2020 is a few days old and as this new year and decade start, there’s a lot to look ahead to in Canadian politics, including people who will have a big impact on what will happen. While some people who had a big impact on the year that just passed were clearer to see, there were others whose impact we just didn’t see coming. Just look at the example of Jody Wilson-Raybould and the huge impact she had on the entire Canadian political to see how the unexpected can have a big influence on the course of things.
With that in mind, I thought the time was right to suggest who we should be watching for the year ahead, those who will have a lot to say in how 2020 goes and who might have a big impact on how things play out. So here is my list of 10 individuals and groups to watch in 2020 in Canadian politics, in no particular order:
- The Conservative Contenders: It was just on Friday that we found out officially that the Conservatives will have a new leader in place before Canada Day. Now that we know the ground rules of the race and people have mere days to decide to get in or out, those who decide to take the plunge will have a lot to say about what the Canadian political scene will look like for 2020 and years to come. Rona Ambrose, Jean Charest, Peter MacKay, Erin O’Toole, Pierre Poilievre, Vincenzo Guzzo, Michelle Rempel Garner, Michael Fortier, Bernard Lord, Gerard Deltell and various and sundry members of the Mulroney clan have all been rumoured to have interest in being the successor to Andrew Scheer. Soon we’ll know who are in and out of the race, but all of those names will have a part to play in this race, in one way or another. Who can win the leadership? Who can keep the Conservative Party together? Will they exit this race in one piece or will this party fracture apart? A lot of the future of this current minority Parliament and the future of Canadian politics will ride on this race, so these names (and whoever else gets into this race) will be ones to watch
- The Class of 2019: While the House of Commons already came back for a short 7 days before the Holidays, 2020 will really mark the beginning of the 43rd Canadian Parliament. Every party in this Parliament have newly elected MPs that are making an impact already, and will surely be people to watch going ahead. The Liberals have rookie MPs in Cabinet in Steven Guilbault and Anita Anand. The Conservatives have two new Eric’s getting some attention, Eric Duncan from eastern Ontario and young Eric Melillo from Northwestern Ontario. The New Democrats have an interesting group of new arrivals, from former municipal leaders like Laurel Collins, Matthew Green and Taylor Bachrach, a strong Northern voice in Mumilaaq Qaqqaq and former Parliamentary staff like Lindsay Mathyssen. Two-thirds of the new Bloc Quebecois caucus are rookies in this Parliament, including but most importantly of all being leader Yves-François Blanchet. Even the Greens have Jenica Atwin, their new MP from New Brunswick who is garnering attention. In this minority Parliament all of these new MPs have the potential to play bigger roles in their respective parties, and will be people to watch.
- Scott Moe and Ryan Meili: In the past two years we’ve seen a series of big provincial elections but this year promises to be a bit quieter on that front. But with that being said, there will be a big provincial election in Saskatchewan that could have an outsized impact on the federal political dynamics. Both Sask Party Leader Scott Moe and Sask NDP Leader Ryan Meili will be entering their first campaigns as leader and while the Sask Party seems to be in a decent position to win another majority as of this moment, if 2019 taught us anything it’s that things can change fast in election years. With a strong of conservative parties winning provincial elections, it remains to be seen if that string will continue here. But with conservative governments in Alberta and Manitoba both starting to see their approval ratings fall significantly over the past month, maybe there might be a better chance for Meili to make up ground here.
- The Next Green Leaders: There are other leadership races happening out there, but probably the two that have the potential to be the most immediately consequential are two races happening in the Green Party, both federally and in British Columbia. With Elizabeth May stepping aside after missing the chance for their big breakthrough in the 43rd General Election and no one in the current caucus willing to step forward to run for the leader’s job, this race will go a long way to see how much of a future this party has after Ms. May’s leadership. Ironically the race to replace BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver actually promises to be the better race and probably the most consequential, given that the Greens are currently in a parliamentary supply agreement with the BC NDP government of John Horgan. Because of that importance and the better chances for the BC Greens than their federal cousins, the chances are pretty good that race attracts stronger candidates and ends up electing a leader who has a better future. But regardless of who wins both races, the results of them will have a big impact on the future of the BC government and of the vote intentions of progressive voters on the Federal scene for some time to come.
