ontario news watch

Whatever other important expressions it has in our troubled times, democracy in countries like Canada is finally about regular popular elections.

(Or as the revolutionary 1649 text of modern “Westminster” parliamentary democracy has it, “the people” are “the original of all just power.” And “Parliament …  being chosen by and representing the people” has “the supreme power in this nation.”)

Moreover, on at least one of its diverse sides Canadian political culture sometimes seems to assume that the more elections a place has, the more democratic it is.

There have been eight federal elections in the 21st century so far. Just listing the years (2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015, 2019, 2021) suggests that the Canadian people may well have another chance to chose a parliament in 2023!

Beyond such numbers, a former leader of the federal New Democrats (Tom Mulcair) has been advising : “Brace yourself because 2023 will likely be an election year.”

Meanwhile 49% of Canadians in a recent Ipsos poll think there at least ought to be a federal “snap election” in 2023.

It could be called according to all the rules by the minority-governing Liberals, whose March 22, 2022 “supply and confidence agreement” with the New Democrats may be wearing thin.

At the same time, only 43% of Ipsos poll respondents believe such a Canadian federal election will actually happen. And the sceptical 57% majority may finally prove correct.

For one thing, even if the New Democrats were to break their 2022 agreement with the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP together do not have enough seats in the current House to bring the Trudeau minority government down all by themselves.

That will or would require help from the Bloc Québécois — which is also a potential alternate pillar of a minority government led by a prime minister with deep roots (and a seat) in Quebec.

And then, beyond all such immediate parliamentary calculations, federal New Democrats are doing well in recent opinion polls. And Liberals are not.

The shrewdest course for Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats in 2023 may just be to continue their 2022 agreement with the Trudeau Liberals (formally set to expire in June 2025).

Similarly, on current polling numbers PM Trudeau would be even more misguided to call a snap election in 2023 than he was in 2021!

Fortunately for those who take frequent elections as a badge of democracy, there will be three intriguing provincial contests in Canada in 2023 —  in Alberta at the latest on May 29, Prince Edward Island on October 2, and Manitoba on October 3.

There is some real chance that the NDP will win in both Alberta and Manitoba. And this could  finally mean NDP provincial governments in three of the four provinces of Western Canada.

At the same time again, two of the four latest Alberta opinion polls have Rachel Notley’s New Democrats ahead. Another two favour Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party.

Somewhat further east, even the Winnipeg Sun has noted that : “If the polls are any indication” all “signs point to a crushing victory for the NDP in the upcoming provincial election.” Yet “the NDP need to show Manitobans that they are ready to govern.”

An ultimate NDP victory in Manitoba could also bring some further reconciliation to Canadian provincial politics. Party leader Wab Kinew is originally “from the Onigaming First Nation in Northwestern Ontario,” and “the son of Tobasonakwut Kinew, a former local and regional chief and a professor of Indigenous governance at the University of Winnipeg.”

Prince Edward Island’s current provincial population is of course about the same as the Kingston Census Metropolitan Area in Ontario or the Abbotsford CMA in BC (170,000+).

The PEI provincial party system nonetheless has its own intrigue. It is more or less like Ontario’s, but with the Green Party playing the role played in Ontario by the NDP — and vice-versa! Recent polling suggests Conservatives will win a majority of seats in PEI in 2023 just like they did in Ontario in 2022.

There is always room for surprises in democratic politics — which is one reason elections remain interesting. This may be especially true in a year that could prove somewhat more rocky than usual economically.

Even without a federal election Canada could look somewhat different politically by the end of 2023, with mostly NDP provincial governments in “Western Canada” and mostly Conservative (or conservative) provincial governments in “Eastern Canada.”

Or not. Conservatives do lead in federal polling right now. And they could finally prove more resilient in both Alberta and Manitoba. We will know early on in the fourth quarter of the new year!

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is only available to our subscribers!

Become a subscriber today!


Already a subscriber?

