With two years still to go, the battle lines are already forming for the federal election scheduled for Oct. 21, 2019.
The battle will be led by three men who are the youngest collection of major party leaders in Canadian history. It comes as a bit of a shock to realize that Justin Trudeau, who was the bright young hope of the Liberals when they chose him in 2013 – and who was derided by the Conservatives as being too young to be prime minister – is now the oldest of the three leaders. He’s 45.
The New Democrats have just chosen their own bright young hope in Jagmeet Singh, 38, he of the colourful turbans; they hope he can replicate Trudeau’s feat of levitating the third-place party to first place, or at least to second place as Jack Layton did in 2011.
The label of bright young hope doesn’t fit the Conservatives’ new leader, Andrew Scheer. Although he is the youngest of the three – also 38, but five months younger than Singh – he hides his youth well. He could pass for 58, conventional in his attire, demeanour and thinking. He’s the closest thing to an old-style political leader the parties have to offer for 2019.
Although no one can possibly predict how the three leaders and parties will play out in the second half of the Liberal mandate, a few assumptions can be advanced. The two opposition leaders have the same priority – to raise their recognition level. Many Canadians still don’t know who they are and what they stand for. Scheer will use his pulpit as opposition leader in Parliament to try to raise his profile. Singh, not having a seat in the Commons, will travel the country to reach Canadians where they live and work.
Another assumption: both opposition leaders will focus on attacking the Liberals and will not invest much effort in presenting policies of their own. Singh will attack from the left, trying to attract former NDP voters and left-Liberals who are disappointed with the pace of change under Trudeau.
Scheer will come in from the right, as the defender of the “real” middle class -- small business owners, farmers, people who hate government spending, hockey moms and dads, and everyone who loves Tim Hortons. A social conservative, Scheer is following the path of Stephen Harper. He is anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, but like Harper he will attempt to keep the issues out of the political arena lest they expose the fault lines within his party. He has no coherent position on climate change, other than being opposed to a carbon tax, or on the legalization of marijuana.
Like Singh, Scheer will attack Trudeau for unkept election promises. He will not mention that his model, Harper, came to office in 2006 with a promise to provide a government that would be open and accountable, and did neither.
For Justin Trudeau, one challenge of the next two years will be to demonstrate that the government actually knows what it is doing on key files. These include achieving a balancing act between pipelines and the environment; getting tax reform on track; managing the introduction of legal pot; building a case for a carbon tax; and dispatching a search party to find, and kick-start, the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.
In the end, however, election 2019 may not be decided by the personalities or performance of the three leaders. The determinant, I suspect, will be Donald Trump.
To date, Trudeau and his key ministers have done a remarkable job of managing the Canada-U.S. relationship despite having to deal with a president who grows weirder by the day. Weirder and more dangerous.
Justin Trudeau will have a bilateral sit-down with the President in Washington tomorrow. He goes as friend, but if Trump, for whatever reason, decides Canada is to be his new enemy, if he actually tears up NAFTA, Canadian politics will become a whole new, unpredictable game.