This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on 20170219.
By focusing on the centre, the Liberal leader has cleared space for a New Democratic Party that at one point looked lost. The 2019 incarnation of the DNP should not resemble the centre-left, anti-deficit, pro-business party that was pitched to Canadians in 2015.
Times have been tough for the federal New Democrats.
They entered the 2015 election as contenders for the big prize but, as a result of a series of unfortunate decisions, on election day voters returned them to their traditional third-party role.
It didn’t take long for many New Democrats to publicly denounce their leader. The result was as inevitable as it was predictable: polls reported the party found itself, for a time, within the margin of error of the Green Party.
And like 7 year olds playing soccer, pundits, as a whole, rushed to write the party off.
However, it would appear NDP fortunes are starting to change. The party’s leadership campaign is gaining media attention, high-profile leadership candidates are beginning to emerge, and its polling numbers may, just may, finally be turning around.
At the same time, the Liberal government also appears to be turning a corner. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent difficulties — including the bungled electoral reform promise, the cash-for-access scandal and the fallout in provincial relations over health care — have begun to disappear from the front pages.
The Prime Minister is once again making headlines for his savvy in international relations.
Many feared Trudeau would not match up well with U.S. President Donald Trump, someone who is brash, self-interested and easily offended.
However, after Monday’s unremarkable and conventional meeting in Washington, Trump gave his word that Canada’s historic relationship with the United States would only become stronger.
Monday’s meeting could not have gone better for Trudeau and for Canada; it was a performance the entire country should applaud.
Add to this, a series of smaller victories: Canada added 48,300 jobs to the economy in January, dropping the national unemployment rate to 6.8 per cent. In Quebec, Trudeau delivered on his promise to assist Bombardier. And in the coming weeks, he will announce a series of infrastructure projects, marijuana legislation that will rally and excite the millennial base, and progress on the Keystone XL pipeline that will appeal to moderates in Alberta.
The Liberal Party clearly has a firm grip on the centre of the political spectrum. In recent times, this could be counted as a political victory. However, in today’s political climate, moderation is viewed as the elitist status quo. Centrists are often viewed as indecisive on the big issues of the day and indifferent to the plight of ordinary people.
Internationally, centrist political parties have had little electoral success of late. Instead, it is candidates and leaders on the fringes who have gained political steam and attention.
By focusing on the centre, Trudeau has cleared space for a New Democratic Party that at one point looked lost. Trudeau’s policies and decisions — his enthusiasm for pipelines, embrace of Harper-era greenhouse gas emission targets, perceived failures on improving the lives of indigenous Canadians, and cynical abandonment of electoral reform — have given the New Democrats the lifeline they needed.
The 2019 incarnation of the New Democratic Party should not resemble the centre-left, anti-deficit, pro-business party that was pitched to Canadians in 2015.
Rather, the NDP should select a protest candidate who will invigorate the left and stand as a stark contrast to the current Prime Minister.
Regardless of who becomes the next leader of the federal NDP — whether it is Charlie Angus, the hardworking, well-liked, Northern Ontario MP, Peter Julian, the anti-pipeline, 99 per center, or Jagmeet Singh, the GQ-featured, suburban whisperer Ontario MPP — they will be free to seize the space on the left and rebuild their party.
Federal politics in Canada has been a race to the centre for a long time. As a result, Canadians have bemoaned their lack of genuine political choice. Everyone understood that while the colour of the drapes might change, that no matter who occupied 24 Sussex Drive, the fundamentals of life in Canada would be relatively unchanged.
In the 2019 election, this theory will be tested. Will Canadians, like voters around the world, vote for a candidate who panders to the far right or left, or will they opt for one who owns the middle ground?
Trudeau is betting on history — a history that favours the Canadian way, that favours that glorious promise of peace, order and good government.
I think Canadians likely will too.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.