Just as the SNC-Lavalin scandal is finally winding down after two months, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau now has to worry about a Conservative onslaught led by Jason Kenney and Doug Ford – making a tough year even tougher.
Regardless of whether the premiers of Alberta and Ontario succeed in disposing of the Trudeau government this fall, they have set the narrative of the October federal election. And that’s not necessarily good news for Andrew Scheer.
Scheer is leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, but he is no longer leader of conservatives across the country. Whatever strategy he has for the election, it no longer matters. In fact, he needn’t bother to come out with a policy on climate change this summer, as he had planned. Canadians won’t care amid all the noise.
Conservative election strategy is being developed for Scheer by his provincial counterparts. Trudeau will be running against Kenney and Ford this fall, with Scheer reduced to bit player.
Will Canadians elect someone as prime minister when that candidate is not in control of his campaign? Will Canadians elect a PM who, in reality, will be messenger and cheerleader for a coalition of Conservative provincial governments?
Maybe. These are strange times, and Scheer could wind up winner and also-ran at the same time.
There are, of course, a few questions about Trudeau’s survival. With troublesome issues like China, SNC-Lavalin, a hostile media and a posse of recalcitrant Conservative premiers who think cheaper fuel is more important than the planet’s survival, Trudeau may be facing considerably more than a pain in the prime ministerial posterior. Can a rookie PM who lost two senior ministers and two senior aides survive the strain?
In fact, the charge of the Tory premiers could be used to the Liberals’ advantage for the following reasons:
Although climate change has been gaining traction in the media for months – thanks to two scary reports from the UN and, most recently, from Canada – the Liberals must make it the political issue in order to get people to forget SNC-Lavalin. The attack of the premiers will put the issue on steroids. The Liberals now have a couple of proper villains to campaign against and galvanize support from the environmentally conscious voters who elected them in 2015: millennials.
Kenney may be an experienced political strategist who thinks incrementally, but his ally from Ontario is cartoonish. Ford’s latest stunt of using public funds for partisan advertising against the carbon tax, while forgetting to mention it is actually revenue neutral, could remind Ontario voters of the rebates they’re getting from the feds. Managing Doug Ford will be on Kenney’s to-do list.
Central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, Bank of England and the Bank of Canada, are becoming increasingly concerned about climate change. That means financial markets will be concerned, if they are not already. The Bank of England plans to require bankers to disclose risk from climate change on their balance sheets. Ignoring climate change will be difficult in the coming months for any politician, federal or provincial.
Until recently, registered charities were restricted by law to devoting no more than 10% of their operations to political advocacy. The Harper government used this rule to intimidate environmental groups and kept most of them out of the 2015 campaign. Last December, the Income Tax Act was amended to remove the 10% rule and allow unrestricted advocacy after the limit was ruled unconstitutional in the courts. Expect environmental groups to be active and loud in the coming federal election.
Peter Worthington, the late editor of the Toronto Sun, once said journalists are either at one’s feet or at one’s throat. The SNC-Lavalin scandal had two things journalists love – conflict and a victim perceived to be principled. A political fight over climate change in the coming months will certainly have lots of conflict, plus an environmental crisis. Journalists can play God with politicians’ careers, depending on what fits the news frame.
Finally, if Quebec winds up supporting the Liberals, Justin won’t be the first Trudeau it has rescued. There isn’t much love these days between Quebec and Alberta. Careful, Jason – careful.