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Liberal Convention 2018 – Part 3: Wrap-up – A look to the future

The 2018 Liberal Policy Convention wrapped up Saturday night, with the 3,000 Liberal delegates fanning out across the country, reinvigorated and reenergized as the party had hoped.

This was the Liberals’ last convention before the next election – scheduled for the fall of 2019. It offered a chance to look back over the last two and a half years and ahead to the next election and offered insight into what to expect in the next few years. The content of the speeches and policies adopted by delegates provide an indicator as to what we may see in the upcoming Liberal Party platform.

The convention was heavily policy driven, with discussions centering on innovation, the economy, health care, and social development. Of the 30 grassroots policy resolutions debated and prioritized at the 2018 Liberal National Convention in Halifax, 15 were adopted with a trio of health-focused resolutions leading the list. Pharmacare, decriminalizing drugs and mental health services appeared to be top priorities for grassroots Liberals, who called for:

Implementing Universal Access to Necessary Medicines

Inclusion of Mental Health Services in Medicare and the Canada Health Act

Addressing the Opioid Crisis through a Public Health Approach

The overwhelming support for these policies from the grassroots may provide some indication of the future direction of the party. As the party leadership begins to champion items such as pharmacare and mental health, we can see these policies forming core planks in the party platform come October 2019. The Liberals will try to cast the key election issues around topics such as these, playing to their strengths and appealing to younger, more active voters.

Despite the popularity of the idea of decriminalizing small quantities of drugs, especially among youth delegates, the prime minister showed little appetite for the policy, with ministers trying to shift focus back to legalizing marijuana. While its inclusion in the upcoming election platform is therefore unlikely, this is a good indication of where the party may head in the future: new convention rules allowed many new, younger and increasingly progressive supporters to attend. This cohort may seek to push the party further left than it has traditionally been. The result, in years to come, may be a Liberal Party that runs on policies once seen to be the domain of the NDP.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s keynote speech provided insight into the tone we might see in the 2019 election. He took aim at the Conservatives and their leader, Andrew Scheer. Trudeau claimed that little has changed from the Harper-era Conservative Party, and that Scheer was simply Stephen Harper with a smile.

The blatant attacks on the Conservative Party and their leader can be seen as a reaction to the Liberal Party’s recent dip in the polls. Following a rough couple of months, Trudeau’s popularity took a hit, and polls have shown Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives closing the gap with the Liberals. The prime minister failed to make any mention of the New Democratic Party, signaling that the Liberals, at the moment, only view one real competitor in the 2019 race (or believe that the leftward shift is sufficient to continue winning over former NDP supporters).

While the prime minister and cabinet spent the weekend discussing their ‘wins’, with a focus on the economy, they continued with their efforts to build party unity and express pride in their accomplishments. While his speech struck a chord with delegates, Trudeau used this platform to test the waters with new messaging and reenergize the Liberal base. However, one has to wonder whether the attacks on the ‘fear mongering’ opposition will resonate with Canadians.

The convention ended on a positive note, with party leaders preaching a message of solidarity and hope as they move closer to the next election. The Liberals left Halifax with a strong determination for “four more years” of majority government – a slogan heard often throughout the weekend.

With the party platforms coming in just over a year’s time, now is an ideal opportunity for any interested parties and stakeholders to reach out to parliamentarians and party officials as they being positioning their parties in advance of next year’s vote.