Jack Knox: For Trudeau, it’s looking to be a bumpier ride

On the very first day of the election campaign, the media bus drove into Justin Trudeau’s plane at the Victoria airport.

As metaphors go, that’s not bad.

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Trudeau will have a bumpier flight this time than in 2015, when the election was at its heart a referendum on Stephen Harper. The buttoned-down, distant Conservative prime minister, who too often appeared to look at Canadians as though he had just caught them breaking wind in an elevator, was outshone by Trudeau’s sunny ways. Trudeau even invoked Harper’s name in Victoria on Thursday when asking if Canadians wanted to return to the bad old days.

Except Harper’s not running this time. Trudeau is, and he has lost his new-car smell.

That was inevitable, given the impossible gap between the we-can-change-the-world expectations he raised in 2015 and the realities of political life (not to mention the wisdom of messing with Jody Wilson-Raybould). He has provided opponents with four years worth of ammunition (Victoria satirist Ian Ferguson just published a book, Trudeau on Trudeau, in which he feeds the prime minister his own words).

Not that any of that appeared to trouble Trudeau on Thursday when, with all seven Vancouver Island Liberal candidates arrayed on the stairs behind him like dancers in a Busby Berkeley musical, he chose Greater Victoria as the place to make a splashy start to the campaign. Sleeves rolled up, he stood in a Saanich construction site to announce a couple of pieces of housing policy.

The first, echoing an initiative of B.C.’s NDP government, was a speculation tax aimed at putting the brakes on housing prices. Unlike the B.C. model, though, Trudeau’s one per cent tax would apply only to Canadian dwellings owned by foreigners who live outside Canada. It wouldn’t affect Canadians living abroad, or foreigners who live in Canada.

The other new measure was specific to Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto, a tweak that would allow more people in those areas to take advantage of a federal program for first-time homebuyers. Currently, the program only applies to homes worth up to $500,000, but the Liberals would raise that to close to $800,000 in the three most expensive markets in the country.

To emphasize the effect of the change, Trudeau’s announcement was made at a Royal Oak townhouse project where prices for a three-bedroom will start at $699,000. He was joined by some attractive young parents and their attractive children, recruited as camera fodder. (BTW, this unwittingly echoed the 2011 campaign, when Harper also made a tax-breaks-for-parents promise in Saanich, this time at the home of an attractive young family whose backyard was, unfortunately, trampled into a muddy Woodstock by the media horde.)

The presence of Thursday’s families leads us to a key question: How much does Trudeau’s somewhat-tarnished image matter? If you’re a parent — or would-be parent — keen to build a life in a city where childcare costs as much as a mortgage and a mortgage is only a pipe dream, do you really care about the minutiae of the SNC-Lavalin affair, or are you just relieved to get the Liberals’ new child benefit and eager to seize on whatever will get you the home that every generation before yours took for granted?

Lisa Welch, one of the parents at Thursday’s event, spoke wistfully of just wanting “the opportunity to get into the housing market.” Right now, she’s in a trap so common to so many young Victorians, forking out $2,400 a month in rent but unable to buy. So, you can understand how she feels when she says yes, she knows about SNC-Lavalin, but it’s not the biggest issue for her in this election. The inside baseball of Ottawa is far away; Welch is more interested in a future for herself and her three-year-old daughter.

The campaign plane mishap happened Wednesday night, when the bus taking out-of-town media to their Victoria hotel scraped the underside of one wing.

By Thursday morning a replacement aircraft had arrived. It wasn’t wrapped in Liberal livery, wasn’t as pretty as the first one, but it did the job, taking off on schedule.

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