- Marco Mendicino: In this new Parliament there are going to be some big figures to watch, but one newer face in Cabinet figures to rise up the list of those to watch; Marco Mendicino. Having been named Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in November, he already made a big step up, being given a portfolio that already had challenges. But as 2020 starts with more uncertainty and upheaval in different parts of the World, this portfolio looks like it will take on a greater importance. Between the situation around irregular migration at places like Roxham Road, the increased pressures that will come on our asylum system with the United States further reducing the number of refugees they are willing to take, stories about birth tourism coming out in the first week of 2020 and the need to attract new, skilled workers to help make up labour shortages in many regions across the country, the Immigration file has the potential to take on a bigger role than it has in the past. That will put Mendicino in the spotlight, the kind he’s never faced before. It will be a big challenge for him and will make him someone to watch this year.
- Jagmeet Singh: 2019 was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde year for the NDP Leader; the first half was rough and the second half was amazing. The question for 2020 is “which Jagmeet are Canadians going to see?” Now that he is the most popular federal leader in the country according to the polls, more people will be paying attention to him and his work. Will Singh continue to grow in his role, will he continue to rise to the moments and challenges that he’s presented with or will the pre-campaign leader emerge? Time will tell but 2020 will be a make or break year for Singh and the NDP and his performance as leader will have a big impact on the party as they build towards the next campaign.
- Stephen Lecce: In Doug Ford’s last cabinet shuffle in Ontario, Lecce was brought into the Education portfolio. As someone who had worked in politics prior to being elected, some say that experience as an asset as the Ford Conservatives tried to change their tone in the last half of 2019. But as negotiations with the provinces teachers started, it became clear that if there was a change of tone to come from this government, it wouldn’t be coming from Lecce. And that has continued, making him more of a lightning rod for this government as they continue to try to pick fights with the provinces teachers unions. With three one-day strikes from OSSTF in the books, a fourth planned for next week and all of other unions having voted for crushingly strong strike mandates, 2020 is lining up to be a watershed moment in Ontario. It’s been 20 years, since the years of Mike Harris, that we’ve seen massive strikes in the education sector. Given the Ford Conservatives unpopularity in Ontario right now and the potential a strike could have to make them even more unpopular, Lecce has a big job on his hands. The open question that remains is if he’s up to it. We’ll know soon enough in 2020, and the answer will have the potential to have long term impacts on Ontario’s political scene.
- The Next Leader of the Canadian Labour Congress: Of all of the leadership races out there in 2020, one of the most consequential to Canadian politics won’t involve a political party. With President Hassan Yussef stepping aside, the CLC will be elected a new leader for Canada’s top labour organization. At the end of this past week Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, announced that she will seek to follow in Yussef’s footsteps and it’s also rumoured that Beatrice Bruske, secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 in Manitoba, will also run for the position. Whoever wins this race will say a lot about how organized labour in Canada is feeling. It will also have an effect on Canadian politics; Yussef and the CLC has had a much closer relationship with the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau than the CLC has even had with the party, while having a greater distance with the NDP than it ever has. Will that continue under a new president? We’ll see but this could be an inflection point for the future of labours relationships in our politics.
- Justin Trudeau: Yeah, this one might seem like a bit of an obvious one but as the House of Commons really comes back into full swing at the end of January, we’ll really get our first looks at what his leadership looks like in a minority Parliament. And by the time the Fall comes, we’ll also know who we would face in the next election, whenever that comes. This year is as much a “make or break” moment as it is for anyone else, as he got re-elected not so much because of his performance but in spite of it. Depending on who becomes the next Conservative leader, he might face a seriously imposing opponent, but thanks to that leadership race, he’ll have six months of runway to make a positive impact on Canadians before the Conservatives choose their next standard bearer. Will he make good use of that time? We’ll see but there is a lot riding on this year and if it doesn’t go well, don’t be shocked if by this time next year there is pressure being put on this Trudeau to take a walk in the snow of his own.
- The American Presidential Contenders: If the events of this past week has reinforced anything, it is that a lot of what will happen this year will be affected by what is happening to our south and their election. And as much as many Canadians would like nothing more than to ignore what is happening there, the stakes are getting too high to do that. The results of the Democratic Primaries and the eventual General Election there will have huge impacts for the future of our relationship with the Americans, the alliances that we are a part of and the general stability of the World. No biggie, right? In this interconnected age that we live in, we are more and more affected by what happens in Washington and in that building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. So while we will be watching what happens on Parliament Hill with great interest to our day to day lives, we’ll also have to keep an eye peeled for what happens in our neighbours back yard.