The right kind of enemies?

Aaron Wherry, writing for CBC News, says that “Justin Trudeau would probably prefer that Rachel Notley remain premier of Alberta. He’d likely rather have ex-Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne still running things in Queen’s Park … [but, he says] … in lieu of allies and like-minded leaders, Jason Kenney and Doug Ford could provide andrew-scheer-cpcJustin Trudeau with something he has lacked since he dispatched Stephen Harper in 2015: the right kind of adversary.” Of course, he says, “There’s always Andrew Scheer … [he notes, but, again] …nearly two years after taking the job, the leader of the Official Opposition remains an amorphous character, with arguably less of a presence in Canadians’ political consciousness than his lingering predecessor. Until Scheer has a set of policies to his name, a match-up with Trudeau will be a difficult fight to promote.

In fact, as many have noted over the centuries, it’s always easier to be against something (or someone) than to have to explain what you stand for … although that never stops Canadian politicians from making promises they have no intention of keeping.

Mr. Wherry says that “Doug Ford has spent the last nine months auditioning for the INLINE-8-743x545role of the prime minister’s principal antagonist, with an unending series of complaints about the federal government. The Liberals have responded by embracing every opportunity to state their differences with the Ford government, while enthusiastically linking Scheer with Ford’s agenda … [and] … The Ford government is moving now to plaster anti-carbon tax stickers on every gas pump in Ontario — a remarkable use of public funds and authority to advance a partisan argument in an election year. Ford’s direct involvement in the fall federal election 54522646_10157039328937641_319027525047025664_oseems inevitable … [but, he says] … Jason Kenney is the more intriguing foe. For one thing, Kenney can barely hide his contempt for the prime minister. For another, they already have a history … [because] … It was Kenney, as federal immigration minister in 2011, who moved to ban new citizens from wearing the niqab while swearing the citizenship oath. Four years later, that ban inspired Trudeau to deliver one of the most important speeches of his political career, a treatise on freedom and diversity that would end up framing a pivotal portion of that year’s election.

Aaron Wherry concludes that “There’s a dual risk here for Scheer — of being overshadowed by two premiers and of sinking his own chances by tying himself to provincial leaders courting controversy. It’s possible that, by October, many voters will be looking for a PM who is more likely to stand up to the premiers of Alberta and Ontario … [but, he says] … The greater threat posed by Kenney and Ford is still to the prime minister’s own agenda and world view. But Kenney and Ford can at least do him the favour of clarifying the choice Trudeau wants to present to Canadians this fall … [and] … after two months of getting knocked around, Trudeau could benefit from finding someone new to fight.

I think he makes a couple of valid points:

  • First, Doug Ford and Jason Kenney do help Trudeau by “clarifying the choice,” because Andrew Scheer still seems like “an amorphous character” without much in the way of actual policy choices for Canadians; but
  • Second, both Premier Ford and (I hope) soon-to-be-premier Kenney are attacking Trudeau on policy fronts where he is weak: the carbon tax, pipelines (and with that his obvious contempt for working people, as evidenced about his remarks about construction workers) and favouritism towards Quebec, and that benefits Andrew Scheer and gives him time to roll out a platform and then a campaign that can play on whatever points the premiers score while distancing the federal Conservatives from positions that prove to be unpopular with voters.

For now, I think, Andrew Scheer would be smart to allow Doug Ford and Jason Kenney to lead the virulently anti-Trudeau crusade while he focuses on offering Canadians sensible, moderate, policy alternatives. I suspect that ‘Ford Nation‘ is still strong in suburban and small-town Ontario, where, above all else, the Conservatives must win if they want to form a majority government, but, concomitantly, Doug Ford is divisive, to be charitable, in the main urban centres … the CPC needs this, again:

2019.001.jpeg

It doesn’t require an advanced degree in political science to understand that the suburbs, and small-town Canada, are where the votes are. As a general rule, the progressives are in the large, dense, public transit using urban cores … and they are, mostly, going to vote Liberal and NDP. The Conservatives already hold much of the rural vote. The swing votes are in the suburbs, especially the ones around Vancouver and in Southern Ontario. That’s where the Conservative’s path to victory lies. To the degree that Doug Ford and Jason Kenney can help in those suburbs, they are valuable allies for Andrew Scheer’s federal Conservatives, even if they (Doug Ford, especially) are unpopular in the urban cores.

There is one additional risk factor: Jason Kenney is campaigning against Québec; that will work, maybe even well, in Alberta and in Saskatchewan. but it will not work in Ontario. It has always seemed to me that many Ontario voters want a government that will ‘keep Québec in its place,’ and that means, first and foremost, inside the Canadian federation and, secondly, in a supporting role to Ontario which still sees itself as the economic engine of Canada. Andrew Scheer must distance himself and his party from that anti-Québec notion. It is, as Stephen Harper demonstrated, possible to govern Canada without much support in Québec, but it is not possible to win on an anti-Québec platform.

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