2019 (15): Suburban and urban battlegrounds

Further to my very recent comments about the pressing need for the Conservative Party of Canada to retake Ontario, especially the suburban ridings surrounding Toronto, political analyst Éric Grenier, writing for CBC News, says that “First-term governments have historically been much more likely than not to get a second term. But polls suggest the Liberals are far from being guaranteed re-election: If the current numbers are replicated in the October 2019 election, the party would only have a two-in-three chance of winning the most seats and just a one-in-five chance of a majority.

Thus, he says, “A few adjustments to increase those odds makes sense — and it starts in the one part of the country that has decided election after election … [and] … The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is a huge electoral battleground home to some 7 million people and about one-sixth of the country’s 338 seats. It helped deliver a majority government to Harper in 2011 and Trudeau in 2015, as well as one to Doug Ford, Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative premier, earlier this year.

Mr Grenier explains that while “The seats occupied by the new ministers are not particularly vulnerable. Ng won a 2017 byelection in Markham–Thornhill by a margin of 12.4 points over the Conservatives. In 2015, Tassi beat the Tories by 15.9 points in Hamilton West–Ancaster–Dundas, and Bill Blair prevailed by 28.8 points in Scarborough Southwest over the NDP … [but, he says] … adding a little more ministerial heft to the GTHA could have electoral repercussions beyond those three ridings … [for example, while] … Markham already had a cabinet minister in Jane Philpott. But Ng, a Chinese-Canadian, does help the Liberals address what was a diversity shortcoming within cabinet. There are about a dozen ridings in Canada, half of them in the GTHA, in which Chinese-Canadians make up at least one-third of the population … [and] … Tassi gives the party more profile in Hamilton, where the party holds two seats. The Liberals hold another two seats on the nearby Niagara Peninsula. All four Ontario ridings were won by the NDP in last month’s provincial election … [and, finally] … Blair gives the Liberals their only minister in Scarborough, an inner Toronto suburb worth six seats, which has been a three-way race between the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP in recent elections. A former chief of the Toronto police, Blair also has a profile throughout the city, and his role as minister for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction could go some way to help the Liberals toughen up their image on these politically important files.

So much has changed,” says Paul Wells, writing MacLean’s magazine, since the sunny day of “sunny ways” in October of 2015, “culminating—for now—with the burial of Ontario provincial Liberalism at the hands of Doug Ford. Alberta and Quebec could next fall to Jason Kenney and François Legault. Certainly that’s the way to bet it. Even normally sunshiny New Brunswick, Newfoundland and PEI are refusing to file carbon reduction plans in line with what Catherine McKenna expects … [thus] … the cabinet Trudeau shuffled on Wednesday isn’t a pre-election cabinet, in the sense of one that’s sweet and shiny to attract distracted voters, so much as it’s a survive-until-the-election cabinet. If this cabinet were a movie, it’d be Walter Hill’s 1979 classic The Warriors. A bunch of street fighters, just trying to make it from the Bronx to Brooklyn in one piece. Doug Ford calling to them from an abandoned car, clinking empty bottles together. Or to use another, perhaps less obscure, movie analogy, it’s farewell to Hope and Hard Work, hello to Horse’s Head/ In Your Bed.

The world, in other words, is not unfolding as it should for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his team. A second term in 2019 is far from guaranteed … but neither is a Conservative victory. With only 14 months to go the 2019 election appears to be up for grabs. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals can win it … IF he can reverse at least some of the policy and political disappointments of his first three years in office. Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives can win it, too … IF he can get a little help from his friends, especially from Jagmeet Singh’s NDP in urban Ontario, Greater Vancouver and Atlantic Canada, allowing a few Conservatives to win some ridings by “coming up through the middle” in some hotly contested three way races. Mr Scheer also needs to broaden his base and present a younger, more diverse team that will attract more young, diverse suburban and urban voters, especially female voters. The challenge, as I said, is still to move literally millions of votes away from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and into the Conservative’s “big tent.” 2018 is more than half gone and Andrew Scheer has done well but not, I fear, well enough to get a majority in 2019.

The Liberals have been, I think, a major disappointment to millions of younger voters who came out in 2015 and who may, I suspect, stay home in 2019; the Conservatives will benefit from a return to more ‘normal’ low voter turn outs because Conservative voters tend to be old and older people are more likely to vote … but the CPC should be looking to attract younger voters in urban centres (beyond Edmonton and Calgary), too …

… that’s not impossible but it might require some Conservatives to mix a little socially moderate, even progressive water with their wine.

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