Col­umn / Don Newman

Policy - - In This Issue - Col­umn / Don Newman Don Newman is Se­nior Coun­sel at Nav­i­ga­tor Lim­ited and En­sight Canada, Chair­man of Canada 2020 and a life­time mem­ber of the Canadian Par­lia­men­tary Press Gallery. dnew­man@navltd.com

Mid-Term Down­turn

If the first year for a new gov­ern­ment is a hon­ey­moon, the sec­ond is a time to launch major ini­tia­tives, and the third is where ev­ery­thing be­gins to fall apart, then, so far, the Justin Trudeau gov­ern­ment is closely fol­low­ing the script.

As it passes the sec­ond an­niver­sary of its elec­tion and be­gins year three of a four- year man­date, the gov­ern­ment that promised “sunny ways”, a new way of do­ing things, and a more equitable Canada is find­ing the agenda it ran on more dif­fi­cult to en­act and more con­tro­ver­sial to pur­sue. Com­pound­ing the nat­u­ral third-year prob­lems of any gov­ern­ment, just as the dif­fi­cul­ties hit the Lib­er­als they lost their com­fort­able sta­tus of hav­ing no real op­po­si­tion.

The Con­ser­va­tives chose An­drew Scheer as their new leader last June after mul­ti­ple bal­lots win­nowed through a large field of can­di­dates. In Oc­to­ber, Jag­meet Singh needed only one bal­lot to dis­patch three other can­di­dates to be­come the leader of the New Democrats.

Singh does not have a seat in Par­lia­ment and doesn’t plan to seek one un­til the next gen­eral elec­tion in Oc­to­ber 2019. Whether that is an ef­fec­tive strat­egy re­mains to be seen, but as of now the NDP is re-en­er­gized by its un­con­ven­tional choice of leader. More im­por­tantly, as the Of­fi­cial Op­po­si­tion, the Con­ser­va­tives are set and plan­ning for the next elec­tion. With a cau­cus of al­most 100 mem­bers, many of them for­mer cabi­net min­is­ters, and many MPS with more po­lit­i­cal and House of Com­mons ex­pe­ri­ence than the Lib­er­als across the aisle, the Con­ser­va­tives are set to be an ef­fec­tive Op­po­si­tion. That is true, even if the asyet-un­proven Scheer proves to be no more than ad­e­quate as leader. The prob­lem is fur­ther com­pounded by tim­ing. Just as the op­po­si­tion par­ties are get­ting their acts to­gether, is­sues and events are also com­ing to­gether.

Al­most im­me­di­ately is the prob­lem of NAFTA. Will the trade agree­ment among Canada, the United States and Mex­ico that has been a cor­ner­stone of this coun­try’s pros­per­ity be re­newed, or as Pres­i­dent Trump has threat­ened, be can­celled by the Amer­i­cans?

If the deal is can­celled, the gov­ern­ment will have to have a Plan B ready quickly, or there will be po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally dam­ag­ing con­se­quences.

And after try­ing to have it both ways at the same time, the Lib­er­als are go­ing to have the square the cir­cle on en­vi­ron­ment and en­ergy de­vel­op­ment. The twin­ning of the Kinder-Mor­gan Trans Moun­tain Pipe­line from Al­berta to Van­cou­ver has been ap­proved, but con­struc­tion has yet to be­gin and le­gal and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges threaten to hold it up in­def­i­nitely. The un­of­fi­cial quid pro quo for new pipe­lines is putting a price on car­bon. In 2016 the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment and ev­ery prov­ince but Saskatchewan agreed to put a price on car­bon be­gin­ning in 2018. The price on car­bon, the so-called car­bon tax, is to go into ef­fect next year and reach $50-a-tonne by 2022. So far, no sign of a shovel in the ground to build a new pipe­line. This con­tra­dic­tion will test the gov­ern­ment’s met­tle the com­ing months, par­tic­u­larly En­ergy Min­is­ter Jim Carr and En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change Min­is­ter Cather­ine McKenna. Carr has been a com­pe­tent pair of steady hands in the first two years of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment. McKenna hit the head­lines early with the sign­ing of the Paris Ac­cord on cli­mate change and the agree­ment for a car­bon tax. Now, both will have to be at their best in the next two years to bring their contradictory con­stituen­cies to an agree­ment. It won’t be easy.

And the gov­ern­ment will have to get the way it com­mu­ni­cates its mes­sages un­der con­trol. The dis­as­trous roll-out this past sum­mer of the gov­ern­ment’s small cor­po­ra­tions tax changes shows just how weak strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions ac­tu­ally is in the Trudeau gov­ern­ment. Un­less ad­dressed, this fault could be fa­tal.

All of this does not mean the Lib­er­als sit­u­a­tion is hope­less. Far from it. Justin Trudeau is the most dy­namic party leader, and the Lib­er­als are firmly rooted in the big cities and ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try where most of the pop­u­la­tion lives. What it does mean is that the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment must learn the lessons of the past two years, sharpen its fo­cus to con­cen­trate on the things that must be done rather things it would like to do, and re­gain con­trol of the po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive.

And one other thing. It must reach out to the peo­ple who can help it do those things—even if those peo­ple were born be­fore 1965.

If those de­fi­cien­cies are ad­dressed in what will likely be a stormy third year in of­fice, then Trudeau and his Lib­er­als may look for­ward to a rosier fourth year.

That’s the year when gov­ern­ments who suc­cess­fully weather a dif­fi­cult third year go on to be re-elected.

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