Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 2, 2015
It is something that hasn’t happened in Canada since the early years of Stephen Harper’s regime, and it appears he and his government may bookend their time with what pollsters believe could be a slim minority government.
This news comes on the heels of the latest EKOS poll that notes Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party has sunk close to 10 per cent in overall support, placing them within range of what once was the trailing Conservatives.
That latest poll from the group noted the Liberals under Trudeau have dipped below 30 percent support to 28.5 per cent with both the NDP and the Conservatives taking up the slack, putting the Tories in slim minority territory at just over 30 percent at 31.8 per cent. The softening of Liberal support came ahead of Trudeau’s controversial move to not support the Harper-led decision to further expand the Canadian combat role in Iraq to battle ISIS militants.
With the election closing in, it now puts the opposition NDP and the Liberals in interesting territory, as both have an opportunity to bind their support, and stave off a hung Parliament where no single party has enough seats to further their mandate.
Even in a hypothetical soft minority Conservative government, without aligning themselves the NDP and Liberals are destined to merely push Canadians to another election in short order following such a scenario.
The last time the Harper-led Conservatives were forced into an early election, it was disastrous for the Liberals as they shrunk to new lows as far as support and seats in the House of Commons.
So where does this leave the somewhat mercurial Trudeau? Obviously his leadership will not be challenged by the party he has sculpted over the last number of months, but it does pose the question whether aligning with the NDP in certain ridings to run a single candidate to oppose the Conservative member may actually prove fruitful for both parties, and ultimately the country.
Whether the two could actually get along and form some sort of coalition is another story, but at the very least they would need to have a Liberal or NDP minority to even get the chance to do so. In the case of a slim minority for the Conservatives, the opportunity for anyone to further a mandate becomes much trickier.
Further to that, Harper, should he win and so chose, could wait to call back the House of Commons in an attempt to further prolong his stay. That decision to prorogue Parliament would come down to Gov. Gen. David Johnston, a Harper appointee who coincidentally enough had his term extended recently, now holding office until 2017, well after the next federal election.
There is precedent for these types of moves, and Harper is not the only one to have built in a “Plan B” should the election not turn out in his favour. You have to think, though, in crafting their strategy for a minority parliament, they have somewhat begrudgingly taken into account the fact that they would, should they want to hold on to power, actually have to work with members of the Opposition to further any sort of mandate. This would be the hardest pill to swallow for the prime minister and his members, who have pretty much had the run of the place over the last few years.
As for Trudeau, if he is going to bring the party back on track and steal a bit of the recent NDP wave of support, he needs to come up with concrete, platform ideas on how a Liberal government would do things differently. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is already out ahead of the pack on this front, having staked claim on opposition to a number of Harper initiatives, including the controversial Bill C-51 and the government’s involvement in the Middle East, leaving Trudeau playing catch-up on messaging, strategy and platform.
The NDP have got a bit of their groove back in recent months, and that could spell trouble for the Liberals should the numbers stay true to this poll.
Justin Trudeau needs to move to an offensive strategy if he hopes to pull Canadians back his way. Both the Liberals and NDP need to take seats away from the Conservatives — and not each other — if they are to have any hope of changing the script for Canadians at the polls seven months from now.