09.06.2016 12:00 AM

This week’s column: change not chosen

Change? No thanks.

It’s the end of Summer, at least politically. Legislatures will soon back in session. How are the major players doing?

Out in British Columbia, Christy Clark owns the strongest economy in the federation. However much the BC NDP try to lay a glove on her, they can’t. She’s got the biggest smile in Canadian politics, and for good reason. She’s winning.

In my Alberta home, I don’t think Rachel Notley is doing nearly as badly as pundits and politicos claim. Her main opposition remains divided, she is impossible to dislike on a personal level, and there isn’t much (apart from an in-recession carbon tax) that you couldn’t picture her opponents also doing. Jason Kenney who?

In Saskatchewan, Brad Wall remains a political phenomenon. His cabinet may have experienced a few bumps along the road this Summer, but Wall’s amalgam of provincial conservatives and liberals remain hugely popular – because of Wall. He’s tough, he’s strategic, and he’s one of the best political communicators around.

In Manitoba, credit where credit is due: Premier Brian Pallister has been a lot more impressive than MP Brian Pallister. Back in his Ottawa days, Pallister was known for being in multiple political parties at once – and for occasionally intemperate remarks about women and others. In power, he’s calmed down. It looks good on him.

In Ontario, Kathleen Wynne – like Notley, who gets written off for a lot of the same reasons – is impossible to dislike. She’s like everyone’s favourite aunt. That said, polls suggest she and her party are in big trouble. The good news for Wynne: she’s got a balanced budget coming in the next fiscal, the next election is almost two years away, and her main opponents are in witness protection. Don’t write her off yet.

In Quebec, Canada benefits from the most pro-Canada Quebec Premier in generations – Philippe Couillard. Don’t underestimate his influence at the federal level, either: when Couillard said that Justin Trudeau was wrong on engaging ISIS, the youthful Liberal leader executed a whiplash-inducing flip flop immediately thereafter. As long as the PQ remain where they are – leaderless, witless and clueless – this guy will be Premier as long as he wants.

In New Brunswick, Brian Gallant’s Liberals remain about 30 points above his Tory opponents – despite a string of cabinet-level controversies. He’s the reason: New Brunswickers like him, a lot.

In Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeil has balanced the budget, and is broadly hinting that he may call an early – really early – election, this Fall. David Peterson did that, and regretted it. Jean Chretien did it twice, and it worked both times. My hunch: McNeil will win again.

In PEI, Wade MacLauchlan’s popularity may have slipped, somewhat – but his party maintains a massive 40-point lead over the Island Tories. MacLauchlan sleeps well every night.

In Newfoundland and Labador, the pro-Liberal trend in the Atlantic region is upended: Dwight Ball and his Grits are very unpopular. The reason: he did what he said he wouldn’t ever do – impose a budget full of tax hikes and austerity measures.

Federally? Well, federally, that Trudeau guy continues to dominate: his honeymoon, like someone said, has turned into a durable marriage with voters. He’s still pretty likeable, and his two main opponents are leaderless. Not bad.

His vulnerabilities: ministerial expense account-itis, a tendency to raise expectations that can’t be satisfied, and a solipsism that – sooner or later – will rankle voters.

Surveying the Canadian political landscape, then, the tweet-sized summary is this: incumbency is good.

If you hold power now, chances are you will continue to do so.

Change? Who needs it.

11 Comments

  1. Cory says:

    I disagree on Wynne. She may be nice in person but I find she comes off as a self-righteous bully.

  2. Peter says:

    Kathleen Wynne…is impossible to dislike. She’s like everyone’s favourite aunt.

    So many possible retorts. So little time.

