Afghanistan Dogs Trudeau on Campaign Trail But Unlikely to Influence Outcome at Ballot Box
06:18 GMT 02.09.2021 (Updated: 17:08 GMT 22.07.2023)
TORONTO (Sputnik) - While Canada's withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to beleaguer a slumping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party on the campaign trail, the messy drawdown is unlikely to sway voters come election day, political analysts have told Sputnik.
Trudeau's election call on 15 August coincided with the fall of Kabul to the Taliban* terror group. Since then, Canada's twenty-third prime minister has endured mounting pressure and criticism with every unsavoury headline about the country's evacuation effort from the war-torn country.
The tough questions of Trudeau run concurrently with the Liberals' slide in the polls. Most nationwide polls now place Canada's Conservative Party at the front of the pack, with support for the Liberal Party dropping by near double-digits in the 16 days since the writ drop. However, analysts are sceptical that the turbulence in Afghanistan is contributing to the slump and believe the international crisis won't play a role on 20 September.
"Afghanistan will not be an issue for voters in this election unless Canadians are killed or held hostage between now and election day", Dr Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, told Sputnik, emphasising that foreign policy rarely figures in Canadian election campaigns.
"The fact that the election was called the same day that Kabul fell, seems irrelevant to me. The fall of Kabul is being followed by voters but will not influence their vote", Wiseman added.
25 August 2021, 18:05 GMT
Jacqueline Biollo, a principal consultant with the Aurora Strategy Group, agrees.
"The evacuation from Afghanistan has had little impact on the opinions of voters, as people remain more focused on the reality of the pandemic than the election", Biollo told Sputnik, characterising Ottawa's evacuation efforts as "adequate" and noting that they are appreciated.
"Canada acts as a country that responds alongside our allies and stands up for people that are at risk. Voters saw our military and humanitarian efforts over the years to stabilise and rebuild areas in Afghanistan", Biollo said.
To date, Canada has evacuated some 3,700 people via military flights, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said during a press briefing on 1 September, while announcing a new plan to resettle up to 5,000 Afghan refugees evacuated by the United States.
However, the governing Liberals' efforts have not come without scrutiny.
Despite the scores of Canadian military evacuation flights from Afghanistan, an estimated 1,250 Canadian nationals remain stranded in the Taliban-controlled country and Ottawa remains well short of its goal of resettling 20,000 Afghan nationals, who are most at risk of Taliban reprisals.
© REUTERS / Dominic Lipinski/PoolRefugees from Afghanistan wait to be processed after arriving on an evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport, in London, Britain August 26, 2021
Refugees from Afghanistan wait to be processed after arriving on an evacuation flight at Heathrow Airport, in London, Britain August 26, 2021
© REUTERS / Dominic Lipinski/Pool
Additionally, the Trudeau government's efforts come against the backdrop of countless stories of Afghans, who facilitated Canada's near 13-year engagement in Afghanistan, struggling to escape the war-torn country and gaffes from some officials.
Ottawa faced ridicule after reportedly advising would-be evacuees outside of Kabul's airport to wear red and yell "Canada" in hopes of attracting attention from Canadian military personnel assisting with the evacuation mission and Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef garnered international attention for referring to the Taliban as "our brothers". Monsef later clarified that her words carried "cultural" context and that she continues to believe that the Taliban is a terrorist organisation.
Wiseman and Biollo both expressed the belief that the blunders would be exploited by opposition parties but downplayed the importance they would have in the context of an entire campaign.
Others, however, disagree that the developments in the war-torn country, where 159 Canadian Armed Forces members lost their lives, have not impacted the trajectory of the campaign.
"The Afghanistan withdrawal debacle has definitely impacted the election and mostly to the detriment of the Liberals. Trudeau has been having a tough time articulating the need for an election as it is and now that a crisis has erupted during the campaign, it makes things look worse for him", Cory Morgan, political analyst and columnist with the Western Standard, told Sputnik, albeit admitting that some of the criticism may dissipate before 20 September.
Nevertheless, Morgan believes "Canadians feel upset and ashamed with what has happened in Afghanistan and they will surely take that out on the party in power to a degree".
Meanwhile, the polls appear to give some credence to Morgan's assertion.
A Leger poll released on Tuesday revealed that 14 percent of Canadians believe Ottawa has handled the evacuation well, while 35 percent called the performance "ok", and an additional 25 percent said it was a "bad job".
1 September 2021, 17:22 GMT
Furthermore, an Angus Reid Institute study found that only 2 percent of Canadians believe the evacuation operation in Afghanistan was a "success"; nearly a two-fifths – 37 percent – termed it a failure, while 41 percent said the operation "went as well as it could have".
Yet, while Canadians are paying attention to the crisis in Afghanistan - 81 percent say they are either following the story "very closely" or monitoring the headlines – only 22 percent of respondents admitted the issue will impact their vote.
Wiseman anticipates that as the country nears the September 20th election date, Afghanistan will be supplanted by domestic issues, including questions about the need for an election – opposition parties have decried Trudeau's election call as unnecessary – and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Similarly, Biollo cited the pandemic as a key issue, while noting that domestic issues such as the economy, the country's acute housing crisis, and childcare will emerge as the defining issues in the campaign.
*The Taliban is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.