06.16.2014 06:32 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: the alternation theory and Justin Trudeau

Liberal governments back in power, somewhat unexpectedly, in Quebec City and Toronto: does that help Justin Trudeau, or does it hurt him?

Depends who you ask. Conservatives are less preoccupied with what political scientists airily refer to as “alternation.” Liberals believe in it, as an article of faith. That’s why so many federal Grits are (publicly) claiming to be happy about the election of Premiers Couillard and Wynne – but are (privately) a bit apprehensive.

Alternation, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, is uniquely Canadian. It asserts that Canadian voters are (a) aware of the dualities that run through our politics, and (b) wisely offset said dualities to provide balance and harmony. So, for example, Liberals believe in alternating between French and English leaders. Conservatives don’t, although they seem to pay some heed to East-West leadership duality.

Alternation means that, whenever the Liberals have been in power in Ottawa, Conservatives have generally held sway in Toronto. The same holds true, more or less, for the Quebec City-Ottawa teeter-totter: whenever federalist Liberals have been ascendant in the nation’s capital, they have been moving in the opposite direction at Quebec’s National Assembly.

If alternation sounds like a lot of political hocus-pocus to you, you are not alone. There are clear exceptions to the alternation rule. For example, Liberal Dalton McGuinty first won power while Liberals Jean Chretien and Paul Martin ruled federally, an alternation aberration that went on for two years. And Grits haven’t always adhered to the alternating French-English leader rule, either: recently, and fleetingy, they had two back-to-back anglos as leader (Ignatieff and Rae).

That all said, Team Trudeau may admit that alternation causes them some indigestion. For the next four years, Premiers Couillard and Wynne will govern and, one hopes, be obliged to make difficult decisions. For the next four years, then, much of the Liberal action – fundraising, media attention and the better political staffers – will gravitate toward the provincial capitals.

Trudeau may argue that he is responsible for some of Wynne’s big win. He helped her out at a big mid-campaign rally, true, and he stumped for some Ontario Liberal candidates. But Trudeau could not stem the anti-Grit tide in February by-elections in Toronto or Niagara Falls, nor before that in Windsor or London in August. The Ontario Liberals were humbled in those places, Trudeau’s beneficence notwithstanding.

As he surveys the Ontario-Quebec results, however, Trudeau is certainly entitled to form the opinion that the Liberal brand is back. After 2011’s federal rout, many pundits were claiming that Liberal parties were doomed. But now Liberals rule the roost in B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and P.E.I., and big “L” liberalism looks anything but dead. Canadians seem to be migrating back to the political centre.

Three things stand in the way if Trudeau’s journey back to 24 Sussex, however. One, Stephen Harper is no Tim Hudak or Pauline Marois – he knows how to win, and Grits underestimate him at their peril. Two, Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats have not withered on the vine in Quebec – there, the NDP remain as popular as the Liberals, or more so. Three, Wynne and Couillard have revealed themselves to be disciplined, capable campaigners – and neither are guilty of verbal gaffes about abortion, the Ukraine, Chinese dictatorships or balanced budgets.

Alternation: it may simply be debate fodder for political scientists, sure.

Or, it could be the main thing that keeps Justin Trudeau from power in 2015.



  1. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    IMHO alternation only comes into the equation when the provincial brand lives up to its expected criteria — Progressive Conservative domination was constructed on the pillars of center to moderate center-right politics. They came back under Harris and his right-wing tilt but they could not hold the line as a dynasty due to an excessive drift rightward. Look at Charest who ruled the roost from 2003 until late 2013. Again, center to center-right moderate government.

    Harper does not qualify as of this last government. He moved right in an excessive manner and his footing in the polls disappeared right under him. They are who they are — as they would say Full Stop — and that will mean one hell of a time trying to get another majority.

    As for Justin: either he wins as the change agent or he wins like Clark (despite himself) but what’s important is that it’s highly likely that he will win and form a Liberal government. Conservatives have faIled to tear down Justin. They won’t have any better luck come the election campaign.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      terence Quinn says:

      +1 JT is making a difference and is the agent of change we need. I still predict Harper will step down this year.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      RonaldO says:

      Loyal Canadians in the RoC will most certainly not vote Liberal or NDP and to hand over the levers of power and privilege to a prime minister and MPs from Quebec. That would be like drinking poison and insisting it tasted good, while taking your last breaths!

      Another PM from Quebec would pile money into Quebec while the RoC sucks fumes and smiles stupidly.

      Who in their right mind would have a PM Justin or PM Mulcair leading all of Canada… it’s inconceivable! Of course such capitulation to Quebec is acceptable for the insane Harper haters who would sell out their country to satisfy their intensely passionate dislike and 10 years of prejudice against the Reform and Conservative parties.

      • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
        Ronald O'Dowd says:


        They say that imitation is the best form of flattery but not necessarily in this case. Just to be clear, the comments by RonaldO were not written by yours truly. Thanks,

  2. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    sezme says:

    It would certainly be a novel alternation if the NDP took power in Ottawa rather than the Cons while the Liberals held Ontario.

