One year before next vote, Trudeau government is weak, but opposition is weaker

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a town hall in Saskatoon. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

The next federal election awaits the Trudeau government on October 21, 2019. According to CBC public opinion analyst Éric Grenier, historically the party that leads a year before election day wins three out of four times.

CBC aggregated polling numbers suggest that the Liberals, with about 37-per-cent support, are about four percentage points ahead of the Conservatives.

After three years of weak performance in government, Team Trudeau can be thankful the opposition parties are even weaker.

The Trudeau government's appeal is firmly tied to the personality of the prime minister. When asked, "Who do you prefer as prime minister?" Canadians give Trudeau a 14-point lead over the Conservative leader of the opposition, Grenier reports.

Key Liberal ministers are undistinguished at best.

Bill Morneau serves as the main Liberal Tory, focusing on spinning the media about taxation, borrowing, and federal deficit spending, and doing what's needed to reassure the Business Council of Canada.

In the role of the highly educated environment minister, Catherine McKenna is limited to doing photo-ops, while Team Trudeau works on behalf of Big Oil -- leaving the ability of the government to meet the weak Paris Climate Accord targets it borrowed from Stephen Harper very much in doubt.

As the minister in charge of protecting Canadian sovereignty in Global Affairs, Chrystia Freeland does not recognize that giving the U.S. the ability to limit the capacities of the government of the day -- as Canada did in NAFTA 2.0 -- imperils it.

The Ontario provincial players that guided Trudeau to the PMO in election 2015, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, were given big jobs. By expensing hundred of thousands of dollars for personal housing, they showed immediately they were not up to the task of operating in the federal government milieu.

Trudeau made the rookie mistake of giving election campaign people major government responsibilities -- the result has been unmade appointments, unkept promises, and gaffes abroad.

The prime minister can only hope their electioneering skills will help him overcome the mess Team Trudeau has made of the key Indigenous file, environmental concerns, and infrastructure spending, which has been transformed into the privatization of government assets through the poorly designed Canada Infrastructure Bank.

About half of the Canadian public have no opinion or are neutral about new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. However, the Conservatives raised twice as much money as the Liberals last year and are on track to do the same this year.

The Conservative game plan appears to be attacking carbon taxes and promising Canadians they can do better, not just get by, under a Conservative government. Scheer is proudly anti-abortion and opposed to same-sex marriage, but needs the support of the women of Canada if he expects to form a majority government.

With millennials about to take over from baby boomers as the largest voting group by age, Scheer announced he is willing to re-criminalize cannabis possession, raising questions about his political smarts.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has performed well in the House, allowing the Greens to pull disgruntled environmental voters away from the Liberals and the NDP. A vote for the Greens is not a wasted vote: under the phony majority first-past-the-post voting system, it helps the Conservatives.

The New Democrats have still not recovered from the loss of Jack Layton. The 2015 election campaign decision to outdo the Conservatives in balancing the budget cost Tom Mulcair his leadership.

Party insiders think Jagmeet Singh can be the answer to the Trudeau Liberals' mastery of the language and politics of diversity.

In the last election some 17 ridings with a significant number of voters of South-Asian descent switched from Conservative to Liberal. The hope is that Singh can bring them to the NDP.

Of course, a stronger NDP showing in those swing ridings could throw some support to the Conservatives and bring about a Liberal minority.

The NDP would relish an opportunity to form a coalition with the Liberals in a minority Parliament -- or at least sign an accord that would guarantee pharmacare and other NDP favourite policy planks in return for voting with the Liberals. 

The Bloc Québécois has been in turmoil, with caucus splitting from new leader Martine Ouellet, then party members voting her out with a non-confidence motion. Recently the self-exiled MPs returned to the fold.

The Bloc attracts anti-Liberal voters, which helps split the votes of the other opposition parties, so any comeback on their part will be welcomed by Trudeau.

The main opposition to Trudeau government plans comes from the renegade Progressive Conservative premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, and Premier François Legault of Quebec.

Establishing himself as a bulwark against the blue premiers of Canada may be all Trudeau needs to do to hold on to power -- despite failing on many counts to provide good government.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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