  3. Keegan says:

    I thought the Sask Party would last decades in power, but I’ve been surprised of late as my gut reaction to Brad Wall is increasingly that his support may not be as solid as it seems. He’s had a tired look of late and the Sask Party were inexplicably nasty towards the hapless NDP during the last election. For a party that’s succeeded off of a big tent approach to politics, it wasn’t good optics to be seen as hitting an opponent when they were down. Especially now when the oil industry, that Brad openly mocked the NDP for not supporting, is leeching jobs. Not to mention the water from the North Saskatchewan river currently being undrinkable from Husky’s oil spill. The winds of change might not be there yet, but a $700m provincial deficit combined with the hubris of the last few years could easily spark memories of the mess that the last conservative gov’t in Saskatchewan left. The NDP is in complete disarray and doesn’t look to be a viable challenger to the government, but my impression is that during times of stability there are many powerbrokers that end up sitting on the sidelines and should the gov’t falter, there could be a challenge for power much quicker than people expect, whether through the NDP or other means.

  4. Lukelele says:

    Solipsism. Most of your readers will probably have to look that up, FYI. I did. But now I know! Thanks.

    And indeed, that is the most irksome thing about Justin Trudeau. I don’t mind the occasional ill considered comment, and I think overall his belief system and substance so far are good, but the endless photo ops, visual self-promotion, and image-craft are unbecoming. On occasion they aren’t bad, particularly when it comes to making a statement as in the pride parade stuff, but as far as photo shoots of the PM exercising, give m a fucking break. Maybe he’ll tone it down eventually. We get the point. Enough already.

  5. Charlie says:

    As a Manitoban, I can only comment on our new Premier.

    The Brian Pallister that sits in the Premier’s chair today is a complete 180 from the Pallister that made those incredibly stupid remarks about Halloween and infidels.

    I think one of the most under recognized stories of Canadian politics this year was the Manitoba election and how the PCs mastered a new communications strategy. They went from the party of homophobes and borderline bigots to the (socially conservative) Premier openly endorsing Gay Pride, recognizing the plight and importance of reconciliation with Aboriginals and some sort of meaningful action on climate change.

    If conservatives want to learn something from the MB PCs, its the ability to adapt to the overwhelming will of the population to curtail your agenda towards a more progressive focus. More importantly, how the strategist behind the PCs took someone like Brian Pallister, who was utterly unlikable, and made him into a someone a little more palatable to centrist voters. I was speaking to a newly minted Minister a few days ago and was surprised to hear him speak about things other than “taxpayer this, taxpayer that”. He spoke genuinely of being busy preparing some pretty liberal policies.

    All in all, this PC party may have the longevity of governance after all — if they continue to be a **Progressive** Conservative party.

    • Jean A Paterson says:

      I agree with Charlie on his view of the Manitoba PC Premier so far. Another point in his favour was his tough stance against OmniTrax, and its CEO in Canada, a former Harperite CPC MP. He accused Omnitrax of playing games with its Hudson Bay rail line and the Port of Churchill, now suffering from closure and job losses that really really hurt. No one could say that Pallister was being partisan, and so his accusations rang true. Sadly, the people of the Northern communities where rail is a vital link are suffering losses, both economic and social.

      • doconnor says:

        Like the MTS-Bell merger, I suspect they where waiting for a more business friendly government before screwing over Manitobans. Has he done anything more then talk angrily?

        • Charlie says:

          Admittedly, I really don’t like the Bell-MTS merger (ironically, I just became a Bell customer a week ago). As evidenced by history, where less competition exists, less competitive products are offered to customers. Manitobans have benefited from comparatively lower prices on their mobile services because of the significant presence of MTS, in what would otherwise have been a Rogers-Telus-Bell dominated market. In fact, for home services, its MTS and Shaw that dominate.

          Nevertheless, more providers = better prices. Now that MTS and Bell have become one, prices will inevitably go up.

          [The glass half-full perspective is that it would boost the network in Manitoba and provide internet in remote locations but that remains to be seen.]

          Obviously, Bell waited for a change in government to go forward with the acquisition because the PCs would have been more hands-off than the NDP; who most certainly would have taken a stance against it as a belated way to avenge the selling of MTS by the Gary Filmon in the 90’s.

