This year’s election campaign has been nasty. It’s also been, from a polling perspective anyway, relatively uneventful. While many Canadians may be wishing for it to be over, the real battle of the 2019 election may be what comes in the days and weeks following Oct. 21.
Removing the truly insane predictions like a PPC majority or a Bloc Quebecois-Green coalition government, there are still several scenarios that could emerge after the ballots are counted Monday evening. Justin Trudeau could win a majority. So too could Andrew Scheer, though seat projections suggest that will be an uphill battle. Canadians will most likely be faced with a party that wins a plurality, though not a majority, of the seats in the House of Commons.
If you’ll indulge my political geekery for just a moment, it’s important to note that winning the election doesn’t guarantee you’ll get to be prime minister. It’s entirely foreseeable given the anti-Conservative hysteria from the other parties that Scheer could emerge as the apparent victor only to have the Liberals cobble together a formal or informal coalition with the New Democrats, Greens and Blocquistes – or some variation thereof – to stay in power.
It may sound democratic, but this is the very nature of our parliamentary system. The winner is not whomever wins the most seats, but whomever can command the confidence of the House.
I won’t dare make a prediction of what is likely to happen on Monday, but I do think it’s worth pointing out just how quickly the knives will come out for the parties’ leaders about five minutes after the result is announced.
No one faces a greater risk of this than Trudeau. Although to a lesser extent than in the 2015 campaign, the entire Liberal apparatus serves to channel the cult of personality around Trudeau. “Team Trudeau” is branded on most of the Liberal candidates’ signs. The faces of the party – members of the Trudeau cabinet – are all fiercely loyal to Trudeau, at least for now. Long-time party stalwarts like John McCallum and Stephane Dion had no place within the Trudeau team. And we all know what happened when Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott dared stand up to him, not to mention Celina Caesar-Chavannes.
While this sort of loyalty is no doubt moving, it’s rarely long-lasting. The Ontario PCs seemed fiercely loyal to Patrick Brown as well. Until he was gone. If Trudeau is unable to hold together a coalition, he’ll cease to be the meal ticket for his caucus and cabinet. The role of Liberals leader – or perhaps even prime minister – may fall to a less blemished member of the team.
Jagmeet Singh, despite his youth and formidable campaign style, will face calls for resignation as well. Though his party has run on a disciplined message that has steered clear of the crazy stuff, it wasn’t that long ago that Singh flirted with the boycott Israel crowd and exalted Fidel Castro. Most of the NDP’s moderate members aren’t even seeking re-election. If the NDP is to return to its Jack Layton-esque populism and popularity, Singh will have to go.
And then we get to Scheer. If Scheer manages to reduce Trudeau to a minority, he’ll claim victory. His supporters will cite the relative rarity in Canada’s political history of prime ministers serving only one term. He’ll want another kick at the can. This is especially true in a minority situation, when opposition parties have to keep their powder dry to pounce at the first available chance for an election.
Remember, the 2011 election came just two-and-a-half years after Stephen Harper’s minority win in 2008, which was nearly sabotaged by a Liberal-NDP-Bloc alliance.
But Scheer will also have to own what has by all accounts been a safe and moderate campaign, with little red meat to excite the conservative base on which the party relies for money and volunteers. This is especially important given the Conservatives were bleeding some support from the right this campaign with Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, whose impact remains unknown at this point.
So where does that leave us? I have a hard time believing Canadians will have to wait until 2023 to go to the polls. I have a harder time believing the same party leaders will be squaring off against each other whenever we do.
If the Liberals win anything short of a majority government, they have no excuse to keep Trudeau. The Conservatives and NDPers will have to reckon with whether the parties Scheer and Singh, respectively, have forged this election are the ones they want to keep.
Photo Credit: CBC News
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.
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