Each Of The Federal Parties Should Be Worried

The new parliament has a minority government. It is inherently unstable and unlikely to last a full four years until the next scheduled election.

That being the case, each of the parties has an urgent need to do some strategic thinking.

The Green party has to-date been a platform for the tireless Elizabeth May, who has announced her retirement. Climate change, their issue, was prominent during the campaign. That being the case, the Greens must be disappointed with their measly three seats.

They lacked the depth to produce a credible platform on other issues and were often competing with the NDP for voters of similar disposition. Being a one-issue party is difficult, and it is unlikely that the next leader will be as effective as May in getting attention. Although there are two or three strong provincial Green organizations, the federal party could wither away.

The NDP has little reason to be cheerful. It maintained only 24 of its 44 seats, many of them in remote areas and none of them in Montreal or Quebec City, Toronto or Ottawa, or Calgary. Tellingly, they had very few second-place finishes. It could have been much worse if the Liberals had run a strong campaign.

The Greens picked off some votes by imitating many of the NDP’s economic policies. Those policies were hard left, a reaction to the NDP having been outflanked in by the Liberals in 2015. The parties were busy poaching candidates from each other, reflecting their small differences in policy.

The right choice for both is a merger. This won’t help much in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, or Quebec, but could be quite useful elsewhere. Their combined votes would have made them second after the Liberals in PEI and Nova Scotia; tied for second behind the Conservatives in Manitoba, and first overall in British Columbia.

Things are never that simple, but a merged party (let’s call it the GDP) would have real prospects of growing its 27 seats. It would be able to move a bit toward the centre on economic matters and would be more credible than the Liberals on climate change. The merger would also give members a chance to reconsider Jagmeet Singh’s leadership.

The Conservatives have some soul searching to do. Those from Ontario, where the election was lost, must rue their choice of Doug Ford as provincial leader.

He defeated Christine Elliot by a whisker in their leadership race, trounced the dreadful provincial Liberals in the subsequent election, and promptly sank to an abysmal 26% approval rating by the federal election day, seriously tarnishing the Conservative brand.

On the other hand, even those who are disenchanted with Scheer must be grateful that he narrowly prevailed in the federal leadership race over Maxime Bernier who, it is now clear, would have been a disaster.

Scheer’s leadership is very much in question. Defeated candidates, campaign managers, and others have signalled their discontent. There is not a loud chorus of support.

The party is scheduled to do an automatic review at its April meeting. In similar circumstances in 1983, then-leader Joe Clark received 66.9% support. He rightly concluded that it was not enough and called a leadership race himself, which he lost to Brian Mulroney. The historical precedent carries great weight.

It seems unlikely that Scheer will exceed Clark’s level of support. He can best serve the party by making a choice shortly after Christmas. Either indicate that he will be stepping down entirely, or ask the party to call a leadership race, in which he will participate, later in the year.

The worst possible outcome for the Conservatives would be for Scheer to continue as leader after receiving a weak mandate in April, leaving a divided party to contest the next election.

It would be mighty tempting for the Liberals, facing a less than united Conservative party, and before the GDP gets its act together, to find some pretext for calling a vote in late 2020 or the spring of 2021.

If the other parties do make wise choices, the Liberals will have their own dilemma. Imagine that the Greens and NDP come to an agreement in the next twelve months, and the Conservatives are united behind a new leader.

The hard truth is that the SNC fiasco, the blackface incidents, his mismanagement of both climate change and Canada’s energy industry, and his penchant for making ill-considered remarks on important issues have made Trudeau a liability.

Against a stronger Conservative campaign, Trudeau could have now been in the same position that Scheer finds himself, with the same likely outcome. As it is, Trudeau will very likely be the Liberal leader at the next election, which may not come at a time of his choosing.

A united Conservative party might gladly support a GDP non-confidence vote based, say, on a Liberal climate change program that fails to meet the GDP’s exacting demands. In the subsequent election, the Liberals might find themselves squeezed on both sides.

To prevail, Trudeau must be a better leader. He will need to pay more attention to his cabinet, and less to his tight circle of advisers. He must avoid airy bromides about complex issues.

His real opportunity is to provide visible and effective leadership to get the Trans-Mountain pipeline done and to tell Canadians that the climate change challenge is to reduce our consumption, not to punish Western Canada’s producers.

None of the parties should feel comfortable about their current positioning. Maintaining the status quo is not a good plan for any of them.


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