          Having said that, I wouldn’t demonize Pallister for being in favour of something that is in line with his approach to economic development in Manitoba. I’m personally not at all in favour of MTS being devoured by Bell, but its the cost of living in a relatively free-market, liberal democracy. At the end of the day, a business will behave like a business will and for Brian Pallister — a brand new Premier — to get in the way of something that is going to improve telecommunications access in the northern Manitoba, would be to expect too much.

          The real problem here isn’t that Bell and MTS are screwing Manitoba, its that the CRTC hasn’t shown itself to have the balls to do anything about the gauging that telecom companies get away with. If we’re really looking at the root of the problem, the CRTC has proven itself to be useless in protecting consumers in a meaningful way and have been all rhetoric thus far. I’d also part some blame on the previous Conservative government at the federal level who promised action on consumer rights in their throne speech and utterly failed to deliver on that.

  6. Greyapple says:

    I live in New Brunswick, and despite their current wide lead in the polls I’ve seen little enthusiasm for the Gallant Liberals. I suspect their popularity is partially due to the ongoing Trudeau honeymoon rather than their own performance, which is rather lackluster. Plus their opponents are in no position to raise a challenge; the PCs are currently in the midst of a leadership race, the NDP’s Dominic Cardy has not resonated with voters, and the Green have little prospect for growth outside of leader David Coon’s Fredericton seat (the less said about the far-right, Francophobic People’s Alliance Party, the better). The government has recently announced some big sending on education, to say nothing of their decision last spring to grant free university tuition to students from low income families. I imagine when the bill comes due there will be some blow back in the polls, given how little money there is to be had here and the cutback’s in other areas they’ve introduced. Gallant himself benefits from being young and photogenic, but he lacks the charisma of Trudeau, and he has not proven very capable of defending his government’s questionable actions. Two years until the next vote, and I wouldn’t rule out anything. They may be reelected in a landslide or become this province’s third one-term government in a row.

    As for my native Nova Scotia, yeah, I imagine the McNeil Liberals will win handily when the votes are tallied. PC leader Jamie Baillie has not caught on with the voters and faces considerable discontent within his own party (I have reliable insider information on that point), and no one is eager to return the NDP to power after the Dexter debacle, even though their new leader, Gary Burill, seems to be a nice man. Still it may not all be smooth sailing for McNeil. His balanced budget comes from considerable cuts to public services, especially health services, and he faces strong criticism for his decision to scrap the film tax credit and the costly deal he signed for the Yarmouth-Bar Harbour ferry. Recent events may give him pause when considering calling an early election. Last week a Halifax by-election returned the NDP candidate, even though the Grits invested heavily in winning it. True, that seat is traditionally an NDP bastion, but several of those fell to the Grits in the last general election. If the Liberals are at risk of losing support it will be in the Halifax area. The film industry is based there, as are most of the province’s progressives, and both camps may cast their votes NDP to teach the austerity McNeil Liberals a lesson. Time will tell, and I imagine that time will come in the spring, not this fall.

  7. dave constable says:

    Maybe a lot of us are simply hunkering down, not sure what to do next. Careers and jobs seem a little precarious. We hope like heck that the climate change deniers are right. Could be, too, we are becoming transfixed with USA pres race, and we do not want to move until we see what the outcome will be down there. Nervous about our overseas military build up…no time to change anything.

  8. monkey says:

    My take is

    BC: Lots of undecided so too close to call. Christy Clark doesn’t arouse the passions on either side like Campbell did thus I wouldn’t be surprised if she wins again, but wouldn’t either if the NDP wins.

    Alberta: While dealt a bad hand, Rachel Notley is a probably a step too much to the left for Albertans so while she could win again in 2019, its an uphill battle. Ironically I think the Wildrose under Brian Jean or PCs under someone other than Kenney have a better chance than a Kenney lead PC Party.

    Saskatchewan: It will be 13 years in power and I am not so sure Brad Wall while offer up again. His successor will have big shoes to fill so probably a win in 2020 albeit by a narrower margin, but a massive loss in 2024, think Gary Doer and Danny Williams who seemed unbeatable but once they left things went downhill as expectations were too high to keep for the successor.

