An interesting thing happened in a Toronto suburban federal riding the day before Maxime Bernier made his bitter exit from the Conservative Party of Canada and established his own party this past summer.

Robo-calls went out to voters in Scarborough Centre, courtesy of the local Conservative riding association. The calls advised voters that Salma Zahid, the sitting Liberal member of Parliament (MP), was gravely ill with cancer and that a byelection would soon be necessary. This would be an opportunity to replace Zahid with a fine Conservative candidate, the calls stated.

When the CTV network confronted the Conservative riding association’s president about the recording, he shrugged off the robo-calls as something that must be done in modern politics.

“I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed,” Bernier said in an explanation about why he was leaving the Conservatives.

The following day, Ottawa Conservative MP Pierre Polievre was called out for twisting a few facts out of context in his constituency newsletter blaming the entire Phoenix payroll fiasco on the Liberals. He didn’t bother to mention that Phoenix was an initiative of the former Conservative government, for which he was a cabinet minister.

All political parties have done their share of dirty tricks. But the events described above show the Conservatives still have a lot to learn about why they were bounced out of power in 2015. And also tend to validate Bernier’s complaint about the Conservatives’ principles.

Most of what Bernier has to say is doctrinaire, libertarian bunk left over from the 19th century. But he does have a valid point about a Conservative Party that seems to have lost its soul – and its policy book.

So far, Bernier’s new vehicle, the People’s Party of Canada, doesn’t seem to be catching on. But then again, the Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer, don’t really need Bernier’s help or anyone else’s to keep them on the Opposition benches after the 2019 election.

Normally, a government going into the fourth and final year of its mandate would be struggling to stay afloat in the polls. However, the current government has been ahead of the Conservatives for almost its entire 36 months in power. Recently, a Nanos Research poll gave Justin Trudeau’s government a nine-percentage-point lead over the Tories.

Part of this strength can be attributed to the collapse of the New Democratic Party. But the Liberal government’s strength in the polls late in its mandate is extraordinary all the same.

That the Conservatives have managed to stay well above 30% in the polls consistently throughout this period also is quite remarkable, as the party has an invisible leader who doesn’t say much. That means there’s a large cohort of Canadians who would like to see the Trudeau government gone. But Sheer has been unable to grow this group.

Recently, the Conservative Party ac- knowledged it needs to get its leader out and about more so that voters can get to know him. But with Ontario Premier Doug Ford and now former Prime Minister Stephen Harper sucking up oxygen in the public domain, Scheer is going to have a great deal of difficulty connecting. With friends like these, who needs Maxime Bernier?

Heading into the 2019 election – barring a colossal game-changer – Trudeau has the luxury of running against high-profile opponents who are not on the ballot.

There also seems to be a lethargy problem. The Conservatives seem content to wait for the government to screw up or be dealt a setback before going on the attack. A bit of initiative wouldn’t hurt.

Case in point: when Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. was accused of surreptitious resale practices by a joint undercover investigation by the CBC and the Toronto Star, politicians of both parties in the U.S. wasted no time demanding Congressional action.

But in Canada, the Opposition parties were strangely silent, allowing the Trudeau government to grab media attention by announcing an investigation by the federal Competition Bureau.

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper was very quick to react to consumer issues like this. So should the current Conservative caucus.

Even the Liberals should be concerned be- cause a government without effective opposition will act like it has a licence for stupidity – and has done so a few times already.

Should be an exciting federal election in 2023. Justin Trudeau vs Doug Ford.