Mi­nor­ity govern­ment means mine­fields ahead for most fed­eral party lead­ers

Is­sues of lead­er­ship, poli­cies and cau­cus sen­si­bil­i­ties face lead­ers of three ma­jor par­ties

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION - Ge­of­frey Stevens

El­iz­a­beth May has an­nounced her res­ig­na­tion as leader of the Green party, and the re­main­ing fed­eral lead­ers – with one ex­cep­tion – will be pick­ing their way through mine­fields for the next few months.

The ex­cep­tion is Yves-François Blanchet, who has been leader of the Bloc Québé­cois since Jan­uary of this year. The party was on life sup­port when he took over. He brought it back to of­fi­cial party sta­tus – and more – on Oct 21.

With 32 seats, eight more than the NDP, the third-place Bloc could wield the bal­ance of power in the mi­nor­ity Par­lia­ment.

But Blanchet is not in­ter­ested in prop­ping up – or bring­ing down – the govern­ment. He has made it very clear that his only mis­sion in Ot­tawa will be to squeeze the Lib­er­als for money and other ben­e­fits for Que­bec.

For Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, the mine­field is real. Bar­ring a gross mis­cal­cu­la­tion like the one that brought down Joe Clark’s mi­nor­ity Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment in 1979, the Lib­er­als will be safe for many months.

The Con­ser­va­tives have their lead­er­ship mess to clean up – a mess des­tined to grow big­ger and uglier – and the NDP is too broke to af­ford a school bus, let alone a cam­paign air­craft.

But Trudeau faces three chal­lenges.

One is to calm the anx­i­eties of his shrunken cau­cus and to make sure mem­bers who once thought he walked on wa­ter still have his back.

He started that process last week when the 157 Lib­eral MPs traded views on what the party had learned, or should have learned, from the cam­paign. He will find he needs to close the dis­tance that sep­a­rated the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice from the cau­cus in his first term.

Trudeau might find it use­ful to chat about cau­cus man­age­ment with for­mer Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Brian Mul­roney, a mae­stro when it came to mak­ing or­di­nary MPs feel like masters of the uni­verse.

His second chal­lenge will be to con­front grow­ing western alien­ation at a time when he has no MPs from Saskatchew­an and Al­berta to speak for the re­gion at the cabi­net ta­ble. He has to demon­strate that he un­der­stands the sources of the dis­con­tent, an un­der­stand­ing his fa­ther never de­vel­oped.

Trudeau’s third chal­lenge will be to work with the op­po­si­tion – some­thing he did not need to bother about when he had a ma­jor­ity. The Lib­er­als can barter for NDP sup­port on many of their ini­tia­tives; the price of sup­port could in­clude a na­tional phar­ma­care pro­gram, ur­gent action on af­ford­able hous­ing, and a new “wealth tax” on the rich­est of the rich.

The NDP will not sup­port the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion. For that, the Lib­er­als will have to turn to the Con­ser­va­tives.

In other cir­cum­stances, NDP leader Jag­meet Singh’s neck might be on the chop­ping block after the party lost 15 seats and saw its Que­bec beach­head re­duced to just one MP.

But he per­formed well in his first na­tional cam­paign, and the bal­ance

The Con­ser­va­tives have their lead­er­ship mess to clean up – a mess des­tined to grow big­ger and uglier – and the NDP is too broke to af­ford a school bus.

of power gives him an op­por­tu­nity to get some key NDP pri­or­i­ties im­ple­mented. His chal­lenge will be not to get too close to the Lib­er­als, who have a his­tory of gob­bling up smaller fish while steal­ing their ideas.

Mean­while, Con­ser­va­tive leader An­drew Scheer, seem­ingly as tone deaf as he was dur­ing the cam­paign, faces a mis­er­able next five months, lead­ing to a lead­er­ship review vote at the party’s na­tional con­ven­tion in April. He was more de­fi­ant than chas­tened when he emerged from a seven-hour cau­cus post-mortem last Wed­nes­day.

He told re­porters that any cam­paign fail­ures were due to poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and did not re­flect short­com­ings of the leader or his plat­form. The elec­tion, he said, was a first step – “We know we will be in a good place to fin­ish the job next elec­tion.”

The party may find its way to that “good place,” but chances are Scheer won’t be along for the ride. Ac­cord­ing to an An­gus Reid In­sti­tute poll last week, just 41 per cent of Con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers think Scheer should re­main leader. Cam­bridge res­i­dent Ge­of­frey Stevens, an author and for­mer Ot­tawa colum­nist and manag­ing ed­i­tor of the Globe and Mail, teaches po­lit­i­cal science at Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Guelph. His col­umn ap­pears Mon­days. He wel­comes com­ments at ge­off­[email protected]

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