Subscriber Login

The urban-rural divide is the underlying current in our politics.

In the 2021 election, the Liberals swept urban and largely suburban Canada, particularly in Ontario. They also lost rural seats they’d narrowly won in 2019, and got swept away in the ones they lost that year. Liberal losses – including King—Vaughan in Ontario where I helped run Election Day – occurred in semi-rural ridings, according to the Canadian Press.

That CP report nailed it by simply recording the results and letting them speak for themselves:

“The Liberals held onto their strongholds in Canada’s largest cities, winning 22 out of 24 ridings in the Montreal area and all of Toronto’s 25 ridings. The Liberals also won nine out of 10 seats in the Ottawa-Gatineau area and flipped three ridings in the Vancouver area. They also won all the ridings in the Halifax area and picked up a riding in each of Calgary and Edmonton.”

As my friend Tim Krupa told Politico, “The urban-rural divide is real. And it’s always beneficial to have a diversity of views in the government and caucus, and I believe that perspective can also be offered in a variety of ways through the party, and through the government”.

As a municipal councillor for a suburban and rural community, this divide fascinates and worries me.

That CP story spoke to various professors about the urbane feel of the Liberals and the more rural instincts of the Tories, pointing to childcare versus gun control as focuses.

But the problems are deeper than that.

We risk divides and we risk being a country where urban Canada thrives with a creative class, yet one that forces young people to look further afield for affordable homes, and then rural Canada lacks the infrastructure of a big city, not just in terms of transit or roads but also broadband.

Of course, this is global; we saw it with Trump, we saw it with Brexit.

But a Liberal renaissance in rural Canada or a Tory revival in urban is more than good politics. It is also important for a strong sense of faith in the national government.

Erin O’Toole tried to modernize and moderate his party. He started with a standing start, and it was complicated by his own leadership race where he advocated that he would be the most right-wing candidate. But his instinct was right: to grow in the suburbs and urban Canada, to appeal to new Canadians. He failed in the execution.

What is Justin Trudeau to do to appeal to rural Canadians? Some work can be done on pushing a conservationist approach to environmental policy, but simply delivering more broadband isn’t sufficient. It’s also about tone, style and respect, allowing rural voters to feel like they are heard and not regarded somehow as lesser.

That’s a bit of a nebulous diagnostic comment, but it’s an important one. Get results, lecture less, might be another way to put it. That doesn’t mean progressive policies around equity should be sacrificed, just that a focus on bread and butter issues might help.

At the end of the day, building a strong country requires strong urban centres, dynamic suburbs and thriving rural areas, the latter of which feed the former two. Good agricultural policy, good infrastructure investments, good ministers who get rural life, and environmental protection – all these efforts matter.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Now that I’ve had a few days to poke through the smoking wreckage of the Conservative Party’s crash site, I feel safe in saying that one key cause of the disaster was pilot error.

To put that in a less metaphoric way, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole doomed his campaign when he decided that his main objective in the race was to curry favour with the media by being a nice guy.

Indeed, O’Toole “niceness” in the campaign was exemplified by his communications strategy which was notable for its lack of aggressive anti-Trudeau attack ads; throughout the race, his messaging remained mostly positive.

Yes, I know being positive might sound appealing, but from a strategic communications perspective it’s an approach that, in my view, didn’t make a whole lot of sense in this particular election.

After all, attacks ads are proven to be an effective weapon when it comes to degrading opponents and certainly the Conservatives had plenty of ammunition to use against Trudeau – scandals, incompetence, weak foreign policy, black face, etc.

They could have had a field day!

Plus, given the tightness of the race, the Conservatives really needed to pull out all the stops, including demoralizing and disillusioning “soft Liberal voters”.

Thus, the only reason I can think of as to why O’Toole went this positive route is that he hoped it would earn him praise from the media, since journalists oppose the use of negative campaigning.

As matter of fact, the media’s initial reaction to any negative ad that’s released during an election is to instantly hate it – especially, it must be said, if that ad is put out by Conservatives.

