2018 was a year that was one for the record books, and one that I think many people were happy to put behind us, hoping for a better year ahead in 2019. But so far if the first two weeks of this year are to be any indication, 2019 is going to be a rough ride all its own. We can look at everything we’re dealing with at home and there is a lot of understandable angst. We look to our South and watch the Trump presidency with less and less shock, but more and more worry. Then we look to our East and we see the slow-motion fiasco known as Brexit that is rolling out and everything happening in Europe.
All over we are seeing the democratic pillars that have helped to get us to where we are today over the past 70 years being eroded and shaken. Whether we like it or not, this is the political environment that we find ourselves in as we go into an important Federal election in 2019. When you add to that the provincial elections coming in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, along with the minority governments in British Columbia and New Brunswick, this year promises to be a memorable one.
So with all of that in mind, I think it’s good that we take a baseline of where we start this year, the “State of Play” as it currently is. We’ll come back at regular intervals to see where everyone stands, as things are bound to happen if recent history is any indication. So let’s kick this off, starting with the government:
Liberals: Now into year four of their majority mandate, if you’re the Prime Minister you have to be comfortable with where you sit. Yes, there are many challenges and problems out there that the Liberals are facing (some of their own making, others totally beyond their control) but we can objectively say that things could be much worse. They can count some wins in their column, despite long odds and difficult situations. If you had told any of the three major leaders in 2015 that they would have to re-negotiate NAFTA with Donald Trump, I dare to think that any of them could have done any better than this government has.
There is no doubt though that the general mood of the people is not as happy as it was in 2015, among some people who voted Liberal last time and among others who never would have. We’ve gotten a good taste of this phenomena this past week, as we’ve seen the Prime Minister doing town hall meetings, being greeted by protestors on both ends of the political spectrum. Under normal circumstances that might worry a governing party, but to date the Opposition parties haven’t been able to harness that sentiment on either side. So right now it seems like the Liberal Party has found its familiar spot in the “not too hot, not too cold” middle of Canadian politics. In the current climate is that an advantage? Only time will tell but I can safely say that the other parties would happily be in the position the Liberals sit in today.
Conservatives: Watching the Conservative Party in the age of Trump and Brexit is nothing short of fascinating. That would be fascinating enough to watch by itself, but when you add the “Life after Harper” aspect, it becomes that much more so. Say what you will about Stephen Harper and his policies, the biggest part of his legacy was leaving a united Conservative party behind him. That unity somehow managed to survive the leadership candidacies of Kellie Leitch and Brad Trost, both of which could have easily blown open old fault lines from the early 2000’s and undone all that work. And that unity survived another 15 months or so until Maxima Bernier left (more on that a bit later).
In the months since Bernier created his new party, we’ve seen the Conservatives’ tone and language change. We’ve seen lines of attack used that would make you think that the party hadn’t learned anything from the “barbaric practices tip line” episode from the last election. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has been spending his time attacking the UN and tweeting about how he supported Brexit before it was cool. These are things that are pretty far from the mainstream and are not typically the route to government in this country. At this point it seems that Scheer and crew are trying to “out Mad Max” Max Bernier. Will that work? Is that where people are at? It’s hard to say but you can’t help but wonder where this approach will lead in the end.
New Democrats: It has not been an easy three years to be orange and coming into 2019, the party is on the media’s lips, but mostly for all the wrong reasons. Fundraising is down, by-election results have been rough and some MPs have decided to take their leave and not run again. Also Leader Jagmeet Singh has spent the first 15 months of his leadership without a seat in the House of Commons. If your glass is half-empty, there is a whole lot to focus on.
Really, most of the NDP’s current situation does begin and end with Singh. After running a great leadership campaign and winning, we haven’t seen what happened there translate to the party so far. It has not been easy to change that when you’re the third party and poll after poll shows that your supporters like many things that the current government is doing. They even like the Prime Minister himself, which takes away the emotional motivator for NDP supports that they had before when it came to facing Stephen Harper. It’s a hard box to be stuck in.
