News

How Worried Should Each Party Leader Be About Their Job?

After 40 days of mud-slinging, Canada's election changed the status of just about every leader’s future.
November 4, 2019, 3:48pm
Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh
Photos courtesy The Canadian Press, Wikimedia Commons

“It could have been worse” is probably the only way most Canadian federal parties can spin their election day performance into a positive.

With the exception of the Bloc Quebecois, everyone else is probably asking themselves what they did wrong. Sure, the Liberals hugged each other after pulling out a minority government, but even they know Justin Trudeau had a very bad year that led to them losing a majority.

That leaves a very disappointed Conservative caucus mulling over Andrew Scheer’s future and an NDP desperately in need of money.

If anything, it’s clear that the election has changed the status of just about every party leader’s future prospects.

Here’s how.

justin trudeau

Photo courtesy The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party

A year of scandal and fallout along with endless (often justified) attacks on Trudeau’s record was supposed to lay the groundwork for a Liberal collapse.

That didn’t happen, but the Liberals barely held on, losing 27 seats and becoming likely reliant on the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to pass legislation.

The Liberals didn’t get a single seat in Alberta or Saskatchewan, which went pretty much all blue. That’s despite Trudeau increasing federal funding to Alberta by over $2 billion. Instead, talk about Western alienation has only intensified and a burgeoning “Wexit” movement has gained steam after the election, suggesting that the prairie provinces should secede and become separate countries.

Trudeau had the power of incumbency and a relatively strong economy. But Canadians have cracked his image and personality-driven brand of progressivism against the hard surface of reality: broken promises, a big pipeline, and tiresome rhetoric. Moreover, getting exposed during the campaign for wearing blackface has led Trudeau to not wanting to be photographed for Halloween this year.

HIs job is safe for now but minority governments are inherently unstable and usually last less than two years. How the next election ends will define his future in much starker terms. A lot depends on whether his main opponents manage to emerge as strong alternatives in the minds of Canadians. And so far they’ve failed.

andrew scheer

Photo courtesy The Canadian Press

Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party

Conservative Party Leader Scheer has been the main target for blame after a disappointing loss.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay, who denies reports of wanting to replace Scheer, said Scheer shouldn’t have let critics attacks his views on abortion and same-sex marriage so much. He compared the loss to not scoring on a breakaway on an empty net. Two Conservative senators have also called for Scheer’s resignation, pointing again to his socially conservative beliefs, which some say cost him in the vote-rich Toronto area.

But, ironically, the thing that stuck out most about Scheer all campaign was how his personality or style left virtually no impression of people. Watching him speak was like staring into a void that his party tried to fill with ceaseless, repeated attacks on Trudeau that often revealed a complete lack of self-awareness.

For instance, a party whose campaign chair used to work at Rebel Media is probably not well-positioned to criticize Trudeau for wearing brown and blackface.

Scheer is trying to point to the party’s overall gain in seats as real progress and enough reason for him to stay on as leader. The Conservative caucus has so far maintained the appearance of unity behind him, but whispers of a change in party leadership started even before election day. The party’s national convention is next April. It’s conceivable that Scheer gets voted out then or leaves before then, but not highly likely, especially given an election may happen within two years. Another loss though would be the end of him.

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party

Jagmeet Singh and his party are trying hard to translate losing 15 seats into a “win.”

Optimism was how Singh stuck out in the campaign, leading to a surge in his approval rating. Despite getting just 24 seats, down from 44 in 2015, Singh was successful in using the campaign as a sort of coming out party and it probably saved his job.

That the Liberals are going to need some support to pass any laws is a good thing for Singh—it also puts pressure on him to actually back up his criticism of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion by actually blocking it. On Wednesday, Singh challenged the Trudeau Liberals to support a forthcoming bill to implement universal pharmacare and drop their appeal of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s decision calling for the government to compensate Indigenous children who suffered under the on-reserve welfare program. Reporters asked whether these two factors are requirements for the Liberals if they want the NDP’s support in Parliament, but Singh evaded the questions.

His supporters point to how he was set up to fail with the media always fixating on his gaffes as party leader or on how he’s been criticized by his party for not raking in enough money. The NDP raised about $2.65 million in the third quarter of this year, compared to $9.1 million under Thomas Mulcair in the same quarter of 2015. Singh met with constant instances of voters either saying they’re not ready to vote for a turban-wearing Sikh man like him or, on one occasion in Montreal, telling him to cut his turban to look more a Canadian. In the end, the NDP won just a single seat in Quebec, reduced from 13.

But it’s also pretty easy to point to Singh’s recent successes as a promising first-step to build on. His party will almost certainly try to build on the momentum instead of blowing the whole thing up.

Yves-Francois Blanchet, Bloc Québécois

The biggest surprise of this election might be how the Bloc Québécois revived itself in Quebec and finished with more overall seats than the NDP.

The Bloc won just four seats in 2011, losing official party status. Then it won 10 seats in 2015, which still wasn’t enough to regain that status. But Blanchet’s charisma and emphasis on Quebec independence regained traction for the Bloc when just about everyone thought the sovereignty issue, along with Quebec nationalism, was fading away.

The Bloc isn’t as reactionary as Francois Legault’s hard-right, nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec, which won a sweeping provincial victory last year following a wider trend in resurgent right-wing populism. But it has defended Legault’s law banning public workers in the province from wearing religious symbols on the job. The law has broad support in Quebec.

Elizabeth May, Green Party

Update: She's out!

The Greens were threatening to outflank the NDP from the left leading into election day and gained in the polls to that effect. They also pulled in almost the same amount of money this year as the NDP.

But the Greens won a grand total of three seats, one more than what they went in with. That was after Elizabeth May had to deal with a bunch of her candidates getting called out for racist social media posts. There were consistent accusations of her party not wanting to face issues of discrimination.

May herself said after the election that she wants her party to think about replacing her (after 13 years as leader)—except there’s no real timeline for that. May has also expressed interest in running for the Speaker of the House position.

It’s hard to see how the Greens, with or without May, can expand out of their small corner in the House of Commons without some wholesale changes.

Maxime Bernier, People’s Party of Canada

Maxime Bernier’s crusade against the “cult of diversity” in Canada ended up with a net-gain of zero seats. But over 260,000 Canadian voted for his party, which ran so many candidates with a demonstrably racist past that it’s hard to keep count.

He’ll likely stick around until he loses interest since the whole thing is pretty much his one- man show.

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