One often repeated media complaint, for example, is that Conservatives are too “dark” in their “tone.”

Editorial writers, journalists and columnists will go on and on about how Conservative negativity debases our civic discourse, coarsens debate, and appeals to the lowest common denominator, all of which will lead them to openly pine for a Conservative leader who’ll unabashedly embrace the moral high ground.

O’Toole, I think, wanted to be that leader, he wanted the media to see him as a “kinder and gentler” Conservative, so they’d say things like, “Wow, O’Toole is the kind of positive politician we can get really get behind. Finally, a leader who gets it!”

So, I understand what the Conservatives were hoping to achieve, but unfortunately, for them their plan laid the ground for electoral defeat.

I say that for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, it wouldn’t matter if O’Toole was the most positive guy since Norman Vincent Peale, as long as he operates under the label “Conservative” the largely left-wing-leaning media will have a hard time liking him.

What’s more, and this is an important strategic point, the Liberals, for their part, had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about using negative messaging to degrade the Conservatives. (Please note, the media is usually much more forgiving of Liberal negativity.)

In fact, during this race the Liberals relentlessly hammered away at O’Toole, depicting him as a monstrous troglodyte who would supposedly take Canada back to a horrible and hellish dark age.

Essentially, the Liberals spooked voters into abandoning the Conservatives.

Now, O’Toole could have parried these attacks by fighting fire with fire, i.e., he could have blasted Trudeau with attacks of his own, but he didn’t do that because he wanted to remain positive so the media would like him.

As a result, the Conservative campaign came across as passive and defensive, and it ceded all the initiative to the Liberals.

Worse yet, O’Toole came across as a weak leader, who was unwilling to defend himself.

That’s a recipe for losing.

So, what’s the lesson from all this?

Well, anyone putting together a political messaging campaign, should never let media opinion dictate strategy. Keep in mind, most media people have zero experience when it comes to running a political campaign. Don’t listen to armchair strategists.

At any rate, my point is, if the strategic circumstances of a campaign demand you go negative against your opponent, then you gotta do it.

If the media doesn’t like it, let them squeal.

Who cares if journalists don’t like you, as long as you win, right?

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Poking through the detritus of this week’s federal election results, the general contours of its impacts have emerged although the specific detail is yet to be refined.

The lack of change in total seat counts suggests that both the Liberals and the Conservatives will be held accountable in different ways.

Mr. Trudeau will need to find a way to recover from the personal character scars inflicted effectively by his opponents during the campaign. The party has a proven track record of reinventing itself; the search to attract new star candidates and a clearer post pandemic economic focus starts now.

The smouldering internal Conservative policy debate over the long term rewards of shifting from Harper lite to Liberal lite ones will likely flare up and consume the agenda for the next few months. That conflict may well decide Mr O’Toole’s future.

The next scene of the Green’s internecine warfare will determine not only Annamie Paul’s leadership but the party’s future itself.

While a post-pandemic populist party may be difficult to sustain nationally, the People’s Party  may leave a more lasting impact on the shape of provincial politics in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Despite an improved campaign, Mr. Singh still has to manage the expectations of critics for not returning the federal NDP to its halcyon days under Mulcair and Layton. How can the NDP avoid being squeezed again in future elections, given its likely support of the whole Liberal minority agenda beyond a few calculated tweaks? Will this necessitate yet another internal review of whether the NDP best serves as a party or a movement?

Several truisms about political campaigning have also been reinforced that our chattering classes including the media would do well to remember in their future election analysis.

Campaigns do matter, no matter the pre-election polls. Mr. O’Toole’s initial well calibrated campaign shift to the political centre including the early release of an un-costed platform appeared to take the Liberals and media off-guard.

The resurrection of Liberal fortunes from mid-campaign doldrums remind us that even short campaigns are marathons, not sprints; victory is never declared after three weeks.

