Many provincial elections are taking place (NL, NWT, AB, PEI) or have taken place (ON, QC, NB) ahead of the 2019 federal election. In your opinion, how can the results of these elections have an impact on the dynamic between provincial and federal politics and in turn the federal election results?
The Canadian political landscape is a busy place in 2018 and 2019. Not only is a federal election approaching next year, lots of provinces will also be going to the polls. Provincial elections and their outcomes can have pronounced impact on federal policies and practices.
One immediate example that jumps to mind is the influence the change of government in Ontario has already had on the national energy and environmental debate. Doug Ford, the new Premier of Ontario, has already enacted legislation to end his province’s carbon pricing plan. He has aligned with Saskatchewan’s new Premier Scott Moe in a legal challenge on the Canadian plan. Ford also forced a change of leadership at Ontario’s Hydro One, one of the country’s largest electricity transmission and distribution utilities. Sending a message that potent populism knows no corporate bounds.
Another election is coming in Alberta in the spring of 2019. Current NDP Premier Rachel Notley, generally an ally of Prime Minister Trudeau’s government, could go down to defeat to United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney. Though Notley should not be underestimated, a recent court decision halting the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and until recently her support of the Liberal government’s climate plan, could be her undoing. The Alberta election when it finally comes will have a large focus on energy and the environment. If Kenney wins he has promised to keep Alberta out of the Trudeau climate gambit. That will influence how national policy falls out.
Provincial elections, along with stalled Trans Mountain pipeline development has kicked up the debate on whether or not the Energy East pipeline should be revived. When the federal Conservatives gathered for their policy convention in Halifax in August sensing some of the prevailing winds in the country they stated they would make Energy East a reality if they came in to power in 2019.
Already, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has tucked in behind Ford, Kenney and Moe parroting many of their energy-environmental policies which are diametrically opposed to the current government’s stance. If more non-federally aligned Premiers are elected then national policy collaboration and implementation will become more challenging.
So while it is intriguing and often entertaining to look at how the Canada-U.S. relationship and American political dynamics are influencing federal politics, don’t take your eyes off these provincial contests. They have the potential to have a significant impact on federal discourse.
Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing partner of Abacus Data, both headquarters are in Ottawa. Mr. Powers appears regularly on CBC’s Power and Politics program as well as on VOCM in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Despite well-defined levels of government and accompanying responsibilities, provincial elections have a way of influencing the national agenda. The most recent example is the Ontario election, where Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government have started dismantling key policies from the previous administration and intentionally throwing a wrench in the federal Liberals’ plans leading up to the 2019 election.
As the first order of business of his new government, Premier Ford cancelled the province’s cap-and-trade program, threatening the “pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change” that all but two premiers had signed in 2016 under the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau. Ford has also challenged the federal government’s immigration policies and the respective ministers have fought fierce public battles. The outcome of the Ontario election has thrown cold water on what was a very warm relationship between Queen’s Park and Ottawa. But as history shows, Ontarians seem to like a healthy tension between its provincial and federal governments, as a sort of check and balance on each other.
This change in provincial and federal dynamic was most evident during the first official meeting between Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Ford on July 5. The photo-op was revealing: Trudeau looked stern while Ford looked defiant. Shortly after that meeting, the Prime Minister shuffled his cabinet partly because of the changing provincial political landscape. But this change has not been limited to Ontario. On October 1, Quebeckers gave a majority government to the CAQ, a right of centre party that will be less friendly towards the federal Liberals than the previous administration. Polling indicates that Alberta will likely follow the footsteps of its provincial counterparts and also elect a conservative government in May 2019.
Government changes in Ontario, Quebec and likely Alberta – three critical regions for the Trudeau government – means losing key allies of the national agenda and progress on files such as infrastructure and the environment may face new hurdles.
Despite the above political storm clouds on the horizon, Canada’s economy is thriving, unemployment is at a record low and Canada’s perception on the world stage is at an all-time high. The provincial changes present an opportunity for the federal government to contrast its forward-looking, inclusive and nation-building agenda with the alternative: a conservative, backward-looking and populist agenda that doesn’t address the real challenges of our generation.
Liberals strongly believe they are on the winning side of the arguments on climate change, immigration and investments in social programs such as the Canada Child Benefit. Time and time again the Trudeau government shows that it can handle curve balls like a Trump presidency and NAFTA renegotiation. The USCMA, the renegotiated NAFTA, was a hard-fought win for the Liberals, delivering major wins for sectors critical to Canada’s economy and ensuring economic stability. Premiers who criticize the Liberals’ USCMA deal do so to their detriment since there is widespread consensus that Canada fared better than expected in the new Agreement.
No one is taking the 2019 election results for granted but the Trudeau government can stand by its solid track record and ability to lead the country regardless of what comes its way.
Gabriela Gonzalez is Consultant at Crestview Strategy. Prior to this, Gabriela worked at Queen’s Park and is a long-time Liberal organizer. Most recently, she worked as a Senior Communications and Operations Advisor to Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Growth. Gabriela holds an Honours Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Psychology from York University and Master’s degree from the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.
One year out from the next federal election, campaign nomads are busy settling into new jobs at Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic headquarters to churn out platforms, nominate candidates, and staff up in the regions. The 2019 federal election is shaping up to be an interesting one and it’s worth reflecting on just how different the political landscape is today as compared to October 2015.
The context of the 2015 election was one of growing frustration with Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives after close to a decade in power. But, the political climate that resulted in the Trudeau government’s victory has to factor in the significant wins made by progressive governments across the country: in Alberta, Rachel Notley’s NDP stomped out the PC dynasty in spring 2015; the populous provinces of Ontario and Quebec elected Liberal majorities in late 2014 for both Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard; New Brunswick’s Brian Gallant swept out a PC government the same year; and Liberals and New Democrats still held the reigns of power in British Columbia and Manitoba. In other words, the political landscape leading up to the 2015 federal vote had significant progressive political headwinds. The 2019 election will be an entirely different scenario.
Listen, there is no money to be made in the political prediction game. Every election is unique and certainly any strategist worth their salt will be wary of dusting off the previous campaign’s playbook without changing strategy, tactics, targeting, and message. But what a difference a few years can make.
With recent elections we’ve seen provincial governments challenge the federal government’s key energy and climate policy agenda and alter the dynamic between provincial and federal politics. Trudeau’s close ally, Dominic LeBlanc, got shuffled into the roll of quarterback this summer as Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the government is hopeful that the experienced political operator with folksy charm can manage the increasingly rocky relations with the provinces and curry favour among the premiers ahead of the next first ministers’ meeting.
With Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe challenging the federal government’s carbon tax policy and the Trans Mountain Pipeline essentially becoming a ‘political dumpster fire’, the provinces’ growing frustration with the federal government makes headlines daily. For the Trudeau government, securing a second majority mandate in 2019 will depend on far more than just the winds of ‘real change’ and opposition to the Harper regime. This time the road to victory will be more challenging and the government’s ability to communicate and demonstrate substantive progress on major policies will be the key to their success or ultimate downfall.
Kathleen Monk is a Principal at Earnscliffe, where she is trusted by Canadian leaders to navigate complex public strategy issues, design strategy and bring together diverse stakeholders to tell authentic stories that deliver results. She appears regularly on CBC The National’s pre-eminent political panel, The Insiders, and provides analysis for CBC News Network’s Power and Politics.