The report cards are out for Canada’s federal leaders

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For most Canadians, summer really begins with Canada Day.  School is over, vacations are beginning for many, but not so for federal politicians who are about to enter an election where their future is at stake.  Parliament has risen and returning MPs and candidates are hitting the barbecue circuit.

How did the Federal Party Leaders do in the first part of 2019?  Here are their report cards.

Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party of Canada:  C

Unemployment is low and the economy is fairly strong, but the Prime Minister has had a rough 2019 so far, for the most part.  His spring agenda was completely overtaken by the SNC-Lavalin scandal, which ended with the ousting of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, once two popular and reliable ministers.  The crisis with China has also been a problem Justin Trudeau has been unable to solve.  Despite attempts at appeasement, two Canadians are still imprisoned by the giant dictatorship.  China even escalated the conflict by imposing an embargo on all Canadian meats.

However, Justin Trudeau was able to come to an agreement with Donald Trump on a new NAFTA, now dubbed CUSMA.  But, so far, only Mexico has ratified the agreement.  If Parliament isn’t recalled this summer and the deal is not ratified before the election, it could become a major election issue.  So will the environment, formally a strength of Trudeau.  The incoherent message of declaring a national climate emergency before giving the green light to the TransMountain pipeline is another example of a Liberal government adrift on its rhetoric.  Still, Trudeau’s brand remains strong, and despite the missteps, the Federal Liberals remain in contention, and, more importantly, in a good position to play the Anybody-But-Conservatives card towards NDP and Green voters.

Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party of Canada:  B-

Andrew Scheer has been given many gifts by the Trudeau Liberals over the past few months.  Unfortunately for the Conservatives, Scheer has been unable to make the most of it.  Still, the CPC has been polling ahead of the LPC for most of the year so far, including all the polls released in June.  Part of the problem is the Conservatives’ strategy to contrast Trudeau’s flamboyant style with Scheer’s blandness.  It isn’t really a strategy conducive to creating fireworks.

Scheer also had to carry the burden of inconvenient friends, especially Doug Ford.  Liberals will do everything they can to associate Andrew Scheer with Ford and other Conservative Premiers’ unpopular decisions.  Many of these decisions, like cancelling the Franco-Ontarian University, have kneecapped some of Scheer’s momentum.   Also problematic for Scheer are MPs like Michael Cooper, who quoted the suspected Christchurch shooter’s manifesto to a Muslim witness during a parliamentary hearing.  Liberals and New Democrats are counting on more bozo eruptions like this.  It won’t take many more to sink the CPC’s chances.

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party of Canada: C-

Jagmeet Singh’s arrival in the House of Commons was heralded as the stepping stone to a New Democratic recovery after a lacklustre tenure since Singh won the Leadership race in October 2017.  While Singh seemed to gain confidence and perform better once elected, it didn’t seem to be enough to turn things around.  The party is suffering from the highest MP attrition rate of any party with official status in over 20 years.  Worse, one of these departed MPs, Sheila Malcolmson, ended up paving the way for the Green Party to double its caucus in the subsequent by-election.

Despite the negative coverage, when covered at all, the NDP is showing some resilience, still polling near historic average in the mid-teens.  Jagmeet Singh took the step to present a bold, audacious vision for the next election, a prelude to the platform that was well received by the NDP base.  The challenge remains, for the party and the Leader, to translate this enthusiasm, such as it is, to the general public.

Yves-François Blanchet, Bloc Québécois:  C

Yes, the Bloc Québécois has a new leader, its 14th leader in fact (including the interim leaders).  Yves-François Blanchet has taken over from the disaster that was Martine Ouellet, and since then the Bloc fortunes have slightly improved.  Blanchet’s leadership has been quietly efficient – instead of grandstanding in Ottawa, he has been touring the province and hitting local news with a simple, basic message: Quebec knows what is right for Quebec.

This is a reference to Bill 21, the new Quebec legislation banning religious symbols for some state employees.  Blanchet is staking his territory, secretly hoping that the other leaders take the bait.  Blanchet is hoping to double the number of Bloc seats and bring it to at least twenty, which would be its best results since 2008.  Yves-François Blanchet’s objectives are realistic, despite the PQ’s problems in Quebec City, but Blanchet cannot rely simply on the other parties to do poorly.

Elizabeth May, Green Party of Canada: B

Elizabeth May has been touting the impending arrival of a green wave across Canada, but if it does happen, it would have little to do with her ongoing performance as a leader.  While she is studious and participates actively in Parliamentary debates the current surge the Greens are experiencing in the voting intentions do not seemed to be linked directly with her, although her tendency to try to stand above the fray is playing well with voters.

Greens around the world are on the rise, as voters become more and more concerned with the environment, and less and less patient with the response from traditional parties.  In Canada, the Greens have broken through in four provinces, including Prince Edward Island where they are now the Official opposition.  Yet, shortly after the Green Party secured another MP during a BC by-election, Elizabeth May was already talking about propping up a Trudeau government, failing to seize the opportunity given to the Greens by an incoherent Liberal message on the environment.

Maxime Bernier, People’s Party of Canada: D-

When Maxime Bernier decided to leave the Conservative Party to found his own libertarian party, many scoffed and laughed at the very idea.  Since then, Maxime Bernier has been steadily building the infrastructure and seems to be on track to have candidates in every riding come October.  But the People’s Party ran candidates in every 2019 by-election, with little to show for it:  two sixth places, one fifth place and then a fourth place in Burnaby South; the PPC’s best results with 10.65% of the vote.

Shortly after his departure from the CPC, Bernier was, at time, driving the political agenda, sometimes using strident, counter-to-type language that was appealing to some and appalling to many.  The schtick has lost its novelty effect however, and Bernier has faded away as a hanger-on, doing just enough to potentially prevent Andrew Scheer from becoming Prime Minister.

More from Karl Bélanger.    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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.

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