Both Mr Trudeau and Mr. Singh proved to be formidable campaigners; Mr. O’Toole’s interventions increasingly lacked spontaneity  .

Did the Conservatives peak too early? Did their early success focus more media attention on the inconsistencies in their platform and drive the Liberals to unveil their time tested and proven  ‘fear ‘strategy to drive progressive voters their way (mid-town Toronto, as well as Vancouver)?

Political apparatchiks are constantly reminded that the final vote shift, especially among undecideds, takes place in the last 5 to 10 days of the campaign. A summer election reinforces this conclusion even more because most citizens are not paying critical attention at the outset of the call.

The quality of local candidates and incumbents’ effective attention to constituency needs between elections counts even more when faced with negative reactions at the door to an unpopular leader. Those are factors harder to quantify in aggregated polling.

While the Liberals lost a couple of so-called swing ridings (e.g. Peterborough Kawartha), they retained others (Oakville) in the competitive constituencies of the 905 for these very reasons.

Another consequential lesson is that ground games do matter, especially when dealing with pandemics and lower voter enthusiasm.

Identifying each party’s vote and getting them to the polls trumps amassing Tik Tok followers, likes or dislikes on Twitter, or general regional or national polling swings.

According to numerous media reports, a number of Conservative candidates could not find sufficient volunteers for their all-important E-day teams.

For the third federal election in a row, we are reminded in a first past the post system that efficiency of votes counts more to win a larger number of seats than racking up large majorities in a number of ridings that falsely skew the aggregated numbers.

Managing surprise events remains an ever present reality. While Afghanistan and the Delta variant dominated the early news, the provincial Tory vaccine passport flip flops refocused the campaign from the phoney war about the need for an election during the pandemic to the more Liberal friendly issue of management of the  crisis. Indeed, it can be argued that Mr Kenney cost the Conservative campaign its national momentum at a critical juncture of the election.

Looking forward, Liberal last minute musings about changing the first past the post electoral system [where have we heard this before] and the likelihood of the broad implementation of the Liberals child care scheme with the remaining provinces may prove to be even more existential threats to the Conservative goal to topple the current Liberal regime.

Make no mistake. Beyond the numbers, a lot has changed in Canadian politics.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Erin O’Toole is in a spot of trouble. The Conservative leader’s strategy to soften the edges of his party’s polices, to make them less conservative, so he could pick up more seats outside of the West has not worked out how he’d hoped.

He’s wanted to be prime minister since he was in middle school, but he’s till just the lowly leader of opposition. And now he has to fight to keep his job on the back of that failure.

Some parties might have be more accepting, he’s only been in the job for a year and has only had one shot at leading an election, but politics is never about what’s fair.

Credit where it’s at least sort of due, O’Toole looked at the way the wind was blowing and realized that hardcore Conservative policies weren’t going to win him the big job. So he did things like accepted the idea of carbon pricing, even if the execution was more than a bit off. The trouble was he also was pretty wishy-washy though the campaign, following the wind just a bit too often, like when he flipped and sorta flopped on whether he’d keep the Liberal’s assault weapons ban.

Anyway, point being, he was willing to try and move the party’s policies more in line with what’s broadly acceptable in Canada. Since he’s neither become prime minister, nor was he able to cut into the Liberal’s seat count, it’s now time for the knives within the party to come out.

A petition was started by a member of the party’s national council to launch a leadership review of O’Toole’s tenure, according to The Hill Times. And according to the Toronto Star, the Conservative Party has locked down its internal voter information system to limit access as much as possible to internal supporter information.

“[Shutting the system down] also limits access by potential leadership rivals to the names of party members as O’Toole’s team tries to maintain his leadership in the wake of this week’s election loss,” the Star reports.

So, moves are already afoot to both attack and consolidate O’Toole’s grip on power.

On election night, O’Toole’s concession speech was odd for how positive and bombastic it was. Not only was it not a resignation speech — not that anyone should really have expected that — it was barely a concession speech. It was targeted almost entirely at the Conservative faithful, what you’d expect as a keynote address to a party convention from the leader, not from a guy who’d just blown an election.

