating with The Herle Burly on 2021 campaign coverage — find out more about them here — we put those questions to DAVID HERLE, SCOTT REID and JENNI BYRNE.

HERLE: Few things the government does impacts the lives of Canadians as much as the level of interest rates. Government and personal debt levels are based on historically low interest rates. The Bank of Canada has taken extraordinary measures to support the economy and government borrowing. The prime minister does not express a view on interest rates. He does not prejudge a BoC process of reviewing its mandate. But he cannot be disinterested in monetary policy or its impacts. [It was] a lazy, overconfident answer.

REID: Here’s a basic truth of political campaigning: If you’re asked about an issue of indisputable public concern, it is the wrong answer to say it’s not your job. Because it is your job. And yes, I know the Bank of Canada sets monetary policy. And yes, I know that the prime minister was asked about the bank’s policy inflation targets. And yes, I know prime ministers don’t answer that specific question.

But you most definitely can, and should, answer about your profound concern with keeping costs manageable and helping people stretch their buck farther. And then argue that your policies alone best serve that objective. But as a point of departure you do not, cannot and should not say it’s someone else’s job.

BYRNE: Canadians don’t want to be lectured about the difference between monetary and fiscal policy. They are sick of pointless, bizarre buzzwords like ‘she-cession’ and ‘she-recovery.’ This government can try to blame the pandemic for inflation, but we went into the pandemic with a C$25.3-billion deficit, despite Trudeau’s 2015 campaign promise to balance the books by 2019. Canadians know that the Liberal spending record will lead to higher prices for almost everything, and higher taxes. This could be the sleeper issue of this campaign.

CAMPAIGN POSTCARD

STEELTOWN SWINGS — Everybody wants a piece of Hamilton, Ont., the gritty city that’s only a 45-minute drive from Toronto. Three incumbents are giving way to new blood. Conservative DAVID SWEET is retiring after 16 years repping the city’s outer periphery. The NDP’s SCOTT DUVALL is bowing out of Hamilton Mountain after six years. And two terms in the east end was enough for Liberal BOB BRATINA, the city’s former mayor before he went federal.

All three ridings are in play. Liberals want Sweet’s old district and Duvall’s stomping grounds. And the NDP is licking its chops at the prospect of reclaiming Bratina’s neck of the woods. WAYNE MARSTON, a local labor leader, held Hamilton East-Stoney Creek for nine years that overlapped with STEPHEN HARPER‘s reign in Ottawa. He, too, lost in 2015.

— The battlegrounds: Hamilton’s easternmost riding is split into three: a working-class neighborhood west of the Red Hill Valley, suburban Stoney Creek in the middle, and rural farmland on the eastern flank. New Democrats always win most of the polls west of the valley, and typically lose most of the farmland. The juicy middle is where elections are decided. Liberal TONY VALERI swept those polls on his way to a win in 2004. Marston made gains when he won in 2006, 2008 and 2011. Bratina then dominated them.

— The new-ish guys: Labor lawyer and law prof NICK MILANOVIC was runner-up in 2019. He’s back on the trail, facing off against eight-term city councillor CHAD COLLINS, who nabbed the Liberal nom.

Milanovic is a died-in-the-wool Hamiltonian — a classic of the genre:

✔ Grew up in the city’s east end, where his parents settled after leaving Eastern Europe.

✔ Worked full-time on the CamCo line in high school, assembling fridges and stoves.

✔ Played junior football and now cheers for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (his only complaint is the Labor Day game kickoff needs to wait for the annual parade to end).

— The big issue: Milanovic says affordability, which happens to be a common NDP campaign theme, has people talking at the door. “More and more people are noticing the cost of goods, that we’re starting to see creeping inflation. When it comes to housing, and mainly rental housing, people are talking about ‘renevictions.’ So landlords are using the renovation loophole, essentially, to be moving people on to get higher-wage tenants. Rent continues to go up in Hamilton.”

— What’s next: If Hamilton East-Stoney Creek scores a visit from JAGMEET SINGH, that’s a sign the New Democrats are riding a wave of momentum. If Trudeau drops in down the road, his presence could signal some anxiety about Liberal prospects.

