Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau,
My Dear Prime Minister,
So, tomorrow is the first of June, the month you have been waiting for. I bet you have the big date written on the wall of the PMO: Wednesday, June 23. That’s the day Parliament shuts down for the summer and its members go wherever MPs go when they aren’t on the Hill whining at you about one fool thing or another. They would try the patience of Job, wouldn’t they, Sir?
After the 23rd, you will be free of these distractions while you catch up on matters of deep national import. Such as deciding when to have an election.
First, as you aware, Prime Minister, you have a few holes to patch in the prow of the ship of state before you sail her into a campaign. You can see one hole when you look out the window of your 22-room “temporary” digs at Rideau Cottage in the direction of unoccupied Rideau Hall. Canada has not had a governor general since February. It’s been so long that some people have forgotten we had one and others ask why we ever needed one.
We understand you have a vice-regal selection committee beavering away, and your point man on the GG file, Dominic LeBlanc, is eager to have the role filled in time for the Fête nationale du Québec on June 24. Offhand, I don’t whether he is thinking that an appointment on what used to called Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day would be celebrated across the province and inspire a tide of electoral enthusiasm for federalism, Liberalism and Trudeauism. Or whether he is thinking the reverse – that if the Queen’s new representative were unveiled on the holiday, this vestige of colonialism, this affront (perceived or real) to Quebec nationhood, might escape widespread notice and thus not fuel protests against federal dominance and the royal connection. My hunch is the latter.
Once Parliament is gone, Prime Minister, it will be time for pre-election cabinet repairs. I’m afraid your defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, is past his expiry date. But he needs to be handled with care. He has been loyal. The Sikh vote is important. It would not do to fire him. from the cabinet. He is a proud man; a demotion would be tricky. Here’s an idea to chew on, Mr. Trudeau –why not make Sajjan governor general?
Three of the last four GGs have been women, so no problem with choosing a man. The job usually alternates been English- and French-speakers. Sajjan would succeed Julie Payette – no problem there. He is from British Columbia, the MP for Vancouver South, and there are swing seats to be won or lost in the lower mainland. There has never been a governor general from British Columbia. Who better than Sajjan to break the Rocky Mountains barrier? His distinguished military career suits him well for the GG’s role as commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces. A bonus: he looks impressive in a uniform, which cannot be said of most governors general. Too off-the-wall for you, Mr. Trudeau? But isn’t it worth a passing thought?
The big question this summer will be when to hold the next election. The timing is important. The temperature of the electorate is crucial. Ideally, you will want to be campaigning while most voters still have warm feelings toward you for getting them through the pandemic and before they cool off and want to put the whole wretched experience far behind them. Winston Churchill learned the hard way. He rallied Britain through the Second World War, then called an election, only to be thrown out on his ear.
Your father, Pierre, sure struggled with timing and temperature. He got it right in 1968, when he caught the wave coming out the Liberal leadership convention and rode its crest, a desire for change, to a majority government. He got wrong in 1972 and came within two seats of pitching the nation into the abyss of Conservativism. He judged correctly in 1974 (another majority) but not in 1979, when he turned the keys over to Joe Clark’s bumbling Tories.
Your weather forecast: Choppy waters lie ahead, Mr. Prime Minister.
Your faithful meteorologist,
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, retired recently from teaching political science at the University of Guelph. His column appears Mondays. He welcomes comments at [email protected].