The House of Commons and Senate return to session this week, marking approximately one year until the October 21, 2019, federal election. There is little doubt that this particular sitting will be a wild ride as the opposition parties position themselves as the alternative to the governing Liberal Party ahead of the next election.
Conversely, Prime Minister Trudeau and the members of the ministry will be focused on delivering on completing their major political promises coming out of the 2015 campaign while weaving in the threads of what is certain to be the beginnings of the Liberals’ re-election platform.
Amidst the political positioning in the nation’s capital, the Liberal government has a number of key files that will require strategic political maneuvering over the coming months such as the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations and the generally cool relationship with the President of the United States, Donald Trump; the entanglement of the Trans Mountain pipeline project; and a number of relatively unfriendly Premiers who are positioned to slow down or halt some of the Government’s initiatives, such as carbon pricing.
The July 18th cabinet was meant to deal with some of those tricky issues by introducing some new voices around the federal decision-making table. However, the moves are only one part of the equation. Mr. Trudeau and his team will need to thread the needle carefully to deal with the many issues the Government has to face prior to going to the electorate to seek a second mandate.
The Fall Session: What to Watch For
Here is what we should be watching for from the government as we enter the fall session:
- Passing major legislation such as Bill C-68 (the Fisheries Act), Bill C-76 (the Elections Modernization Act), Bill C-69 (the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act), among others;
- Expect to see a study on the handling of past criminal convictions for nonviolent crimes related to cannabis possession and use;
- Watch for the Minister of Finance’s Fall Economic Update, which will be used by the government to lay out strategic initiatives for the spring 2019 budget, and potentially be used to test the waters for a future Liberal election platform;
- Tight message discipline from political staffers, Members of Parliament, Parliamentary Secretaries and Ministers, along with a renewed focus on issues management;
- Key staff changes will most likely occur as organizers are deployed to various ridings across the country or the Liberal Party’s central war room. The government will want to keep most of its key staffers in place to secure progress on important files.
The Official Opposition
The Conservatives have done a solid job of holding the government to account on a number of issues. However, their efforts seem to not have had any lasting effect on the Liberals with polling last week showing them back up to around 40% support among Canadian voters.
Andrew Scheer’s team will have to find ways to show Canadians that they are a viable government in waiting. They have to show case a set of ideas that form the basis of a realistic and desirable platform. To position themselves as the alternative, the Conservative Party may have to consider doing the following during the session:
- Take advantage of any opportunity to challenge the Government on some of their priority issues;
- Demonstrate that they have appealing ideas for Canadians prior to the federal next election,
- Convince Canadians that what they are proposing is appealing and necessary, and;
- Ensure the Mr. Bernier’s new political movement does not gain any significant traction.
The New Democrats
The New Democrats (NDP) are facing some challenging times with rumblings of caucus dissatisfaction with leader Jagmeet Singh, the retirement of several caucus heavy weights, sagging fundraising, and low poll numbers.
The NDP can make the most out of the next session by:
- Stopping the bleeding and come to terms with the Singh’s leadership;
- Ensure that Mr. Singh wins the future byelection in Burnaby South;
- Focusing on fundraising and use key issues that arise during the new session to boost donations;
- Concentrate on issues that will appeal to their base and to progressive voters: income inequalities, protection of the environment.
What is old seems to be what is new all over again with the government in a position that mirrors the one they found themselves in during the early phase of their mandate. Only time will tell if they can keep from falling into mistakes that could give the opposition parties a fighting chance to unseat them in 2019.
——— Andrew Richardson is a former Manager, Political Insights and Strategy at NATIONAL Public Relations