Chairman's Desk

Three questions that will define the political state of play in 2022

If 2020 was a test of our capacity to survive, 2021 became a test of our resolve to adapt, to move on and re-engage with a world that looked very different from the one we left behind.

2022 will continue to test that resolve in new ways. The pandemic will put up new roadblocks for Canada, and the world around us will be rife with challenges to democracy and comity. In short, it will be another season of uncertainty, defined more by the unexpected than anything else.

And all the while, our political system faces a turning point. Herewith, three key questions which will help us understand the axes of political change in 2022.

1. Can O’Toole capitalize on the foreign policy weakness of the Trudeau government?

It is no exaggeration to say that for most of this government’s tenure, foreign policy has been the last thing on its mind. At a time when domestic challenges appropriately took precedence, this inward focus paid off — and to his credit, allowed Justin Trudeau to deliver electorally popular programs at home.

But 2022 will be fraught with foreign policy challenges, from a looming Russian invasion of Ukraine to a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics. In this context, a passive footing on foreign policy invites disaster.

Enter the leader of the Opposition, a military veteran with mastery of the foreign policy file who looks and sounds increasingly like someone who could be prime minister. If Erin O’Toole can spotlight the inevitable failures abroad without undermining Canada’s position (politics stop at the water’s edge and all), he may expose the soft underbelly of the Trudeau machine.

2. Can the Liberals press on with their election promises?

We cannot forget that this government was sent back to Ottawa with a long to-do list: child care, affordable housing and billions in other new spending.

In contrast, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s economic update was cold comfort for those seeking a government that will transform their lives, especially as the COVID situation worsens dramatically. Ottawa will have some very difficult decisions to make about its priorities and the state of our coffers.

If the havoc of Omicron demands even more massive spending, the government will be strained to move forward with its campaign promises. The result may be a breaking of the essential compact the government has with voters, something that may prove fatal. After seven years in office, expectations are high and patience has grown thin.

To be fair, it may be that major action comes in the spring budget. However, whether that is soon enough for Canadians remains to be seen.

3. Will Trudeau lead us into 2023?

Of course, the biggest question of all is whether the prime minister intends to serve out the year in his post.

There have been rumblings around this for some time, but consider the facts. No one can argue that Trudeau has not achieved anything. For better or worse, he has changed our country.

What’s more, he has led us through the worst of an era-defining crisis and reshaped the Liberal party in his image. So, for all the talk of his unsettled legacy ambitions, I would argue that his legacy has largely taken shape.

Besides the legacy question, who would replace him?

His deputy is the obvious choice — but Freeland is the face of COVID recovery, which could prove a liability more than an asset.

There are a few rising stars. Perhaps most impressive is Defence Minister Anita Anand, who understands that responding properly to rampant sexual misconduct will be a matter of communication as much as action.

But for the most part, it is hard to imagine a competitive Liberal party without Trudeau. Whether he sees that as his problem or theirs, is the fourth fundamental question. The answer to which will have consequences for not only the party, but even more so for all of us.

This article first appeared in Toronto Star on December 19, 2021.

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