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Navigating a polarized Parliament: Liberals at a crossroads this fall

Navigating a polarized Parliament: Liberals at a crossroads this fall



With Parliament back this week, the Canadian political landscape remains anchored in familiar policy challenges since its adjournment in June. Leading the political agenda are economic matters, namely affordability concerns and the rising cost of living—persistent challenges that will ultimately demand a substantial overhaul in the government's response.

Nanos’ issue tracker confirms that economic issues are top of mind for Canadians, as the escalation of emergency-driven food and housing insecurities throughout the summer months exacerbated an already precarious affordability crisis facing the Trudeau Liberals.

The Liberal minority government finds itself grappling with the intricacies of economic policy and affordability amidst a growing discontent among Canadians. Recent polling reveals the electorate's growing dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister and the government’s performance, with a notable shift in support toward the Opposition Conservatives—at levels that haven’t been seen under Trudeau’s leadership.

The party is consistently 10 points behind the Conservatives, dropping in key battle grounds such as British Columbia, Ontario, and the Atlantic, and struggling to stay at 30% in most national polls. The summer cabinet shuffle didn’t move the needle. Neither did the recent Liberal caucus meeting in London, Ontario—at least not yet. The Liberals, cognizant of this shift, are once again seeking to reset the agenda and redirect the pendulum of public opinion back in their favour, a critical objective to regain their footing this fall.

The Liberals’ vulnerability on affordability matters is not lost on opposition parties. For months, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has owned the affordability message. He hammers home what everyday Canadians are feeling: the high price of gas, high price of food, rent and interest rates. Poilievre's recent emphasis on a housing bill, a significant and highly anticipated policy proposal, underscores the party’s desire to urgently address this issue. Poilievre’s positioning is effective because it speaks to Main Street, not Bloor and Avenue Road. As is oft stated, “a week can be a long time in politics.” But, for the moment, the Conservative leader has wind in his sails.

Meanwhile, the New Democratic Party (NDP), trailing at third place standing with 19% support in a recent Abacus poll, continues to prop up Trudeau's beleaguered minority government. The NDP will continue to leverage the Liberal government's precarious position to deliver progressive policies and programs, further shaping the ongoing political landscape and straining federal finances. The NDP is notably preparing for the party’s first national convention in over three years, taking place in Hamilton this October, presenting an important opportunity for the party to try and sway their Conservative-curious supporters back onside.

As stakeholders navigate these pressing concerns with the government, the absence of updated mandate letters and uncertainties surrounding potential cabinet committee changes leave room for speculation. Amidst this, the prospect of an election continues to loom, yet the likelihood remains subdued, considering how far behind the Liberals have fallen in the polls and the standing of the NDP-Liberal pact, which grants the minority government tenuous stability until 2025.

Despite a possible two-year runway until the next election, Trudeau’s Liberal government faces a crucial moment in its mandate. The government can only rebound by addressing the sticky issues plaguing voters and stakeholders alike: high-interest rates and inflation. Failure to do will undoubtedly lead to more leadership change speculation.

Taking all the above-mentioned elements into consideration, the key question as parliament returns is relatively simple: has time simply caught up with Prime Minister Trudeau and his team after eight years in power? Prime Ministers Harper and Chrétien had a decade each in power. Prime Minister Mulroney had nine years. The point for Trudeau is that by any objective measure or historical precedent, he is fighting uphill. His brand has taken on water, and he is at the proverbial clubhouse turn, with aspiring leaders in his cabinet. Is a political bounce back possible?

Controversial waters: Fall legislative and political priorities

In the fall session, the federal government is preparing to tackle a host of critical policy issues that have sparked significant public debate. Key bills still on the docket from the spring include the controversial bail reform (Bill C-48) and gun control (Bill C-21) bills, both of which have been subject to heated political debate.

Adding to the complexity of the legislative landscape is the forthcoming digital privacy and artificial intelligence (AI) bill (Bill C-27), which is expected to face scrutiny in committee in the near term. Although members of all parties recognize the importance of this subject matter, balancing the rapid advancement of technology with citizens' rights to digital privacy necessitates a delicate and meticulous approach.

Moreover, recent developments concerning the Online Harms Act and Online News Act legislation have introduced another controversial front. The public and industry’s response to these legislative developments emphasize the delicate balance between safeguarding online spaces and preserving freedom of speech and information dissemination. The newly appointed Heritage minister, Pascale St-Onge, will be navigating these choppy waters ahead.

Trudeau's recent policy announcements, including the proposal to remove the GST from purpose-built rentals and grant enhanced powers to the Competition Bureau, underscore a renewed approach to tackling affordability issues. Further, the premiers have laid out their expectations for the forthcoming federal infrastructure funding package, in which housing is expected to feature heavily. These recent federal developments are taking place against a backdrop of ongoing controversy and public scrutiny, amplifying the need for a balanced and consultative approach in crafting effective policy.

Anticipating the upcoming fall economic statement, stakeholders are eyeing the federal government's bold commitment to recouping $15 billion in departmental spending. Facing significant economic challenges, while seeking to deliver substantive social policy goals, NATIONAL expects that the forthcoming fall economic statement will involve a strategic repackaging of existing funds, a resourceful approach to maximize efficiency without imposing additional burdens on the taxpayers. The fall economic statement is set to be a crucial juncture, illuminating the government's fiscal strategies and economic priorities amidst a shifting political landscape.

As the fall sitting gets underway, Canada stands at a pivotal moment, confronting contentious policy fronts and navigating the intricate dynamics of public opinion and regulatory frameworks. The government's ability to navigate these controversial waters while fostering dialogue and inclusivity will undoubtedly shape the trajectory of the nation and the fate of the incumbent government.

This increasingly polarized political environment is highly competitive for stakeholders to advance issues and inform government decision-making. NATIONAL’s team of Public Affairs and communications experts are ready to support you in navigating the complexities ahead, to ensure that your message breaks through the noise.


Written by Gordon Taylor Lee | Alexandra Bernier

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