On TV that night, long-time Harper back room staffer Jenni Byrne called O’Toole’s bombastic concession speech/rallying cry on Monday night “tone deaf.” Byrne was also linked to the aborted leadership run of Pierre Poilievre, who is hardly the moderating type, and seems spoiling for a fight.

Take Poilievre’s pre-election ad he posted and seemingly produced himself. It’s slick enough, as ads go. But what was the most interesting about it is how it was devoid of all Conservative branding. It was a Pierre Poilievre ad, not a Conservative candidate ad. The sort of thing someone thinking of challenging a leader who performed poorly might put together.

It’s not just Byrne calling out O’Toole either.

The comment editor of the National Post wrote the strategy of moderation should be abandoned. What the country really wants, Carson Jerema writes, is smaller government and less red tape. Voters would have given O’Toole more of a chance if he’d just run on cutting the deficit and been true to conservatism, rather than offering “watered-down Liberal, or even NDP, policies.”

It’s worth going a bit of a tangent, as there’s also a bit of a warning for the Liberals here. Remember that guy Doug Ford? The gigantic buffoon who could never win because of how obviously terrible he was? Yeah, that guy’s the premier of Ontario. And he got the job because of repeated Liberal failures, and a generally sclerotic approach to governing that Ontario voters found so revolting, the province kicked the provincial Liberals down to third place after more than a decade in power.

Any of this sound a bit prophetic? It should. Enough federal Liberal staffers have found their way up from the provincial party — including Trudeau’s chief of staff — they should, you’d think, be able to see this plain as day. Of course, they didn’t then, why would they now? As tempting as it may be for some Liberals to think “Hey, great, bring a crank like Poilievre on, we’ll beat him in a walk!” they should be careful what they wish for. They just might make a guy like Pierre prime minister.

But there I go getting ahead of myself. A lot has to happen before we get there. But at the speed things are moving, it may not take too long for this to play out.

One thing that might give Conservatives pause about sacking O’Toole, is he came reasonably close to winning, all things considered. Few people knew who he was before this started, and he’s been leader only through the pandemic, essentially.

He has a big job in front of him, and even if he’s up for it, it may not be possible to succeed. He took a gamble by trying to reach beyond the base of his party, it didn’t pay off. More than fighting an election, now comes the hard part, convincing his party to give him the chance to do it again.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The federal election is over. Canada’s Parliament in 2021 is a near-carbon copy of the 2019 session. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are still in power. Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives won the popular vote for the second straight election. No political party had any huge gains or losses in terms of overall seat count. The status quo won the day.

If you’re trying to figure out what the point of this exercise was, you’re not alone. If you’re trying to make any sense out of it, you should quit while you’re ahead.

To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld’s popular TV show, this was an election about nothing.

Policy issues related to taxation, health care, education, government spending and climate change were rarely mentioned. Topical issues like Afghanistan, China and the two Michaels, and bodies found at former Native residential schools barely had a pulse. Controversies involving guns, mandatory vaccines and the removal of several political candidates simmered for a bit, and quickly cooled off.

Emergency relief measures during COVID-19 didn’t have much of a ripple effect, either. Our federal deficit increased from $21.77 billion (CDN) in 2019 to $314 billion (CDN) in 2020 due to government-funded programs like CERB and CEWS. Some financial analysts have suggested it could reach an eye-popping $400 billion by the end of this fiscal year. How are we going to pay this down? Anyone? Jerry, George, Elaine – Kramer?

Trudeau and his public battles with female MPs has been topical for years. Former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s book about SNC-Lavalin and her battles with Trudeau and his senior advisers, for instance, should have raised the political temperature to a boiling point. Former Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who was Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary, should have stoked the political fires after endorsing local Conservative candidate Maleeha Shahid during an interview with Mercedes Stephenson on Global News’ The West Block. Yet, in spite of the fact that Trudeau’s faux feminism has been a regular punch line in Canadian politics, it just didn’t register with voters.

