2020 is thankfully coming to a close. This year has been hard for so many, with one bad thing after another happening. It’s been a year that pretty much everyone is happy to see the back of. Now that COVID-19 vaccines are starting to be delivered, it seems that 2021 has a lot of promise to be a better year. But before we get to 2021, we still have a couple of weeks left in 2020, our federal politicians have already gone home for the holidays.
Given all of the hard situations Canadians have faced this year, our political leaders had to face problems that no Canadian politician has seen since World War II. All of that came within months of a federal election that delivered a minority Parliament to Ottawa, making the task more difficult. So as our MPs have gone home for Christmas, it seems like a good time to put my teacher training to work and to grade the party leaders on their performances this year.
We’ll start with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who found himself trying to lead the country through this pandemic while adjusting to the new reality of minority government. This is a scenario that could have gone horribly off the rails, but didn’t. The federal response to COVID has been good but not great. Some big mistakes were made, including what resulted in the WE Scandal and an unnecessary prorogation of Parliament. But in other areas, the government delivered on getting PPE and vaccines for Canadians. That leads me to give Mr. Trudeau a C+, with a suggestion to pay more attention to the ethical details.
New Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole rose to his new position at the end of the Summer. Since becoming leader, he’s tried to strike out in a new direction from his predecessor Andrew Scheer, with mixed results. On the positive side, he’s tried to speak directly to unionized workers and Indigenous peoples on issues Conservatives have typically ignored or exacerbated. But on the negative side, O’Toole managed to undermine those positive things by words and actions in private, like the his awful comments on Residential Schools. He has also continued the Conservative approach of overplaying their hand, leaning hard into over-the-top rhetoric and refusing to denounce dangerous words from within his caucus. A prime example was his refusal to denounce his own MP Derek Sloan for sponsoring a petition that called a COVID-19 vaccine “human experimentation”, among other false things. When asked to denounce Sloan, O’Toole refused and instead blamed Justin Trudeau for it. Such a comment would seem more fitting to come from “The Beaverton”, which made it all the worse that they wrote a satirical piece where O’Toole said just that, only that they wrote it two days before O’Toole spoke. It’s not a good sign when the comedy writers are correctly making jokes about what you’ll say days before you say it. It was very Scheer-esque, which is what O’Toole was elected to correct. Because of that, I must give him a C-.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh found himself coming into 2020 in strange position, having lost almost half his caucus in the last election but having more Parliamentary power. That paradox of power became clearer as the pandemic hit, as the Orange team constantly punched above it’s weight not only keeping this minority government going, but pushing the Liberals to be more responsive when creating COVID response programs. While the Liberals have brought in some good COVID programs, in most cases it was the NDP that pushed them to get there. Singh deserves credit for acting like the adult in the room in this moment of crisis while others fought like normal. But with that good comes the other side. Despite holding the balance of power, being the fourth party in the House means still being the fourth party, which means it’s harder to punch through the din of Ottawa to be noticed. History has shown us that doing the right thing more often than not doesn’t result in an election win. While I can’t hold that against Singh and the NDP, it is the historical record. But now that under Singh’s leadership the NDP has managed to pay off their remaining campaign debts, they will be in a much better financial position to face that challenge whenever the next election comes. In 2020 Singh has heard a solid B, with the challenge of turning his good work in 2020 into votes in 2021.
The Greens also elected their first new leader in a generation, choosing Annamie Paul to replace Elizabeth May. When it comes to grading Paul, it feels fairest to give her an “incomplete”. While she was elected to this new position only weeks after Erin O’Toole was elected the new Conservative leader, she has not been in the House and fairly hasn’t had the opportunity to make her mark there yet. For Paul, and the future of Canada’s Greens, jobs one through one hundred need to be getting her into the House of Commons. And while the Greens will want to attack others for competing in democratic races, the real biggest impediment to her ascension to the House is her predecessor. The easiest, most historically conventional and likeliest method to succeed in getting her elected is for Elizabeth May to not run in the next election and to let Paul run there. Given where the Greens sit in the polls, Paul winning that seat could be the difference between the party surviving the next election with a leader in the House or not. We’ll see if May decides to take the Gulf Islands equivalent of a walk in the snow over these holidays, but there’s a lot riding on that walk.