As I write this column, the 2018 federal budget is at the printers. Ottawa is in pre-budget lull, with Parliament off for a week. The prime minister is off on another rock star tour: this time, to India.
This is a good time for political nerds to take stock of the government’s political capital. The Liberals survived a terrible autumn in the House of Commons. Most finance ministers would not have been able to withstand the constant pounding Bill Morneau had to endure for three months.
There are a couple of sure signs that the Liberals are firmly entrenched in power.
First, Kelly Knight Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, recently defended her president by claiming he was a defender of the middle class – just like Justin Trudeau. When was the last time an emissary of the most powerful politician on earth tried to ride on the coattails of Canada’s prime minister?
Second, the parliamentary press gallery has appointed itself as the unofficial Opposition. The reason: the Conservatives still are hung up on the Trudeaus’ family vacation during Christmas 2016. In the final question period just before the pre-budget break, what were the Conservatives going after the government about? References by Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary, to Nazism in a tweet.
Meantime, the British Columbia government is trying to hold the nation hostage just to please a handful of Green Party members of the B.C. legislative assembly who keep the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP) in power.
Also in mid-February, Dominic Barton, the Liberals’ economic guru, warned that artificial intelligence will take 40% of the jobs in Canada over the next decade.
A savvy Opposition would have demanded to know what the government planned to do about economic disruption. But neither Opposition party seems to give a hoot.
The Conservatives are going through what the Liberals did after the latter were kicked out of power in 2006. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who seems to be a cross between Stephen Harper and Chuckles the Clown, might as well have “caretaker” stamped on his forehead.
The Liberals needed two caretakers and an interim leader before they got their mojo back after their 2006 fall from grace. Historically, the Conservatives have spent more time in the political wilderness than the Liberals before regaining power.
What the Conservatives need now is someone like Bob Stanfield or Preston Manning to become the government-in-waiting’s leader. Neither man tasted power in Ottawa. But their influence was vital for the Conservatives to resume governing.
As for the NDP, there was some excitement from the media when Jagmeet Singh was running for party leader. But, so far, he has turned out to be part of a long run of unsuccessful NDP leaders, save for Jack Layton and Ed Broadbent.
But, then again, leadership is just one of the NDP’s problems. What was this party thinking when it invited Tamika Mallory, a supporter of homophobic and anti-Semitic religious leader Louis Farrakhan, to speak at the NDP’s biennial convention last month? And why would the party allow its radical LEAP fringe, led by Avi Lewis, to upstage that convention with a convention of its own in Ottawa the same week?
That was not the first time the loony Left has tried to take over the NDP. Remember the radical Waffle wing? Ironically, it was Lewis’ father, former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, who was mostly responsible for kicking the Waffle out of party ranks in 1972.
Singh has accomplished one thing by making pharmacare his party’s signature policy, for which the Liberals will be grateful. They will let the NDP beta-test that policy, then steal pharmacare for the Liberals’ campaign in 2019. Stealing NDP policies has been part of the Liberals’ modus operandi for years.
There is a parallel for those of us old enough to remember: despite how much New Coke was a colossal marketing screw-up, Coca-Cola continued to dominate because its of enormous “mind share.”
The Liberals under Trudeau have that kind of mind share among voters, particularly millennials. The Opposition needs to be thinking long-term instead of looking for easy headlines.
Until then, it’s missing in action.