Heck, a fourth photo of Trudeau in blackface was posted by the advocacy group Canada Proud mere hours before voters went to the polls. Most Canadians had already decided whether they were disgusted by the original three photos, or willing to forgive and forget. You would still think this new photo, the first one in colour, would have led to some discussion or evoked a momentary pause and reflection. For the most part, it didn’t.

Was there an issue that stuck during this federal election? Well, sort of.

Canadians didn’t want to go to the polls during COVID-19. A Nanos Research/CTV News poll conducted between June 30-July 5 found that only 26 percent of Canadians wanted a fall election, while a Mainstreet Research/Toronto Star poll conducted between August 10-11 pushed the number up slightly to 35 percent. Voters were also likely displeased that Trudeau had seemingly called this election for the sole (and selfish) purpose of shifting his minority government back to a majority.

This frustration created some short-term momentum for the Conservatives and, on a lesser scale, the NDP. Alas, the bubble burst about midway through the campaign. What caused this? Several political analysts have suggested it was a result of some of the issues already mentioned in this column. I don’t agree. Rather, it just wasn’t a burning issue that angered most voters enough to constantly simmer through an entire election about nothing. They sighed, shrugged and moved on.

What a very Canadian thing to do.

Election day was also the equivalent of a nationwide sigh and shrug. Although there are still mail-in ballots to be counted, the Liberals are currently at 157 seats, up from 155 at the dissolution of Parliament. (This total doesn’t include one elected member, Kevin Vuong, who was disavowed and won’t sit with the party caucus.) Meanwhile, they’ve only received 32.3 percent of the popular vote, which is the second straight election this party has finished in second place.

O’Toole’s Conservatives will form the opposition after winning the same number of seats, 119, and 33.9 percent of the popular vote. Yves-François Blanchet’s Bloc Quebecois are in third place with 34 seats (up two), followed by Jagmeet Singh’s NDP (25 seats, up one) and Annamie Paul’s Greens (2 seats, down one). Although Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada had a better showing in 2021 (5.1 percent) than in 2019 (1.62 percent), they didn’t come close to winning a seat.

So. Trudeau spent a reported $610 million (according to Elections Canada) to hold an election that few Canadians wanted. He brought down a minority Parliament that was passing left-leaning legislation – and was working to his political advantage, albeit imperfectly at times. He attempted to win a majority, and failed. He wasn’t punished by the voters. He will continue to lead this country in a weak, ineffective and vapid manner for at least another 12-18 months.

Hard to believe, but that’s democracy for you.

National Post cartoonist Gary Clement captured the moment perfectly. He drew an illustration on Sept. 21 of a beaming Trudeau flashing the victory sign and saying, “Omigod! You fell for it!!!”

That’s the only thing about this election that truly makes any sense.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Unless any of the mail-in ballots flip enough ridings, it looks like we are once again destined for a hung parliament with the Liberals continuing in government. While there appears to be only a small number of changed seats on the headline numbers, there were a lot of shuffled seats at the local level, which actually ensured a greater distribution of seats, such as Conservatives in Atlantic Canada, and Liberals in Alberta. Still, the evening was spent with the talking heads on TV declaring the election “useless,” sighing that it was a “$600 million Cabinet shuffle,” and wondering aloud if it was really all worth it if we wound up with seat math that largely resembles where we went into it. And while the exercise of democracy is never useless, I do think there were some important outcomes of this election.

In spite of all of the pundits declaring that this was an election about nothing, or at worst about Trudeau’s own ambition to regain his majority, there were some very big differences in party visions for the path forward out of the pandemic. If anything, those who proclaimed this was about nothing have had the least at stake over the course of the pandemic. To an extent, this election result becomes something of an inoculation around “mandate-talk” among the pundit class, many of whom would likely be spending the post-pandemic recovery period grousing about the government’s spending, and the direction that they have been taking, and plan to continue taking. This is in large part of what Trudeau was referring to when he said this election was about Canadians choosing a path forward – and what he called a “clear mandate” (in spite of the abuse of the term) in his victory speech.

