You can bet on an event­ful cam­paign year Chan­tal Hébert

Truro Daily News - - OPINION - Chan­tal Hébert is a jour­nal­ist who writes on fed­eral is­sues.

The end of the last full par­lia­men­tary year be­fore a gen­eral elec­tion finds the NDP in dire straits, the Con­ser­va­tives in du­bi­ous com­pany and the Lib­er­als in worse shape than many of them would like to be­lieve.

It will make for an event­ful cam­paign year.

Un­less Jag­meet Singh de­cides to take a prover­bial walk in the snow over the hol­i­day break, the New Democrats will use the first few months of the New Year to fo­cus on get­ting their leader elected to the House of Com­mons.

More than a few NDP mem­bers – in­clud­ing too many for com­fort in the fed­eral cau­cus – would be just as happy to spend the time se­lect­ing some­one else to lead them in next fall’s cam­paign. If Singh fails to hold the B.C. rid­ing of Burn­aby South in a by­elec­tion ex­pected to be called for Fe­bru­ary they may still get their wish.

Win or lose though, the out­come of that vote will not nec­es­sar­ily pro­vide the NDP with a magic bul­let.

There is more wish­ful think­ing than fac­tual foun­da­tion for the no­tion that Singh’s ab­sence from the House is mostly what is pre­vent­ing the rookie NDP leader from daz­zling so many of the party’s past sup­port­ers.

In sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, for­mer prime min­is­ter Joe Clark – in his last po­lit­i­cal in­car­na­tion as the leader of a much weak­ened Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party – went the same route, be­lat­edly en­ter­ing the Com­mons shortly be­fore the 2000 elec­tion.

In con­trast with Singh, Clark was fa­mil­iar with the ways of the House. He knew the com­plex­i­ties of na­tional politics in­side out. Still, his com­mand­ing pres­ence on the floor of the Com­mons be­fore, or, for that mat­ter, af­ter, the 2000 elec­tion did not re­verse his party’s flag­ging for­tunes.

But those who see a sil­ver lin­ing in the sce­nario of a Singh by­elec­tion de­feat are mis­guided if they be­lieve it would not come at some col­lat­eral cost to the party.

The rid­ing he is vy­ing for is a hot­bed of op­po­si­tion to the Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion. Los­ing to the pipe­line-buy­ing Lib­er­als would deal a se­ri­ous blow to NDP morale.

That the New Democrats are un­able to speak with one voice on one of the defin­ing fed­eral-provin­cial is­sues of the cur­rent times, i.e., the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between Canada’s re­liance on the fos­sil fu­els in­dus­try for its pros­per­ity and the fight against cli­mate change, makes for a malaise that a lead­er­ship change alone would not fix.

With ev­ery pass­ing month since Maxime Bernier broke away from the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tives to form a ri­val right-wing party, there has been more ev­i­dence that he is get­ting un­der the skin of his for­mer col­leagues.

His nascent Peo­ples’ Party may not be a force in the polls on vot­ing in­ten­tions but inas­much as the Beauce MP is mostly poach­ing for sup­port in the con­ser­va­tive pond, he does have the po­ten­tial to hold the CPC back next fall.

Over the last week of the fall sit­ting, Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer had to fend off the per­cep­tion that he was ap­ing Bernier’s stance against the UN pact on mi­gra­tion. On this is­sue, the two war­ring fac­tions of the fed­eral con­ser­va­tive move­ment have cho­sen to co­habit with some of Europe’s most vir­u­lent anti-im­mi­gra­tion par­ties and gov­ern­ments, as well as with the cur­rent U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion.

One of Scheer’s first post-lead­er­ship acts was to lead his cau­cus in a vote in sup­port of the Paris agree­ment on cli­mate change. But that was be­fore Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump with­drew the U.S. from the global ac­cord. Bernier has been call­ing on Canada to fol­low suit.

The Con­ser­va­tives are ex­pected to un­veil a cli­mate change strat­egy at some point be­fore the elec­tion.

If they use the op­por­tu­nity to re­verse their po­si­tion on the Paris agree­ment, it will go a long way to con­firm the sus­pi­cion that the tail is wag­ing the dog.

De­spite mount­ing ev­i­dence to the con­trary, Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als ap­par­ently con­tinue to be­lieve they are great com­mu­ni­ca­tors. In fact, as of­ten as not, they tend to de­fend their poli­cies with mind-numb­ing plat­i­tudes.

The small-busi­ness tax changes im­broglio, the con­tro­versy over Sta­tis­tics Canada’s plan to mine the pri­vate bank­ing data of in­di­vid­u­als, the furor over the at­tes­ta­tion on abor­tion rights re­quired of ap­pli­cants for fund­ing un­der the Canada sum­mer jobs pro­gram – among other is­sues – all demon­strate the dif­fi­culty of en­gag­ing mean­ing­fully from the height of a pedestal of self-right­eous­ness.

The Lib­eral con­tention that vot­ers should take it on faith that the Trudeau govern­ment is de facto on the side of an­gels could lead to un­pleas­ant surprises for the rul­ing party next fall.

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