Chairman's Desk

As election speculation reaches a fever pitch, some advice for our federal party leaders

Finally, summer is well and truly here.

After a particularly gruelling spring complete with a few intermittent “false” summer days, the weather has warmed and reminded us just how lucky we are to live in this beautiful country — glorious and free.

Yet, as the idyll of summer approaches, there lurks a disruption on our road to a return to a new normal: a federal election campaign.

With vaccine rates outpacing most predictions and months of election speculation reaching a fever pitch, it seems ever more likely that Trudeau will push forward to the polls.

So, before the summer break begins in earnest, a bit of advice for each leader as they prepare for a gruelling campaign.

First, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul.

If you hadn’t heard of Paul before, you may well have been introduced to her through reports of party infighting, or the floor crossing of former Green MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals.

Notwithstanding all that noise, Paul is a figure to watch. She is the first Black Canadian and the first Jewish woman to lead a federal party. She is also the subject of a leadership review that could see her removed as leader on July 15.

If she survives, my advice is simple: prove your mettle. If racism and misogyny in the Green ranks is indeed the root of this leadership challenge, clean it up. Fast.

At the same time, make the most of this moment, because the Greens may never get more coverage than they will in the coming months.

For Jagmeet Singh, this election will be pivotal.

The NDP have been largely absent over the course of the pandemic, forced to prop up Trudeau’s recovery agenda while the Liberals eat their lunch with big spending on socially liberal policies.

So far, Singh has failed to show that his party can form an effective opposition. It is time for him to do so, or risk proving right those in his caucus who have accused him of frittering away the last year.

Next up, with 32 seats in the House, Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

Of all the leaders, I would bet that Blanchet is sleeping most soundly ahead of a pending campaign.

That’s because he has the lowest bar to reach. Having won 22 new seats in 2019 and proven himself adept at winning concessions in Parliament for Quebecers, Blanchet simply has to hold enough seats to maintain that influence.

Now, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

In normal times, the campaign would be a proving ground for a rookie leader like O’Toole — but these are not normal times. O’Toole’s party members will expect him to hold the Liberals to at least a minority if he is going to be secure in his leadership.

My advice? Think beyond COVID. Show Canadians you can lead the country. Demonstrate how you will deliver on a broader range of issues.

And keep moving fast. While members have complained of O’Toole’s decisive action on items like climate policy and removing Derek Sloan from caucus, he has proven himself so far. O’Toole has shown a pragmatic determination to make the party more competitive in today’s world.

He knows, after all, that come fall, the Liberals will do what they do best: tie Conservatives to the spectre of a hidden anti-choice and climate-skeptical agenda. If O’Toole maintains his momentum, he will be much better positioned to defend himself.

Finally, to the prime minister: prepare for the fight of your life.

The pandemic has bought the Liberals breathing room as the opposition parties avoid division and the country has “rallied around the flag.”

But once the writ is dropped, all bets are off. The opposition parties will be out to tar the Liberals for their COVID record. And the patty-cake relationship with provincial leaders will fall to the wayside.

For Justin Trudeau, a minority win is not enough. If he can’t win a majority, he may as well hit the road.

But don’t count the PM out. He is at his best when he is in a fight — and he and his team know how to fight. Trudeau has the best pathway to a win of any of the leaders. His challenge will be having the discipline to stay the course.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on June 27, 2021.

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