THE CHESSBOARD

Where the leaders are today (and why):

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is on Vancouver Island for a 10 PT announcement “in support of seniors” at Victoria’s Veterans Memorial Lodge. 338Canada has the Liberals running second in that riding, 10 points back of the NDP. Longtime environment minister DAVID ANDERSON, who retired in 2006, was the last Grit MP to win the district.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is making a 9 ET stop in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean. (That’s next door to Poilievre’s riding. Some Tories have told POLITICO the feisty Tory could be in trouble, as shifting demographics force a dogfight with Liberals.) O’Toole will return to his Westin studio for virtual town halls with New Brunswickers at 5 and Ontarians at 7:35.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is in Edmonton today, part of a bullish tour strategy to visit ridings that might flip orange. Singh is spending the whole day in Edmonton Griesbach. He starts at 9:30 MT with a healthcare announcement outside the East Edmonton Health Centre. At 12, he’ll visit nearby local businesses (starting with Mandolin Books and Coffee Company). He wraps up with a stop at BLAKE DESJARLAIS‘ campaign office.

Green Leader Annamie Paul is spending the morning in “private meetings” (where have we heard that before?). She’ll be canvassing on Berkeley Street and Ontario Street in Cabbagetown at 12 ET. She’ll go “mainstreeting” on Bleecker Street at 5.

ABACUS INSIGHT

Insight today on the millennial vote from David Coletto and our polling partner Abacus Data:

Thirty-six percent of millennials say they will vote for the Liberals, with the NDP in second at 27 percent.

Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) make up the largest generational cohort in the electorate. In 2015, they were critical to lifting the Liberals to a majority.

This time, the Liberals continue to do well but the NDP is counting on the support of this generation to break through. The Conservatives have 20 percent of millennial support with the Greens at 8 percent, the People’s Party at 4 percent, and the BQ at 15 percent in Quebec.

Follow this link to information about this survey, including the methodology.

PROZONE

Are politics fueling inflation? Andy Blatchford takes on campaign developments in the Pro Canada PM policy memo.

More reading recommendations for our Pro subscribers:
— Silicon Valley scrambles to find a unified approach to the Taliban.
— Internal fight over Sierra Club founder’s racial legacy roils organization.
— ‘Massive wake-up call’: Crypto faces growing legal crackdown.
— California to require proof of vaccination or negative test for ‘mega events.’

MEDIA ROOM

— We’re late to this, but here’s the Star’s Nicholas Keung on one family’s escape from Kabul to Canada.

— Courtesy the CBC: What you need to know about voting by mail.

— Professor and Winnipeg Free Press columnist Niigaan Sinclair joined APTN to discuss Indigenous issues on the campaign trail: “The Liberals have promised big, under delivered. This is really a referendum of whether they deserve a majority or not.”

— In Chatelaine, WWF Canada President MEGAN LESLIE shares a quick test of a candidate’s climate credentials. 1. Ask if they believe humans are responsible for the changing planet. “If that candidate hesitates, even for a split second, then that is a hard pass,” she tells Danielle Groen.

— Speaking of tests: “Sometimes it can be hard to realize your candidate’s true agenda,” Mel Woods writes in Xtra. “With that in mind, here are some things to watch out for to help you identify if that so-called women’s group or queer group is actually full of transphobic nonsense.”

PLAYBOOKERS

Birthdays: HBD to Tory MP/candidate KYLE SEEBACK, 51 today. … Sen. DONNA DASKO turns 70 — as does former agriculture minister GERRY RITZ. … Actor MATTHEW PERRY, who claims to have beaten up Trudeau (and whose mom was press sec to Trudeau père), is 52. … Quebec’s favorite Arkansan, former president BILL CLINTON, is now 76 years young.

Happy belated anniversary to Erin and REBECCA O’TOOLE.

Movers and shakers: “Record number of Black MLAs elected to Nova Scotia Legislature,” reads the CBC headline. Here they are with a link to where you can follow their work: TONY INCE (Cole Harbour)ANGELA SIMMONDS (Preston)ALI DUALE (Halifax Armdale) and from the NDP, SUZY HANSEN (Halifax Needham).

JIM KARYGIANNIS, the eight-term Liberal MP who left Ottawa for Toronto city council before being booted from office in 2020, is now a lobbyist for Iris Technologies. … Sussex Strategy’s LIAM DALY is now repping Friends of Canadian Broadcasting (a client with more existential priorities if the Tories win).

Spotted: SAMBOT joining the campaign trail. … Former Tory MP GUY LAUZON being handy at the campaign office of successor ERIC DUNCAN. … KHAWAR NASIM, deputy consul general in New York, catching up with the “witty, clever, and kind” PAT TAYLOR — wife of the late diplomat KEN TAYLOR.

DEREK SLOAN, the former Tory leadership hopeful, making a “major announcement” in Cochrane, Alta., a town in the Conservative stronghold of Banff-Airdrie — where People’s Party and Maverick candidates are already on the ballot. Sloan has a bone to pick with incumbent BLAKE RICHARDS.