To an extent, this also gives Trudeau some additional political pressure to apply to recalcitrant provinces to sign onto his national plans – universal childcare with Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick most especially, but possibly as well with the nine provinces who have not yet signed onto the pharmacare plan as PEI has, and his plans to implement national standards (with audits) around long-term care in exchange for federal dollars. He is promising to sit down with those premiers once the pandemic is officially over to discuss the shape of future healthcare transfers – again, with strings attached – and having this fresh electoral result will probably help the hand is able to play with them, because it will be at least another 18 months, maybe two years, before we go back to the polls and the premiers can pin their hopes on someone else who promises higher transfer with fewer strings. It’s the same with the even tougher environmental measures that the Liberals are promising – because much of that burden will fall on provinces, Trudeau may have some additional leverage now that he didn’t five weeks ago when it comes to getting cooperation.

More importantly, it is likely that this election will break the deadlock in the House of Commons that stymied progress on most bills for the bulk of the spring session. There is every chance that we can finally put the WE Imbroglio to bed for good, now that Bill Morneau has long-since retired from politics and Trudeau has been returned with this in voters’ minds. In the coming Cabinet shuffle, he also has the opportunity to finally move Harjit Sajjan out of the defence portfolio, and can put someone far more competent to manage the Canadian Forces’ transformation to dealing with its highly sexualized culture and toxic masculinity problem into the role. That will hopefully free up some of the committees to do actual legislative work as bills start to come down the pipeline. But as in any hung parliament, the fact that the opposition parties are depleted – the NDP most especially in a much more precarious financial situation after a high-spending national campaign – gives Trudeau more room to manoeuvre. Those parties are unlikely to be calling any bluffs for at least a year before they start huffing and puffing and making threatening noises about bringing Trudeau’s government down, so that he can make moves that they wouldn’t have allowed in the toxic spring.

This being said, Trudeau never made the case for this election around said parliamentary deadlock, which was a baffling choice that hampered his chances more than his “happy warrior” schtick helped him on the campaign trail. Credulous journalists and pundits who didn’t pay attention to what was going on in the House of Commons never brought it up on the campaign trail, and Trudeau didn’t volunteer it either, to his own detriment, and it all played into the “useless” election narrative, which Trudeau was ineffective in communicating around.

The one thing that I suspect more than anything, however, is that this result will hasten Trudeau’s departure. After a second hung parliament, it is increasingly unlikely that he will want to contest a third election as prime minister, where the chances are greater that he’ll be turfed. Rather than face defeat, it is far more probable that he will complete the child care agreements, and one or two more policy planks that are within reach, and then declare a job well done and that it’s time to pass the torch – and because we’re in a hung parliament, it will likely be within a year, rather than the two or three that he might have in a majority parliament. Chrystia Freeland is waiting in the wings, and while we’ll get a leadership contest between her, François-Philippe Champagne, and a couple of no-hope outsiders hoping to build their own profiles, that will last a couple of months rather than a full year, and she’ll have a few months to establish herself before the shelf-life of this parliament gets stale and they go back to the polls, but with a fresh face leading the charge.

This wasn’t an election over nothing, and with a little luck, it bought a reprieve from the poisonous atmosphere in the Commons from the spring.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

As we reach voting day, we are going to hear a lot of talk about whether the Liberals will “deserve” a majority parliament, or the oft-told hope that they can be kept in a hung parliament so that the NDP can exert influence and hold their feet to the fire. We’ve also heard some NDP proxies assert that it shouldn’t be too big of a deal if the Conservatives happen to form government in a hung parliament, because then the NDP can hold them to account. This is untrue, and history has shown us time and again that this dynamic never actually plays out.