    I’m not putting money on such an outcome quite yet, but for the first time I can remember (apart from about a month in 1987) it doesn’t seem completely beyond the cusp. If the nation sours on the Conservatives as they are wont to do from time to time, and Mulcair looks to the electorate like a better alternative than Jr., well it could be the perfect storm. Still not the likeliest scenario, but possible at least.

  3. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Emil E says:

    “That all said, Team Trudeau may admit that alternation causes them some indigestion.” Will it become a Liberal constipation in 2015?

    One other underlying facet of federal leadership is the fact that two of the leaders are from Quebec and both are vying for ascendancy in Quebec and Ontario. There may well be a clash of heads as they try to usurp each others centre-left urban votes, and both may fail equally as the Conservatives again win up the middle.

    However, the undependable NDP union vote may “do a Wynne” and vote Liberal to Stop Harper! This must scare the sh!t out of the Dippers in the RoC as their quebecois leader flops in Toronto and Montreal too… as polls seem to suggest now.

    Of course the Harper backroom strategist will have learned a lesson from Hudak’s horrendous snafu offering Morontarians vinegar while Wynne gave them security. I wonder if Harper still wants to run in 2015…. or will he cash out in Calgary?!

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Matt says:

      It was revealed today that nobody in th Ontario PC caucus or any of the candidates knew about Hudak’s 100,000 public sector job cut plan until it was announced publicly.

      Hudak was shredded in the caucus meeting today, obviously the first since the election. Lots of people want him to step away from the leadership immediately and have an interm leader appointed by caucus

      • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
        Michael says:

        Two and a half years of neo-con white papers didn’t give them a clue? Either they are lying, or stupid, take your pick.

        • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
          Matt says:

          I confess I didn’t read all of the white papers, but I never saw anything that gave a specific number. Plus the ham fisted way he announced it.

          He could nave simply said a reduction in the public service that would be accomplished through natural retirements.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Emil E,

      Corporations tend to give big payoffs to persons seen as enhancing their brand. That means basically neutral types who favour big business but who have never served as deliberate lightning rods while in politics…

      Reminds me of Jim Prentice during his time at CIBC with, if memory serves, a salary of two million a year. I will be surprised if Harper goes that route given his incredibly unfavourable ratings as regards climate change. In short, perhaps a person who remains too controversial for big energy.

  4. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ty says:

    “and neither are guilty of verbal gaffes about abortion, the Ukraine, Chinese dictatorships or balanced budgets.”

    I remember watching Vladimir Putin’s victory speech, and it struck me funny when he made a rather self-aware comparison: He basically told the audience that, to paraphrase, you can have me or you can have the spin doctors that the Western countries have. Cue cheers.

    If a joke about Sun News (Chinese dictatorships) or a self evident point (balanced budgets) are actually portrayed as “gaffes” that should actually determine who runs this country, I can honestly say that I am beginning to see the appeal to this approach.

  5. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    JH says:

    Do not underestimate Mulcair’s strenth in Quebec. That coupled, with their inherent dislike of all things Trudeau, plus the continued weakness of the Bloc Quebecois might indeed be the perfect storm in that province. To say nothing of the Wynne conundrum in Ontario – bring in a fiscally respnsible budget and PO the unions or reinstate the last one and give the Harperites more fodder in 2015, for their economic prowness. This ain’t as simple as the blind loyalists would have us believe.

  6. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    que sera sera says:

    How many angels can dance on Justin’s pinhead?

    All this fault finding, navel gazing, second guessing and agonizing over the relative [de]merits of any politician – while the stock in trade of political pundits – is beyond boring to Joe and Jane Frontporch and seemingly beyond quantification by rampaging hordes of agitated pollsters and the agitating media.

    Since Harper, the political outlier and liar, arrived on the Canadian political scene – all bets are off on reasoned analysis of politician’s or the public’s intentions – evidenced most recently by Ontario, Quebec, BC and Alberta provincial elections.

    Frontporch conversations I’ve been privy to so far go something like this: The CPC – much like house guests and fish – have overstayed their welcome. The NDP – much like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” – defy convention & aren’t really all that welcome. The LPC – much like self-absorbed Grandparents – always barge right in and take over whenever invited.

    [Disclaimer: I have voted PCPC, LPC and NDP in past federal elections & incarnations.]

  7. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Matt says:

    For many, many years it has been said Ontarians don’t like to have the same party in power at the provincial and federal level.

    It was also said for many, many years that a party couldn’t form a majority at the federal level without winning Quebec.

    Harper proved that wrong in 2011 winning a majority while taking only 5 seats in Quebec, and would still have won his majority even if he had been shut out in Quebec.

