Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says a government’s final year of office is always its toughest, and Canada’s current prime minister is likely to nod in agreement. Not that 2018 was an easy year for Justin Trudeau, but the months leading up to the federal election this October could very well make him nostalgic for the year that just ended.
The prime minister now has a potential backlash to his climate change strategy; public ownership of a pipeline he’s struggling to get built; deteriorating relations with China to worry about; the U.S./Mexico/Canada Agreement that still must run the gauntlet of approvals in the U.S. Congress; and whatever else the politics gods can throw at him in the coming year.
Trudeau came into office with plenty of friends among the provincial premiers – most notably, Kathleen Wynne in Ontario – to back his national mandatory carbon price; co-operate on his social policies, such as pharmacare; and defend him when the going got tough.
Today, that cheering section has been replaced by four angry Conservatives determined to bust the carbon price and who could become five if Jason Kenney becomes Alberta’s premier in this May’s provincial election.
The electorate clearly is in a volatile mood after turfing out four provincial Liberal governments across the country since Trudeau was elected in 2015. That the fledgling Green Party seems to be growing to the point of holding the balance of power in two provinces is a sign of growing voter disillusionment with all political parties.
Trudeau still may be ahead in the polls, but he probably is mindful that his father also was ahead in the polls on the eve of the 1972 election – in which Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals were reduced to a minority government.
In 1972, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was strong, thanks to David Lewis’ successful “corporate welfare bums” campaign, which siphoned off Liberal support. Also, the Conservatives then were led by Robert Stanfield, the man Canadians will always remember as the greatest prime minister we never had.
Today, if Justin Trudeau loses the 2019 election, it will be in spite of a moribund Opposition.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been such a dud that some Liberals probably secretly hope he will win the coming byelection in Burnaby South so that his party won’t have an excuse to replace him before the election.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has allowed himself to be elbowed out of national attention by provincial counterparts such as Ontario’s Doug Ford. And Scheer seems to have kamikaze instincts. Who else would endorse Brexit as it’s coming apart or call for a return to a Senate full of party hacks?
Pollster Nik Nanos notes that in terms of public approval, Trudeau is where former prime minister Stephen Harper was in 2014. In other words, the current prime minister is in reasonably good shape after three years in power.
Closer to the 2015 election, Harper got consumed in an ugly scandal over senators’ spending and was caught unprepared for a collapse of oil prices. He also did stupid things, such as trying to undermine the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Trudeau would have to make a lot of effort to put himself in a similar predicament before next October.
Pollster Darrell Bricker believes that although Trudeau has the upper hand, one major slip-up could render him vulnerable. That slip-up could be China. Canadians think Trudeau made the best of a bad situation with NAFTA and the antics of Donald Trump, but the same can’t be said for China.
Ottawa had advance notice that the U.S. wanted Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., arrested and held for extradition, and should have warned the Chinese that Meng shouldn’t set foot in Vancouver, as Gordon Ritchie, Canada’s former ambassador for trade negotiations, and John Manley, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, argue.
Trudeau also is under pressure over the Trans-Mountain pipeline extension. But most Canadians will remember that his predecessors couldn’t get a pipeline built either, and that generations of complacency created overdependence on one customer.
Still, there’s a hardcore base of Canadians who regard Trudeau as the son of the anti-Christ. If someone could figure out how to mobilize that base, the son of Pierre will be in trouble. But, for now, it’s Advantage: Justin Trudeau.