Yes, the 2019 federal election was ugly. And its immediate aftermath possibly was uglier.
Western Canada is feeling particularly unloved. Nobody knows what to make of the resurgent Bloc Québécois and its unsmiling leader. But most important, those in the business sector are very anxious.
The Oct. 21 election is being seen differently outside the country. For example, the Washington Post declared on its editorial page that the planet was the big winner of Canada’s election. This is because world leaders regard carbon taxes as political suicide since one such tax brought down Australia’s government in 2013. Talking about saving the planet is one thing. Actually taking the one action recognized by scientists as a solution is quite another.
“[T]he narrative of political suicide now has a Canada-sized hole in it,” the Post stated the day after the election in an editorial that might remind Canadian chattering classes not to be so parochial.
Managing to get elected while advocating a carbon tax is only part of the story. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau successfully straddled the climate change issue after buying a pipeline to enable Canada’s landlocked energy sector to be less dependent on the U.S. market.
That’s a significant political achievement.
Environmentalists will revile Trudeau for years to come for trying to be a planet saviour and pipeline builder at the same time. But no one seems able to answer how Ottawa could possibly establish a successful climate policy without consideration of an industry that accounts for 11% of the GDP and thousands of jobs.
The day after the election, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs announced he was rethinking his opposition to the carbon tax, citing the will of the people.
Trudeau will be remembered for establishing a climate change policy that will eventually be accepted by most Canadians. If he’s smart, his minority government will fold economic innovation into environmental policy and emerge with a national green economy strategy. That will catch the attention of the world, repair the Trudeau brand, calm financial markets and get on with saving the planet.
There is also something the Conservatives can do to make minority government work, whether or not they keep Andrew Scheer as leader: lose the nasty tactics.
For the past couple of decades, conservative parties in North America have been using a universal playbook developed by the Republicans in the U.S.
The tactics are simple: your opponent’s trade deal doesn’t just have flaws; it’s the worst trade deal ever. Solutions you propose are so simple they fit on a T-shirt, bumper sticker or hat – like “Buck-a-Beer.” Demonize the preferred candidate of those who will never vote for you so much that they stay home on election day.
But most important, today’s conservative parties narrowcast their political branding at a specific, loyal demographic – aging and angry baby boomers in rural and suburban ridings – and let those voters spread the word to swing other voters and other demographics.
That playbook worked beautifully for Stephen’s Harper government in the 2011 election, and recently for Doug Ford and Jason Kenney in Ontario and Alberta, respectively. The strategy even worked at the federal level, to some degree, in 2015, despite Trudeau winning a majority.
The Conservative base held in that election. The Liberals won because they were able to cash in on millennials voting for the first time. Now that the millennials are the largest voting bloc, the Conservatives need to broaden their support base, drop the nastiness and stop being northern Republicans.
In the most recent election, Conservative snark was turning off voters. This is why the Conservatives bombed in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
Minority government is likely to help Trudeau become more patient so he won’t again elbow an Opposition MP in the chest on the floor of the House of Commons. Or the prime minister will learn to compromise and play nice with the premiers.
Minority government might be a good thing.