Canadian organizations attempting to read the tea leaves as to the government’s electoral ambitions would do well to familiarize themselves with a quirky feature of Canadian democracy: politicians must repeatedly reject the very notion that they wish to convene Canadians to the polls, before ultimately revising themselves as circumstances dictate.
And so it is that Prime Minister Trudeau continues to insist that nothing could be further from his mind than an early election, even after his party hosted a virtual convention that features workshops titled “Safe and Inclusive Campaigns” and “Winning Close Races” earlier this spring.
You don’t have to be an insider to know Mr. Trudeau is itching to hit the hustings. The Prime Minister is at his best when he’s engaging with Canadians, far away from the Parliament Hill bubble. Perhaps that’s why veteran MPs who will not be seeking reelection took time out to give farewell speeches before the House of Commons rises for the summer break.
For Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals, the greatest risk is failing to seize the window of opportunity they have been presented with: strong polling numbers, a vaccination campaign that has finally ramped up across Canada, and an Official Opposition that has so far failed to make a mark on voters.
Most political analysts agree that Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has fumbled his introduction to Canadians. Mr. O’Toole desperately needs to expand his base of voters outside of the Prairies, and that means espousing mainstream political values like protecting the environment. To his credit, he has tried to do exactly that by putting forward a carbon “levy” that appears to function much the same way as Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax. But, in the words of former leadership hopeful Peter MacKay, the Conservative Party membership seems intent on hanging another “albatross” around their leaders’ neck, this time by refusing to acknowledge the very existence of climate change at the last Conservative convention. The Liberal attack lines write themselves.
The current standings of the other federal parties must also be assessed. In this context, a decade since the Orange Wave washed over Canada, the NDP poses a potential threat to Liberal majority government ambitions. The party’s finances are back in order and Jagmeet Singh has become the only federal leader with positive favorability ratings—especially following his strong reaction to the discovery of the remains of 215 First Nations children on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, and to the apparent terrorist attack targeting the Afzaal family in London, Ontario. Look for Mr. Singh to remind Canadians of the role his party played in pushing for certain COVID-19 benefits: increasing the amount of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and getting it extended; increasing the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy from 10 to 75 per cent of salaries; targeted benefits to students, seniors and people with disabilities; and a new sick-leave benefit for people with COVID-19, which Singh called his party’s “biggest” achievement during the pandemic.
The Bloc Québécois is poised to play the trouble-fête for Mr. Trudeau. The Liberals need to pick up several seats in Québec if they are to secure a majority mandate. But with the Bloc consistently hovering just under the 30 per cent, it’s not clear where those seats will come from. This, in NATIONAL’s view, must be watched carefully in the coming months: without a potential uptick for the Liberals, they could remain squarely in their current minority government status.
Rather than bear the potential brunt of voters for calling an early election, minority governments have been known to seek out issues that they can “fall on”—even if it means manufacturing it themselves. This time is no different, with Liberal Cabinet ministers rushing to bemoan a dysfunctional Parliament that isn’t allowing the government to pass critical legislation such as Bill C-10, its long-awaited broadcasting reform.
Yet this doesn’t align with the current political reality: there’s a decent argument to be made that the current legislature has in fact been relatively productive.
But as MPs trudge their way through the House of Commons’ final sitting week, the message from top officials is clear: get ready for a fall campaign. While nothing in politics is ever simply “inevitable”, short of significant political developments over the summer, or the pan-Canadian vaccination roll-out stalling, the betting money is on Canadians heading to the polls in the coming months.
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——— Simon Beauchemin is a former Senior Director, Trade and Investment at NATIONAL Public Relations