If 2013 saw a rebound in the Liberal brand nationally, how will 2014 fare for the ruling Conservatives on the federal scene? A year ago, the Conservative government, despite some good economic numbers, was facing a resurgent Liberal party in the midst of a leadership race with the emergence of the charismatic and likeable Justin Trudeau leading all other contenders. By the end of 2013, Trudeau had established his standing in the polls leading both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and official opposition leader Tom Mulcair.
The Canadian Senate scandal erupted in the spring of 2013, where three Conservative senators were accused of spending irregularities. They eventually left the Conservative caucus and were suspended from their duties. However, the scandal, along with the Trudeau leadership victory, marred what could have been a good year for the ruling Tories.
With the economy undergoing modest growth, most seemed appreciative of Harper’s economic management. And just a few weeks ago, Canada concluded a free trade agreement (yet to be ratified) with the European Union. Still, by the end of 2013, the Tories were facing disapproval numbers hovering over the 60 percent mark, and had 29-30 percent voter choice number (voter intention).
The Tory prospects for 2014 may rest with how the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals perform with their respective bases (generally progressive), and their appeal to disenchanted voters.
On November 25, Canadians went to the polls in four by-elections—two in Manitoba, one in Québec and one in Ontario. The results were not dramatic, as they maintained the same distribution of seats in Canada’s House of Commons. The Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept its two Manitoba seats—albeit with highly reduced margins. The Liberals, led by new leader Justin Trudeau, won both the Ontario and the Québec seats.
What made news was the fact that the Liberals captured second place in the Manitoba contests, leaving the New Democratic Party (NDP) to ponder whether they are losing their hold as the alternative to the governing Tories.
Harper’s party is still mired in the Senate scandal from last spring, which involved alleged spending infractions by former Conservative Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin—then part of the Conservative caucus.
To the opposition parties, it’s the scandal that keeps on giving, as daily revelations dominate the newswires. The prime minister is finding out the hard way the Watergate scandal lesson—the “cover-up” is usually more damaging than the “crime.” Evasive answers, contradictions and improvisation have amplified what should have been an isolated case of misbehaving senators (since expelled from the Tory caucus) into a full-blown scandal.
Conservatives have suffered the blowback in recent national polls, and the by-elections results confirmed that the government is in troubled waters. What may be encouraging to the government strategists, however, is that the Tory fall in the polls cannot really be attributed to the government’s major agenda item: the economy. Rather, it is the scandal and how the government conducts its business in the light of the scandal that are the source of the current rejection. With two years to go until the next election, there is plenty of time to adjust and recover—or so the Tories think.
Canada has only had two political parties who have governed the country’s affairs and destiny
—the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Just as in the United States, the two-party approach has served our democracy well. Unlike the U.S., however, our parliamentary system leaves more room for the establishment and the sustaining presence of a third party. In Canada, third parties have come and gone, but one has had a persistent role over a number of decades and it is the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The New Democratic Party, created in 1961, was formed from the fusion of the Christian left Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party and the Canadian Labor Congress. By so doing, the new party attempted to enlarge its share of the electorate and appeal to a wider range of progressive views from the political left. Often referred to by its Liberal and Conservative opponents as socialists, the NDP resembles more the social democratic left associated with Britain’s Labour Party and other European countries. Its leaders, generally moderate in tone and policy, have come across as sensible and principled types. While the NDP has never governed nationally, it has been a key player in some of our provinces.
For the first time in its history, the NDP is no longer the third party in Canada’s House of Commons. It is now the official opposition party, and its leader Tom Mulcair could very well become Canada’s next prime minister.
The formerly dominant Liberal Party is embarking on a leadership contest with the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau, being touted as the next leader. But a closer look is being directed at Mulcair and the kind of prime minister he could become. Mulcair, a former provincial Liberal minister and deputy leader of the federal NDP, won his party’s leadership race over many long standing and more conventional NDP standard bearers. For some party regulars and stalwarts like former leader Ed Broadbent, it was near heresy to select a recent convert to the NDP.