  8. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    debs says:

    I think that pundits and pollsters may have to create a new category, and new faux political persona, obsess, discuss, shred and put back together that entity and let the other reallife scenarious play out. Lets call the new politician Mr PotatoHead. Mr P can be a centre right ideologue with eyes everywhere:) I mean at this point, whatever the polls and pundits say, I know the opposite will happen, lol.
    now more importantly how many days until Rob Ford is out of rehab:)

  9. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Jerry says:

    Two points.
    Quibble first: Nothing liberal about BC’s Liberal Party.
    Harper’s malice is also why Hudak lost,Ontarions see through him to his essential thuggery.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      MCBellecourt says:

      The quibble is correct, Warren. All one has to do is look around my city and see the human suffering that is clearly evident in the midst of the downtown area’s middle class haven. There are homeless people. Hungry people. And, worst of all, hungry children. BC’s child poverty rate has skyrocketed since the BCfauxLiberals came to power, and it is not showing any signs of decreasing. Jobs are scarce here. The ones that do exist are minimum wage shit jobs that don’t pay enough to keep a dog alive–even though a bachelor suite costs at LEAST 550/month to rent.

      People on disability were forced to reapply for it when the BCfauxLiberals came to power, and the form is over twenty pages long. This fiasco was preceded by a very threatening letter from Murray Coell’s social (dis)services ministry. One of Coell’s victims was waiting to have a brain aneurysm dealt with and the stress that letter caused her almost killed her.

      Our medical care up here is completely shot. I encountered a man who had fresh staples along from behind his ear to the bottom of his chin. He had a gland removed from his neck and was booted out of the hospital almost immediately after he awoke from the anesthetic. Christ, there was blood still seeping from his wound!

      Don’t even think we have a Liberal government here. None of this shit would have happened if they were the real deal. And, another reminder, Warren. There were Cons (including Ken Boessenkool) working with Christy Clark during her last election campaign.

  10. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ryan Spinney says:

    The Election of a radical clown with FLQ sympathies as Bloc Leader is a huge win for the NDP as Bloc voters have the NDP as thier largest second choice, in time this could solidify the NDP’s grip on Quebec Federally.

    Secondly the NDP is very likely to gain seats in Sask and if the three way race for BC splits right in BC, seats could be gained in BC as well.

    The Liberal vote is horriblely ineffective at the National level right now, with the Tories ruling Alberta, rural Saskn and much of rural manitoba, the NDP dominiating Quebec, large parts of BC, Northern Ontario, Urban Sask.

    What the Liberals have is the GTA and Alantic Canada right now, and the Anglo section of Montreal. If the NDP can figure out how to crack the GTA its all over for Trudeau. The GTA is the Liberal Core turf as Quebec has become the NDP core and Alberta the Tory core region.

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      terence Quinn says:

      What planet did you just arrive from?

  11. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Reality.Bites says:

    Ontario, needless to say, isn’t the only province that votes in federal elections.

    So let’s look at Ontario Liberal seats instead.

    2003 – 72 of 103
    2007 – 71 of 107
    2011 – 53 of 107
    2014 – 58 of 107

    2004: 75 of 106
    2006: 54 of 106
    2008: 38 of 106

    Ontario voters have no issues with election Liberals both provincially and federally

    • Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
      Reality.Bites says:

      That should have been “no issues with ELECTING Liberals” of course, not election.

  12. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Joe says:

    Let me get this straight. Hudak convinces 5 seats in Ontario to vote Liberal that voted otherwise in the last provincial election and somehow this means that Trudeau is going to sweep the nation in the next federal election? OK…..

  13. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    debs says:

    there is a third possibility, Thomas Mulcair, PM, 2015:)
    its a longshot, but hey it could happen, if all the disenfranchised chose to vote, and if all the PC cons stayed at home.

  14. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Watching P & P. No surprise that Harper is on automatic pilot having approved Northern Gateway. Mulcair and caucus are great at showboating. What a reach to see Mulcair claiming that the NDP will form the next government. Right. Social democratic principles have never taken off in English Canada. No exception here.

    Harper must know that his three projects risk being bottled up in the courts thanks to First Nations and other stakeholders. The Conservatives know how to recognize fine lawyering when they see it. It’s been in their face for quite some time now and that is the only sure thing — it’s bound to continue in spades.

  15. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Marc L says:

    “and neither are guilty of verbal gaffes about abortion, the Ukraine, Chinese dictatorships or balanced budgets”. To say nothing of his definition of the middle class — around which he wants to define his campaign — which would include most company CEOs, bankers, traders and other such millionaires, but not my retired mom, who would be considered rich because she lives off her savings.

  16. Notice: Undefined offset: 180 in /home/q84jy4qfdyhq/public_html/wp-content/themes/warroom/functions.php on line 314
    Peter Jay says:

    Hmm, BC Liberals are “Liberals”? That’s funny. Their only brand in BC is this: “We are not the NDP”. That’s it, that’s all it is — and it is usually enough.

    BTW, outside of the Lower Mainland, the federal Liberal candidate often comes in 4th. Toronto folks who think Trudeau will change that are just plain ignorant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.