In the end, we’ll know more about the New Democrats situation because the by-election in Burnaby South is now on. With a win Jagmeet Singh takes his seat in House of Commons and continues to build towards the next election. With a loss, it’s hard to say what happens, but the best way to not have to worry about that is simply to win. Now with the events of the past two days, with a Mainstreet riding poll showing Singh with a good lead and the Liberal candidate resigning due to inappropriate comments she made on social media, he sits in a better position. But none of that guarantees anything and at the end of the day, this is all in the NDP’s hands. For the next month nothing matters but knocking on doors and pulling the vote; they can deal with the rest afterwards.
Bloc Quebecois: It’s kind of amazing to think of where the BQ has gone in the past 25 years. Many people of greater stature than I have said many times “this will be the Bloc’s last election….the Bloc is surely done”. Yet here we find ourselves heading into another Federal Election with the Bloc there, ready to be on the ballot. But could those people be right this time?
It’s hard to say that they are entering this pre-election period in a good spot. Most of this parliament for the Bloc has really been taken up with the drama of their break up and reunion. Now It looks like former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Yves-François Blanchet will lead them into the next campaign once their current leadership campaign is over. Their fundraising is not great, but that has normally been the case. The biggest question going into this campaign is “where do they really fit into the conversation in 2019?”. This is an even bigger question now that we have the addition of Maxime Bernier’s party into the mix. Between recent history and crowded ballots in the province, it’s hard to say what might happen with the vote splits. So with all that in mind the Bloc isn’t done yet, but you have to wonder how much longer that will be true for.
Greens: When looking at the Greens, the big question that comes to mind is pretty straightforward: How much of their provincial breakthroughs will carry to the federal scene? In the past few years, the Greens have made up ground and different levels. They have won seats in four provincial legislatures, have clout in the new minority government in New Brunswick and hold the balance of power in British Columbia. And now, according to polling, they are in position to win government in Prince Edward Island. In each province where they have won seats, they have done it their own way and took advantage of unique circumstances. On PEI, the troubles facing the islands PC’s has helped, in New Brunswick, the collapse of the NB NDP has aided them. In BC and Ontario, a lot of it seems to come down to the individuals themselves who have won.
But with all of that, the sole Green to ever be elected federally remains Elizabeth May. Might this change in 2019? It’s hard to say but you have to ask yourself when it comes to the Greens “If not now, when?”. It can be argued the Green brand has never been as well-known or viewed as positively in Canadian history, but it remains to be seen if that provincial success will bleed over to the federal side. If we look at public domain polling, it doesn’t seem to be happening yet. A good test of this will come this fall from PEI, when Islanders will vote twice in October, in provincial and federal elections. It will be something to watch.
People’s Party: Okay, we now get to the end of the list, to what seems to be the wildest of wild cards. Maxime Bernier’s decision to strike out on his own is one of the most watched political moves coming out of 2018, one that has the potential to have an outsized impact on what happens this year. Will the People’s Party be the next Reform Party, or will it be the next Forces et Démocratie? By the end of this campaign, we’ll have a much better idea.
So far we can safely say that this party has already managed to do more than other recent newly created parties. The fact that Bernier and his team have managed to organize 338 riding associations and raise a fair amount of money to date, all of which is no small feat. It shows some ability and strength for the new party, but will it amount to anything more than that? Will it have any effect on the outcomes of the election? They may not win many seats, if any beyond Bernier’s own, but if they draw between 5-10% of the vote away from Scheer’s Conservatives, that changes the electoral map. And remember, in the province of Quebec alone in 2015, nine people were elected with 30% of the vote or less, with a half dozen others elected by only a couple percent more. That was due to many 4-way splits that we saw in the province. Imagine what that might look like with a 5th party with resources on the ballot? And outside of Quebec, how many more pitched 3 and 4-way races might we see?
But finally with the call of by-elections this month, we have a few test cases for what the People’s Party might be able to do. In the riding poll for Burnaby South released by Mainstreet this week, the PPC candidate polled in at 9%, which is far ahead of the 1.5-3% we’ve been seeing them at in national polls. We can guess where most of that vote in Burnaby would be coming from, which might explain why it seems that Mad Max has taken up residence inside Andrew Scheer’s head. Since Bernier bolted and started his party, we’ve seen a marked shift further to the right by the Conservatives, taking up the topics that Bernier has been parroting for a while now, almost as if they are trying to prove their conservative cred. While we hear all the time that the Conservatives need the NDP to do better to have a chance to form government, the Conservatives will have no shot at government if Max and his crew have success, no matter how mild.