Something that NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been wildly proclaiming since the beginning of the pandemic was that many of the benefits that kept Canadians going throughout the various states of lockdown/mockdown were thanks to them and them alone. Singh frequently cites things like the level of wage subsidy as an NDP “victory,” when he had absolutely no influence on the decision at all – Bill Morneau’s office was consulting with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Labour Congress, and they both quickly convinced him that the ten-percent subsidy would be insufficient, and he changed course to 75 percent by the time that weekend was over. The NDP like to take credit for this when they were not inside the tent being listened to. Nevertheless, Singh repeatedly taking credit for it is frequently cited by NDP partisans and it has become part of their mythology.

Likewise, with the extension of certain benefits, Singh likes to say that it was thanks to his negotiation that they were prolonged in exchange for a confidence vote, when there was no way the Liberals would have let those benefits expire while people still needed them. He pushed on an open door, and then declared victory – something that happened time and time again over the course of the last parliament. Meanwhile, the budget implementation bill for the fall fiscal update, which contained a number of new COVID-related supports, took six months to get passed thanks to the five months of procedural warfare that the NDP were gleeful participants in alongside the Conservatives and Bloc, but they don’t like to say that part out loud.

Regardless of recent history, the notion that any incoming government with in a hung parliament will be kept in check is hokum. We saw this during the Stephen Harper years, and in several provinces where there have been minority legislature situations over the past few years. In spite of the tough talk that so-called kingmakers, like the NDP aspire to be in the federal situation, they will almost never flex their muscles because of one simple fact – nobody wants to go to an election right after they’ve had one – and if they did, and there was another viable government that could be formed in the current legislative context, the Governor General or Lieutenant Governor would say no, and let the other viable group test the confidence of the chamber. It’s not only the constitutional architecture that that would prevent them from bringing down a new government right away – it’s also because all parties are generally exhausted and financially depleted after an election, and the NDP are most especially so, usually in many millions of dollars of debt that they need to pay off before they can even contemplate another election.

This is what tends to give new governments, even those in a hung parliament, a freer hand to make moves. This is something that Harper tested very successfully during his two hung parliaments – most especially in 2008, right after the election, when his announced plan to end the per-vote subsidy, which would severely hobble his rival parties, and led to the prorogation crisis. Even though the other parties threatened to bring his government down, and had cobbled together what they claimed to be a viable governing coalition – with a supply and confidence agreement from the Bloc to prop them up – Harper was able to stare them down over the prorogation break, and that would-be coalition crumbled before they could threaten to bring Harper down a second time. In no way was he kept in check by the NDP during those years, nor would they under a hypothetical O’Toole government.

Sure, the NDP in such a hypothetical situation would huff and puff and threaten to blow the government down, but they wouldn’t. It’s also just as likely that in such a scenario, the Bloc would be the party exercising the balance of power and would be willing to prop up a Conservative government because the Conservatives have spent the past two years trying to out-Bloc the Bloc and have promised to fully implement the entire Bloc agenda (minus separatism) as a means of debasing themselves in order to win Quebec premier François Legault’s favour, and lo, they got it – sort of. Legault did say that he would prefer a Conservative government in a minority parliament (as though people can somehow mark that on their ballots), as the Conservatives have promised to roll over to him at every opportunity, and the Bloc would see it in their interests to prop up that kind of government – especially as they can claim that they are setting the agenda and getting results in Ottawa.

It will all come down to the arithmetic of seats once the votes are all cast and the counted, but the NDP’s quest to play kingmaker could come with dire consequences for the very things that they say they are in favour of – universal childcare, national pharmacare, continued action on climate change that will actually meet targets, and completing the work of lifting the boil-water advisories on the remaining First Nations reserves around the country. If they think they could convince a potential prime minster Erin O’Toole to carry on with these programs under the threat that they’ll bring his government down if he doesn’t, they’re sadly mistaken. It’ll be 2006 all over again, with national childcare and the Kelowna Accords, because of the romance with minority parliaments that never pans out in reality.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.