    Manitoba: Pallister sort of is like John Tory is as mayor, doesn’t excite people a lot, but isn’t a huge turnoff and if you are conservative that is probably a good place to be right now. So maybe not quite as big a landslide as he won the highest margins for the PCs since 1910, but a loss seems unlikely at this point, but not impossible.

    Ontario: Wynne shouldn’t be underestimated by no premier with an approval rating under 30% has ever been re-elected. Her approval rating is comparable to what Greg Selinger was and a full 10-15% below what Harper was last October, so if her numbers don’t improve she is toast. It’s more a matter of just how badly she loses and who beats her. Probably the PCs, but if they really mess up an NDP win is possible although highly unlikely. In addition as much as I favour balanced budgets myself, I don’t think voters care a whole lot if recent elections are any sign.

    Quebec: Couillard probably will win again but too early to say if it will be a minority or majority. At least he made all his tough decisions near the beginning and followed through unlike Charest did. The main wildcard is Francois Legault of the CAQ who is a lot like Gary Johnson of the Libertarians in the US. Not much of base, but not really disliked by many. He could get anywhere from 10% to 30% next time around so it will depend where those votes go or come from.

    New Brunswick: Brian Gallant has horrible approval ratings and I suspect Trudeau’s strong popularity and still the bitter anger at Harper probably exaggerate the lead. I would give him a slight edge, but things will likely tighten up quite a bit. His numbers after all aren’t any better than the Liberals were in this point in the past two elections.

    Nova Scotia: McNeil probably has the least to worry about of premiers with upcoming elections, but I think his main advantage is the PCs and NDP both were in power not too long ago and liked even less. Still I could see the PCs and NDP picking up a few of their traditional strongholds, but not likely enough to come anywhere near power.

    PEI: Elections there are usually boring and the ideological differences between the two parties is negligible as both are centrist unlike federally. McLaughlin has a huge lead but in the past two elections the PCs went up by over 10 points during the writ, which is not nearly enough to win, but enough to close the gap. The only thing going against him is if he does win this will be the first time since confederation PEI has broken the rule of 3 terms and your are out.

    Newfoundland: A lot will depend on the results of the austerity. If it works well, Dwight Ball will be hailed as a genius and easily re-elected. If it flops badly the party will likely fall to third and it will be a battle between the NDP and PCs. Otherwise end results which we don’t is what will matter.

    I would say in Atlantic Canada, the philosophical gap between the NDP, Liberals, and PCs is much smaller than federally as all three are fairly centrist so a big swing in the polls is far more realistic there than further West where the ideological differences are more noticeable between parties.

    Yukon: Not mentioned elsewhere but all signs point to a change in government, but with a massive undecided anything is possible. So probably Liberals, followed by NDP, and Yukon Party least likely but any possible order is possible.

    Canada: Trudeau is looking good now and certainly has a strong advantage now although a lot will depend on who the NDP and Tories choose as leader. His real risks are two fold 1. Not get too cocky thinking he has it locked up which many around him seem to believe and instead learn from Chretien who no matter how great polls (and he had even higher approval ratings and leads in the polls) never took anything for granted and off course the r word i.e. recession. If we come out better than most G7 countries like we did in the last one, he will win a bigger majority just as this helped catapault Harper to a majority. If we do worse than most G7 countries like in the early 90s and early 80s, expect to lose badly, only saving grace as unlike Turner and Campbell its at least his first term so probably not quite as bad a defeat.

    Finally federally, focus on the under 50 as unlike the over 50 who always vote and most asides from maybe 10% of so vote for the same party always that is not the case with the under 50 who sometimes vote but not always and have very little loyalty to anyone party so massive swings like we’ve seen in the last election definitely could occur in 2019 in any direction for any party.

    My prediction is 6 to 7 get re-elected, while 3-4 get defeated. Wynne and Notley the most vulnerable ones while McNeil, Pallister, and McLaughlin the most secure (Brad Wall I didn’t include since I don’t think he will run again in 2020).

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