With a fall election no longer in the cards, much of the drama has leeched out of the return of Parliament and the Speech from the Throne on Wednesday.
MPs, in attendance physically or virtually, will find the capital in mourning and flags at half-mast to mark the passing on the weekend of former prime minister John Turner who is well remembered as a great House of Commons man.
His successors on both sides of the House, knowing the minority Liberal government is not about to be defeated, will be concentrating on issues of more practical concern.
My attention, I must confess, has been on political battles to the south – the historic power struggle for control of the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of the death of the liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the ghastly spectre of Donald Trump actually being re-elected in November.
I have been conducting an informal survey among students in the political ethics course I teach at the University of Guelph. I asked the 300 third-year students whether they believe President Trump will win.
As I write this, NO is leading YES by roughly 2-1. But many students are conflicted. However devoutly they may wish his defeat, they fear that Trump, a politician without scruples, will somehow manage to claim victory.
I share their conflict.
His Democratic opponent Joe Biden does not inspire overwhelming confidence. The former vice-president had the stage to himself at a CNN town hall in Pennsylvania the other night. He answered questions lobbed by COVID-masked voters from behind a glass partition.
He came across as decent, honourable and adequately informed, the sort of nice fellow most of us would welcome as a neighbour or a guest for dinner in our home. But he has a disquieting way of interrupting himself in mid-sentence, pausing or changing tack as though he has momentarily forgotten the question he is answering.
Is Biden strong enough – and quick enough – to withstand the barrage of baseless accusations, distortions and outright falsehoods that Trump will unleash during their three face-to-face debates (on Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22)? If he goes down in debate flames, his campaign will surely be doomed.
And Canada, along with other Western democracies, will be doomed to another four years of living with, working around and trying to survive Trump’s America First agenda, his isolationism and his contempt for international agencies to which other countries attach great importance.
These include the World Health Organization, World Trade Organization, International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court, Planned Parenthood, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, NATO, UNESCO, UN Human Rights Council and the United Nations itself, where the Trump administration refuses to pony up $1-billion in unpaid dues.
For Canada, dealing with the narcistic, delusional Trump for a second term could only be worse than dealing with him in his first term. Vindicated by re-election, he would be freed of restraints and stimulated to obey his worst impulses.
None of this will be in the Throne Speech, of course. That would be impolitic. And as much as the Liberals would love to use the speech to reset the national agenda on a reform course, the reality is that surviving and defeating the COVID-19 pandemic takes precedence. The alarming increase in new cases means a slower, more cautious, more costly path to recovery than anticipated.
The Conservatives will go through the motions of trying to bring the Liberals down on a non-confidence motion during the Throne Speech debate. It will be a half-hearted effort. With their new leader, Erin O’Toole, sidelined by COVID – along with Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet – most Conservatives are less than eager to hit the hustings.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear that he has no desire for an early election and no intention of provoking one. He underlined that by calling by-elections for Oct. 26 to fill Ontario vacancies in Toronto Centre (held by former finance minister Bill Morneau) and York Centre (where Maxime Bernier, the ex-Conservative who leads the failed People’s Party of Canada, says he intends to make his comeback).
Both Trudeau and O’Toole know the country is not interested in an election so soon after the one last October. As long as the Liberals can keep the NDP more or less satisfied, they will run no real risk of defeat in Parliament.
I don’t see an election between now and next summer at the very earliest. When it does happens, it will either be because Trudeau has grown tired of feeding table scraps to the New Democrats or because the NDP decides it would rather risk losing seats than continue to watch its independence erode away.
Which invites a question. Why don’t the New Dems and Libs stop pretending – and merge? It would be a marriage forged in pandemic heaven. Or hell.
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at the University of Guelph. His column appears Mondays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]