Minority government means minefields ahead for most federal party leaders
Issues of leadership, policies and caucus sensibilities face leaders of three major parties
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]