The 2019 federal election now seems like distant history — the political landscape has changed that much.
Liberals and Conservatives came out of the Oct. 21 election knowing there is widespread voter discontent with both parties.
It’s human nature to hope for a messiah to show up and save ailing political parties and sports franchises. (Anybody remember Michael Ignatieff or Mike Babcock?) But the Conservatives need more than a new leader. In fact, their next policy convention in November may be more important.
The Conservatives have a political brand problem. It’s become a common refrain among pollsters that the Tories are widely seen as yesterday’s party, filled with social conservatives and skeptics of climate change.
There is good reason for that. A Leger poll in early January found that 82% of committed Conservative voters want a focus on maintaining balanced budgets and 63% want their new leader to aim to reduce immigration to Canada.
Meantime, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have now won two elections advocating the opposite on both fronts.
For example, as the wildfires in Australia continued to burn throughout January, they are now to most Canadians what a climate apocalypse would look like.
This is no time for a political party to shirk a comprehensive climate crisis policy. If the Conservatives don’t have one by the next election campaign, they really will need a messiah.
Whoever takes over Conservative leadership would be doing the party a huge favour by taking its ownership back from social conservatives and vested interests and returning it to its members.
With the Conservatives not getting a new leader until the end of June, the party will be in maintenance mode until next autumn, giving the Liberals loads of time to repair their brand. They are not squandering it.
Post-election, a chastened Justin Trudeau announced a small tax cut, making a bloated deficit old news during the Christmas doldrums; shared his plans to alleviate Western voters’ alienation; and released detailed ministerial mandate letters. Things have been so busy on Planet Liberal, they haven’t gotten around to doing an election post-mortem caucus meeting, as the other parties have.
The throne speech and mandate letters to ministers made it clear that climate change will be this government’s defining priority. When Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a series of budget consultation meetings in January, climate change was Topic No. 1.
Just about everything in the mandate letters seemed aimed at millennials and newer members of the middle class. Regulating tech, cheaper wireless services, greater rights for internet users, the green economy, innovation — the mandate letters cover every hot-button issue for voters coming of age in the 21st century.
But the mandate letters also contain an important clue that this government will be different from the one that stood for re-election in 2019. Ministers were told they will be reporting directly to Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister and the new “minister of everything.”
This strategy shows Trudeau has learned to keep closer tabs on his ministers after Jody Wilson-Raybould almost blew up his government last February in the SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. scandal.
The second Trudeau government is going to be a much tighter ship, led by a different style of leader — literally.
When Trudeau resurfaced after Christmas, he was sporting a beard, making him look more stately and less surfer dude. The rebranding is in full swing.
One problem, though. Trudeau’s agenda, as in his first term, is being interrupted by events beyond his control. How he deals with Donald Trump, and Iran shooting down an airliner with 57 Canadians on board, will be Trudeau’s major challenges.
So far, he has handled it well. Having grown up at 24 Sussex Dr., Trudeau probably is mindful of what happened to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter after Iran took U.S. embassy staff hostage in 1979.
This year will be dangerous for any prime minister, particularly one leading a minority government.