The House of Commons rose for the summer this afternoon. They will reconvene on Monday, September 17. Until then, Members of Parliament will spend most of their time in their ridings rather than in Ottawa.
No one, regardless of party stripe, could say that this past session of Parliament was dull. The government found itself mired in minor scandal, attempted to push through plenty of serious legislation, dodged landmine issues left and right, and witnessed the defeat of a major provincial ally in Ontario.
It’s enough to make you wonder why Prime Minister Trudeau smiles as much as he does.
To answer that question, we need to take a good view at what exactly his government has accomplished this past session (the Good), the issues that continue to dog him (the Bad), and the issues that could blow up in everyone’s faces during the next session of Parliament (the Ugly).
Let’s start with the Good.
Prime Minister Trudeau and his government have managed to pass a large amount of consequential legislation this past session. Signature achievements include Bill C-45 (The Cannabis Act), Bill C-68 (The Fisheries Act), and Bill C-59 (National Security Act).
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the government’s achievements this past session, but it leaves you with an idea of the breadth of the legislation passed through Parliament since Christmas.
Bill C-45’s passage right before the end of the session is reason for the government to celebrate since the legalization of cannabis was a signature campaign promise. To not have it finished would have left Prime Minister Trudeau open to attacks from his left and centre bases, two groups of voters he can absolutely not alienate in the lead up to the 2019 Federal Election.
Beyond the legislative victories, Prime Minister Trudeau can celebrate stealing two relatively solid Conservative ridings away from the Conservative Party of Canada in by-elections in B.C. and Quebec. These victories also take some of the sting out of the loss of Chicoutimi-Le Fjord to the Conservative Party this past week. Moving forward, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal Party are the odds-on favourites to steal Tom Mulcair’s seat in Montreal once he retires this summer and may be a contender in the upcoming Burnaby by-election.
But all is not rosy. There have been some rough issues for the government this past session, with plenty more expected to show up in the fall.
The opposition Conservative Party of Canada has done a tremendous job of turning the political screws on the Prime Minister and his government and this has left the government more than a little worse for wear as we enter the summer. For example, the proposed federal price on carbon has been a source of constant and clever attack by anopposition eager to paint the Liberal Party as levying higher taxes on the middle class.
Along the same lines, the opposition has used its parliamentary skill to force the government into all-night voting stints twice in the same session in an attempt to both demoralize government MPs and raise the media profile of their complaints. In the latter case it can be certainly said that their efforts worked to great effect.
Just as by-election results give the Prime Minister a reason to continue smiling, so too do they give him more than a little heartburn. The loss of Chicoutimi-Le Fjord was not devastating, but it stung. Beyond that one election, the Liberal Party has seen its vote share steadily decrease in by-elections across the country from the 2015 high water mark. While it is never a good idea to prophesize the results of a general election from the outcome of by-elections, it is still more than enough to be a cause for evaluation on the part of the Liberal Party.
Beyond the Ottawa bubble, the end of this parliamentary session also saw the loss of one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s closest provincial allies, Premier Kathleen Wynne. Premier Wynne’s replacement, Premier-designate Ford, is no friend of the Prime Minister.
Ford is expected to take his government in a direction that is in some cases diametrically opposed to that of Prime Minister Trudeau. This could actually be good for the Prime Minister, as the juxtaposition could be useful politically. However, there is no guarantee that this will be the case and both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Ford must also consider the necessary balance between politics and governing. Only time will tell how this relationship will play out.
As bad as all that sounds, it could still get worse for the government. This past session saw the Prime Minister’s politically disastrous trip to India that consumed time and energy from the business of governing and also took a chunk out of Prime Minister Trudeau’s approval rating.
So too has the Kinder Morgan debacle with the Governments of British Columbia and Alberta been truly ugly in political terms. Not only was it a problem during the last session, but the odds are very good that the issues with this project will be an ongoing source of drama and frustration for the Prime Minister and his government.
One reason for which Prime Minister Trudeau can continue to smile even as the bad and ugly weigh him down is that much of the ugly from this past session rests with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s performance. Mr. Singh still does not hold a seat in the House of Commons, has performed poorly in by-elections across the country, and is facing murmurs of insurrection from within his own party. The continuing weakness of the NDP only serves to bolster the Prime Minister’s own electoral chances in 2019.
Of course, on the trade front, President Trump remains as unpredictable as ever.
Looking Ahead to the Fall Session
The fall parliamentary session will be the start of a long run-up to the 2019 Federal Election, with each party beginning to position themselves for what is sure to be an interesting election campaign.
It would not be a surprise to see a cabinet shuffle take place before Parliament reconvenes since it would allow the Prime Minister to shuffle out ministers that he feels are not performing well and promote MPs that he feels would make strong champions for the government in the run-up to and during the next election.
There is also the chance that the Prime Minister could use this opportunity to revive the independent regional economic development ministerial roles that could be used to shore up support in key regions such as Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Opposition parties in these regions have scored points arguing that the minister responsible for local economic development is now based in Toronto.
Lastly of course, the government will be pressing the last bit of their priority legislative agenda through Parliament, including Bill C-69 (updating environmental assessments). It will also be worth paying attention to the government’s new pharmacare advisory panel for hints of possible platform issues that will be developed over the coming months. We certainly will be!
So while it has not all been easy for the Prime Minister and his government this past session, without a doubt there remains cause for him to smile – even if a little bruised.
——— Andrew Richardson is a former Manager, Political Insights and Strategy at NATIONAL Public Relations