This article first appeared in The Toronto Star on February 3, 2019.
Earlier this week, members of Parliament must have felt somewhat disoriented as they returned for a final session in their familiar, yet entirely new, surroundings. The House of Commons chamber has been relocated, albeit temporarily, to a spectacular new space in the West Block Courtyard.
But more than just adjusting to a different home, each of the parties must now come to grips with the notion that this session, the last before the next federal election, will be a different one as well.
And that means somewhere between the cut and thrust of politics as usual, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer must now turn their minds to what it will take to win the next federal election; one that’s literally around the corner.
In the life of politicians, election years are always marked with distinct and different characteristics. Yet, each has one thing in common: there comes a point when time becomes a politician’s chief opponent.
October will arrive in the blink of an eye and they all have much to do. Typically, the government of the day has the upper-hand. There is, of course, a distinct structural advantage in being able to both set the frame of debate and use the machinery of government to drive and deliver your point of view.
That said, the prime minister is finding out former U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was right when he said what worried him the most in politics was, “events, my dear boy, events.”
One needs to look no further than the Meng Wanzhou extradition fiasco for proof.
And while it is true that, for most Canadians, foreign policy issues are seldom determinative of their final vote, this matter touches a much broader and more troublesome range of issues for the government: general competence, economic prosperity and old-fashioned Canadian pride.
And so, the prime minister knows he won’t simply be able to run out the clock. Sunny ways, alone, won’t suffice. No, Trudeau will need to give Canadians a reason to return his party to power.
In 2015, the Liberals ran on a platform that not only excited voters but, in the view of many, stood in stark contrast to a tired, negative one offered by Stephen Harper.
I don’t agree that, by and large, governments defeat themselves. Rather, I think they are elected to do a job and once that job is done, they are required to return to the electorate to articulate just what job they are going to do next.
So, prime minister, what do you have in mind? How will you showcase renewed energy and optimism?
And how will you do it while facing a Council of the Federation that’s very different than the one you met when you first came to office?
Premier Wynne is gone. Clark, Gallant, and Couillard, too. And with them, their Greek chorus.
The challenge for Team Trudeau will be focusing their priorities and agenda during the session ahead and doing so on a playing field that is not the same as it once was.
How could it be? That was before Brexit (or no deal), Trump, irregular immigration, and the all too public diplomatic spats with Saudi Arabia and China.
As for Scheer, Conservatives know they need to significantly broaden their base of support. Reaching out to millennials and urban voters will be critical as the coalition that led to their majority mandate in 2011 no longer exists.
Scheer will work hard over the coming months to convince us that Trudeau is out of touch with everyday Canadians. Simultaneously, he will have to present a clear picture of how he will make life better — materially better — for everyday hard-working Canadians. He will have to put more on offer than just trained seal-like opposition to every Liberal promise or decision.
For example, in 2015, an alternative to Trudeau’s energy and climate change strategy did not exist. And unless you consider the status quo a strategy, one still doesn’t. That must change.
And, finally, what does it say about my New Democrat friends, that a column looking ahead to this year’s election contains nary a mention of Mr. Singh? A lot.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt