Hard to predict

I have gone on and on, perhaps too often, about a handful of election issues, reminding readers that my issues ~ a principled foreign policy, beefed up national defence and a grand strategy for Canada ~ are not going to win the next election; rather, I keep saying that the Conservative Party of Canada needs to assemble a team that will present a platform that will work in the suburbs.

I have, more than once, cited John Ibbitson, who wrote, over two weeks ago, in the Globe and Mail, that “Ontario voterswill decide the next election … [and the outcome] … could depend on whether gas prices are rising or falling on April 1, when the federally imposed carbon tax comes into effect … [because] … When it comes to federal elections, Ontario rules. In 18 of the 21 votes since the Second World War, the party that won the most seats in Ontario won the federal election. Today, most Ontario voters live in suburbs, own homes and drive cars.

His column contrasts the principled approaches of the Conservatives and the Liberals ~ and both are principled, each in its own way ~ the former being firmly opposed, on principle, to increased taxes, and the latter, also on principle, favouring trade-offs between policies, including, for example, a new carbon tax to fight climate change. Both points of view are attractive to some voters.

INLINE-8-743x545He also makes a vital point: Premier Doug Ford will be, almost as much as Andrew Scheer, leading the Conservative Party of Canada in Ontario. He is implacably opposed to Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax but, as Mr Ibbitson says, “Ontario voters have a confounding habit of sending one party to Ottawa and a different one to Queen’s Park. But as any past Ontario premier will tell you, life is simpler for everyone when the federal and Ontario governments get along. If Mr. Ford pushes for the ouster of the Liberals and fails, justin-trudeau-kathleen-wynne-philippe-couillard-1Mr. Trudeau is unlikely to forget or forgive. When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” If Justin Trudeau wins in 2019 it will be because he beat Doug Ford in Ontario; the Liberals’ reasons for a carbon tax will have proved, perhaps only slightly, more popular than the Ford/Scheer promise to kill it. That may make future Ottawa-Queen’s Park relations frosty.

John Ibbitson says, and I agree, fully, that it is hard to predict how Ontario, and therefore the country will go. As others have noted, ““There’s a core [urban]-rural divide and we certainly saw that in [the 2018 Ontario provincial] election,” said Zack Taylor, a political science professor at Western University.” As a general rule centre city/urban ridings go for either the Liberals or the NDP while rural riding vote, pretty solidly, for the Conservatives; it is the suburbs that decide things. In 2018, in Ontario, the suburbs elected Doug Ford; in 2015 those same Ontario suburbs elected Justin Trudeau. Mr Ibbitson says that “if suburban Ontario voters agree with Doug Ford, and hate the carbon tax, the Liberals will pay the price in the next election. If they accept the tax, even grudgingly, Mr. Trudeau will likely win a second term. It’s really as simple as that.

Perhaps not quite that simple, I suspect. Yes, if, in the run-up to summer vacation time, gas prices are going up and if, a big IF, the Conservatives, Scheer, Ford, Kenney et al, can link the higher gas prices to Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax, then that will cost the Liberals some seats in the suburbs around Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and, especially Toronto. But the Conservatives will need more than just a rejection of the carbon tax to win, and, for Andrew Scheer, in the fall of 2019, anything less than a Conservative government being sworn in is not a ‘win.’

In my opinion the Conservatives need three things to happen:

  • First, and this should be easy, they don’t want Canadians to be in an anti-Conservative mood, as they were in 2015 ~ not even in Saskatchewan and Manitoba where voters have had right of centre governments for a while now, and certainly not in Alberta and Ontario, where Conservative governments are and are likely to be new;
  • Second, the NDP and/or the Greens need to recover and/or develop some real political strength in the urban centres and challenge the Liberals in more than just a few seats; and
  • Third, the Conservatives need to ~
    • Develop a whole suite of policies, beyond just being against the carbon tax, that make good sense to suburban voters. At least one of those policies must address increased immigration coupled with better border control. Another concerns jobs for working class Canadians ~ likely including a commitment to do whatever it takes to build two new pipelines: one to a Pacific port and the other to refineries and seaports in Eastern Canada, and
    • Field a solid team to sell those policies in rural, small/medium town, suburban and urban centres. Andrew Scheer needs to show that he leads a cohesive team that wants to work for all Canadians.

 

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