It has been a remarkably busy summer for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet, partially due to the mercurial guy who runs the country south of us, but also because of a full frontal exercise in political branding.
As a result, when the House of Commons resumes sitting in mid-September, the
Liberals will have retained their near double-digit strength in the polls.
Even when Trudeau and his apparatchiks found themselves facing a political crisis, such as the outrage over a $10.5- million settlement with Omar Khadr, they were able to turn that to their advantage with help from the Conservatives.
In a case study that does not speak well of the abilities of the Conservatives’ new leader Andrew Scheer, that party must have thought they were on to something with the countrywide outrage over the Khadr payout. But inflaming outrage in the U.S. media over it backfired.
The lesson here: make sure your tactics don’t draw more negative attention than the issue you’re pursuing.
Normally, a successful leadership candidate receives at least a small bump in the polls. But Scheer has gone virtually nowhere in the polls since becoming party leader in May.
It’s a good bet that a lot of Conservatives will be wondering what things would have been like with Rona Ambrose as their leader going into the 2019 election cycle; or what things would be like with Caroline Mulroney as leader going into the 2023 election cycle.
An obvious sign of how confident the Liberals now feel is the frequent sloppiness Trudeau has displayed publicly.
Examples include forgetting Alberta when praising the rest of the provinces on Canada Day or telling Rolling Stone magazine that Senator Patrick Brazeau was exactly the kind of foil he was looking for before that famous boxing match. Rather insensitive.
Sure, Trudeau was quick to apologize, as he often does. But at some point, his insouciance will start to matter.
Then there’s NAFTA. Because of what is going in the U.S., Canadians’ expectations for the recently begun renegotiations of the trade treaty are very low. And that’s good news for the Liberals.
The Americans are in a political hurry to sign a deal because of their impending midterm elections a need for a speedy resolution that Canada may try to use to its advantage. This may be why Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland has loaded up Canada’s NAFTA priority list with labour and climate change issues that might otherwise get short shrift.
Besides, outflanking the New Democratic Party (NDP) before Parliament resumes is good politics for the Liberals.
The NDP is barely on the public radar these days. But if just 3% of Liberal voters decide to swing over to the NDP, the Conservatives could cash in on a split vote.
So far, no one can criticize the Trudeau government’s NAFTA strategy. Trudeau was wise to draw a line in the sand on Chapter 19, the dispute-settlement mechanism. No Canadian politician would be electable after giving that up.
Ottawa is experienced enough in trade negotiations to know not to make a threat without being prepared to back it up. You can be sure the Americans are well aware of that.
Perhaps this is why Pete Ricketts, the governor of Nebraska, a state heavily dependent on exports to Canada, called on Washington not to disrupt NAFTA.
Derek Burney, formerly Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., says the NAFTA talks will be either very short or very long maybe years instead of months. The duration depends on whether all sides will accept a renovation or a full recasting.
And while a strong trade agreement with the U.S. is essential to Canada’s health, that’s not the only front in which such change is required. Now that our economy is growing stronger, a deficit-elimination plan needs to be considered.
The Liberals have left a trail of broken election promises. But on issues relating to the economy, they have been moving ahead on everything from innovation to controlling real estate prices. The Washington Post even praised the Trudeau government recently for quick execution of its infrastructure program while the Trump administration’s has gone nowhere.
Any way you slice it, Trudeau’s government is returning to the House of Commons in a very strong position this autumn.
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