The Morning Brief – 06.23.21
By Bruce Carson
Setting out a possible framework for a late summer or early fall 2021 general election.
While each general election is unique, there are a number of similarities, regardless of the political stripe of the government.
Late emerging issues have to be dealt with; debate preparation has to be assigned to trusted staff.
And of course issues must be identified, present and future, and determination made as to how they will be dealt with.
If there is to be a late summer, or early fall vote, it should be over and a winner declared before the end of October, the G-20 meeting in Rome followed by COP 26 in Glasgow and it will take place because Prime Minister Trudeau requested dissolution. The House of Commons when it adjourns this week is not scheduled to meet again until September 20.
While every election is unique, this puts the proposed 2021 election on a similar track to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s situation in 2008, with at least two significant differences; Canada is waiting for the appointment of a new Governor General and one political party, the Greens, which under some circumstances might take up to 10% of the popular vote is in some difficulty.
On Sunday’s Question Period program, pollster Nik Nanos commented that both the Liberals and NDP would benefit from the Greens situation. He said for both of these parties “Christmas has come early” and the Greens “have undermined both their brand and their leader.” He argued that the Greens opportunity in the election is “not ruined yet” as Annamie Paul is scrappy and Canadians like that, but she has to show she can lead the Party. It is his view that the most fertile ground for the Greens is in British Columbia.
All this to say the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP will be drafting their platforms to attract voters who may be not be enamoured with a party that doesn’t seem to be able to manage itself.
For the Liberal government, the first chore, as has been noted here previously when describing elections over the last ten years is to form a small tightly knit group, usually from within the Prime Minister’s Office in order to “clear the decks” of outstanding issues.
If Trudeau had been thinking ahead, when he shuffled his cabinet on January 12, 2021, he might have involved Defence Minister Sajjan, moved him out of Defence, avoiding a world of hurt in the coming election.
With Premier Ford’s recent shuffle, as the Sun’s Brian Lilley described it was “all about picking troops for battle.” People can complain about bringing Rod Phillips back into cabinet, but obviously Ford believes the cabinet he now has is a team he can win with.
So with that caveat, what would be on the agenda of the clear the decks group?
First would be ensuring that all outstanding federal appointments are made, particularly the appointment of a Governor General.
With the passage of the Budget Implementation Act, all of the money promised to various individuals and businesses must flow when scheduled in the Bill. That should include help for seniors over 75. It is imperative for the Liberal’s re-election that money flow to taxpayers on time, as promised in the 2021 budget.
Also the issues surrounding Enbridge’s Line 5 which is being threatened with shutdown by Michigan’s Governor Whitmer must either be resolved or put off through continued mediation until after the federal election is over. The Canadian government has filed an amicus brief to support Enbridge’s position. The Trudeau government cannot be in a position during an election to be seen as the cause of the closure of Line 5 and the loss of thousands of jobs which this pipeline creates, particularly in the Sarnia area.
The threatened closure or closure itself would be a substantial gift to the Conservatives who no doubt will be running on the basis that they are supportive of Canada’s fossil fuel industry and have the managerial competence and ability to deal with the issues raised by this conflict. The Trudeau Liberals have to get in front of this one as it directly affects voters in seat rich Quebec and Ontario.
With regard to China, before the 2019 election, it was written here that the release of both Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig had to be secured before voting day. That did not happen and their situation during the intervening years, well over 900 days, has significantly deteriorated. While this may not be a pressing issue for a majority of Canadians, it has been for Conservative leader O’Toole and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong.
A few weeks ago John Ivison revived the idea of a swap with China, involving Ms. Meng and the two Michaels. While Trudeau has rejected this idea, without a strong push from the White House, it would seem that the status quo will remain for at least the foreseeable future. This plays into the Conservatives narrative that Trudeau is a weak leader and soft on China.
Regardless of what Trudeau does on the margins of China policy, engineering the return of the two Michaels would lift his standing on foreign policy matters among Canadians. Also he should consider changing his position on the Uyghurs in China and genocide.
And surely before the next election Trudeau has to deal with Huawei and Canada’s proposed 5G Network. Surely the time has come to say no to Huawei.
Someone from the clear the decks group has to verify that the flow of vaccines as set out by Procurement Minister Anand will actually take place during the writ period. The unknowns in an election held during a pandemic are many and the last thing the government needs is a new outbreak of COVID or a new variant attacking Canadians while Trudeau asks for their support.
Trudeau will know that the next Assembly of First Nations National Chief will not be as easy to work with a Perry Bellegarde. The next leader will want immediate action on the TRC calls to action as well as clean drinking water, infrastructure, housing, self-government and First Nations as a Third Order of Government. The clear the decks group will be called on to find more calls for action where progress can be made quickly. The Indigenous vote in 2015 supported Liberal candidates; this is not a sure thing in summer/fall of 2021.
While this work progresses in the PMO, opposition parties will not have been idle. The parties should be assembling debate preparation teams and taking time on a weekly basis to have the leader shut down public appearances for a day and engage in debate prep.
This team has to be selected carefully; it will be composed of a senior policy analyst, who knows the policies of the other parties cold and there must be someone who can speak truth to power at the conclusion of a practice session. Let the leader know honestly how she or he has performed.
Opposition parties should also be focussing on what they want the ballot question to be. As discussed last week, the Liberals will want the ballot question to focus on their COVID success and economic recovery through build back better.
For the Conservative Party, the ballot question should concentrate on managerial competence, tying ethics into the equation. The party would manage the recovery by drawing on the strengths of the private sector rather than spend the country further into debt.
Defining the ballot question for the NDP may be trickier. Their leader, Jagmeet Singh likes to focus on the improvements the NDP has brought to Liberal programs during the pandemic. If Singh is truly running to lead the country, the ballot question could perhaps focus on his personality and empathy, which comes across as caring and standing up for the needs and aspirations of “ordinary” Canadians.
Finally the Bloc, after its resurgence in 2019, it will focus as it always has on its claim that it is the only federal party that can deliver and get things done for Quebec.
Having now set up this background, in the coming weeks, The Morning Brief will dive into the issues that should define the campaign itself.
- Reports from the Parliamentary Budget Officer will be released
- Retail trade numbers for April to be released
- Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day
- GDP numbers for April to be released
- Canada Day
- International trade numbers for May to be released
- Job numbers for June to be released
The Morning Brief will return on Wednesday, July 7 to deal with election issues.