It seemed like shrewd politics when Justin Trudeau decided to call an early election in mid-August.
He had a poll lead of nearly seven points, his government was thought to have handled the coronavirus pandemic well, and unemployment was falling.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, were in disarray, with right-wing columnists having little time for the party leader, Erin O’Toole.
Scandals, including the leak of a decades-old photograph of Trudeau wearing blackface, were disappearing in the rear-view mirror.
Trudeau, who is as near as you get to royalty in Canadian politics, was set to re-establish a working majority.
What a difference a month makes.
On Sept. 20, Trudeau looks set to pay dearly for his hubris in calling an election two years early. The latest CBC News Canada poll tracker had Trudeau’s Liberals at 31.9 percent and the Conservatives at 31.7 percent, the first time in two weeks the Liberals were in the lead. At best, it looks as if Trudeau might be able to cobble together another minority government — albeit weaker than before. The same outlet currently projects the Liberals winning 154 seats, short of a 170-seat majority. The Liberals currently have 155 seats.
If the slide in the polls continues, the one-time golden boy of Canadian politics could even face a spell of opposition.
So what has gone wrong?
“The short answer is almost everything,” Duane Bratt, professor of political science at Mount Royal University, told the Washington Examiner.
“I think the polls that showed him with a huge lead prior to calling the election were soft.
“Then there is the election timetable. The Liberals had been planning the date of the election for a while, things were in motion, but then events intervened.
“In the last weeks of July, Afghanistan wasn’t on the front pages, it wasn’t on the middle pages, it wasn’t on the back pages.
“And then in August, COVID cases started to rise with the fourth wave. By September, hospitalizations, ICUs, and deaths were increasing.
“This allowed opposition leaders to ask Trudeau why he would call an early election in the midst of a pandemic.
“Throughout the campaign, including the launch announcements and during both the French- and English-language debates, Trudeau was repeatedly asked why the election was called. He has yet to provide a solid rationale.”
The optics of the Canadian prime minister being pelted with gravel were not great either.
It might just be a case of the glitter wearing off. After all, Trudeau, still only 49, has been around a long time.
His credentials as a self-proclaimed feminist have taken a knock despite sprinkling his speeches and interviews with such linguistic horrors as “she-cession” and “she-conomy.”
It doesn’t sit particularly well for Trudeau’s record in government that three women have been ousted, or resigned from, his administration.
In one of the most scathing interventions in the party leaders debate, the Green Party’s Annamie Paul said: “I do not believe that Mr. Trudeau is a real feminist.”
The Left has also been unimpressed by his environmental record.
In the English-language debate, Trudeau took a battering from Jagmeet Singh, leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party.
Then there is Erin O’Toole, who has proved a far more effective operator than expected.
He won the party leadership campaigning from the right — blasting cancel culture, the radical Left, and the liberal media.
Then there was an appeal to gun rights advocates, especially in Quebec.
But O’Toole has presented a very different face to Canada’s voters, tacking to the center with almost startling alacrity.
“O’Toole has put on a very moderate face,” said Allan Tupper, professor of political science at the University of British Columbia.
Having once promised to scrap the Liberals’ ban on assault weapons, he now says it will stay in place pending a review.
To the annoyance of his party’s rank and file, O’Toole has embraced the cause of tackling climate change.
Critics on the Right have not been pleased, and there is a danger that some disillusioned conservatives could peel off to the populist People’s Party of Canada.
Nevertheless, the centrist O’Toole appears to have wrong-footed Trudeau.
“It looks like the Conservatives are running a stronger campaign than the Liberals anticipated.
“They fell into the trap saying these guys are Thatcherite, anti-abortion, anti-vaxxers, and Trump-like,” Prof. Tupper added.
In the end, the election may come down to the extent that the Canadian Camelot image of Trudeau and his wife Sophie has worn thin.
O’Toole’s background could hardly be more different.
Born in Montreal and raised in Bowmanville, a town some 50 miles east of Toronto, Mr. O’Toole describes himself as an ordinary “middle-class kid.”
His mother died of breast cancer when he was only nine.
He entered the military, serving as a navigator on a Sea King helicopter before studying law.
Quite simply, Mr. O’Toole is seen as a typical Canadian whose background appears to be resonating with voters.
“If you look like Erin and his wife, they are your neighbors: people you would have over for a barbecue,” Prof. Bratt added.
“You couldn’t say the same about Justin and Sophie Trudeau. They are the rich, pretty, glamour couple, and he is the son of a popular prime minister.
“But the sheen has long worn off Trudeau’s glamour. Maybe Canadians just want someone a bit regular.”