This past weekend brought political pundits competing political events as Canada’s two main opposition parties each sought to position themselves as the alternative to the governing Conservatives. The Liberal Party of Canada spoke with a united voice and elected Justin Trudeau as their seventh leader in ten years. The NDP used its policy convention to remodel itself from Official Opposition to government-in-waiting. For many observers, the weekend represents the unofficial kick-off to the 2015 federal election.

When considering the state of Canada‟s political opposition in the spring of 2013, one cannot help but note a number of parallels to the state of the ‘right of centre’ opposition ten years earlier. In April 2003, Stephen Harper, then the Leader of the Official Opposition, had been at the head of the Canadian Alliance for just over a year. Facing Jean Chretien, a long-serving Prime Minister with a majority government, Mr. Harper was keenly awaiting both the outcome of the Perth-Wellington (Ontario) by-election but also the race for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Having repeatedly dismissed calls for some form of unite-the-right initiative with the PC Party under elder statesman and former Prime Minister Joe Clark, Mr. Harper was expecting to face competition from its new leader in the form of a young, dynamic Peter MacKay – the son of a respected former cabinet minister the Hon. Elmer MacKay. The fate of their two parties would depend, at least in part, on the results of the by-election in rural southwestern Ontario – a clear sign of each party`s ability to win what had been a Liberal seat.

In 2013, it is Mr. Mulcair who is facing both a by-election and a ‘unite the left’ rallying cry from some members within the NDP. Mr. Mulcair consistently dismissed calls for some kind of unite-the-left movement while the Liberals were briefly led by elder statesman and former Ontario Premier Bob Rae. Mr. Mulcair has known for some time that he will now face competition from their new leader, the young, dynamic Justin Trudeau – the son of the colourful and charismatic former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

The famed American author Mark Twain once observed: “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” While few expect that Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau will follow in the footsteps of Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, there is little question that Mr. Mulcair hopes that he will find himself as Prime Minister by 2016 – just as Stephen Harper did by 2006. As the opposition and government prepare for the summer break, and the next federal election, there are some early signs of the path Mr. Mulcair hopes to take.

NDP

The NDP Policy Convention, where the party took its latest steps toward preparing for the 2015 election, was a success for the Leader of the Opposition. The convention was an exercise in the branding of Tom Mulcair as the Party works to show their leader in a more personal light highlighted by videos featuring intimate interviews about the Leader from his family and childhood friends.

While the NDP has successfully implemented order and structure to a large and inexperienced caucus, it is now working to refine Mulcair‟s image and how he is perceived by Canadians. While the Liberals were without a permanent leader, Mulcair did not seize the opportunity to become better known in the first year of this leadership and showcase his ability to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

The NDP also focused on moderating some of their policy positions, emerging from this this convention a more moderate and disciplined party, having overwhelmingly voted to remove references to socialism in the Party’s constitution, making it less ideological and more mainstream. On that score, Mulcair succeeded in completing the job started by his predecessor Jack Layton. However, the NDP does remain a left of centre party, having passed for example, resolution 4-02-13, stating in part that an NDP government will lower the threshold for a full review under the Investment Canada Act, showing they remain a left of centre party.

To many pundits in the press, this move was viewed as an important one which paralleled similar positioning by both the Democratic Party in the United States and the Labour Party in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s. Labour Leader, and later Prime Minister, Tony Blair convinced his party to shed its historic links to western socialism enshrined in their party constitution – a move which was widely credited as the birth of ‘New Labour’. For the Democrats in the U.S., the parallel is President Clinton‟s move to ‘triangulation’.

Whether Mulcair will reap the same benefit as did Blair and Clinton remains to be seen, but it is clear that the party is attempting modernize as other successful progressive parties have done. Both men worked tirelessly to give their respective parties a renewed image of fiscal responsibility, dismissing claims that the economy would suffer if they were elected to power. Through his first year as Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Mulcair has similarly tried to position himself and the NDP as sound and capable on financial matters, highlighting the fiscal success of provincial New Democrat governments, notably in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

As the House of Commons resumes today from a two-week Constituency break in the Parliamentary calendar, expect the NDP to continue to call for the government to protect Canadian‟s personal information, fight against the criminal use of tax havens and, in the midst of the recent RBC scandal, strengthen temporary foreign worker regulations.

Liberal Party

On Sunday, Justin Trudeau was elected Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Trudeau earned a first-ballot victory after securing 81,389 of the 104,522 electronic ballots that were cast in a week of online voting. Trudeau‟s closest opponents were Joyce Murray who finished with 12,148 votes and Martha Hall Findlay who placed third with 6,585 votes.

Trudeau was an overwhelming favourite in the race from when he first announced his intentions to become leader. Whether it is his charisma, lineage, or passionate plea to restore the Liberals as a viable choice for Canadian voters – by saying he would put forward an “irresistible alternative” to the Conservatives in time for the next general election in 2015 – Trudeau won decisively.

Trudeau’s platform promised to increase access to post-secondary education for all Canadians, strengthen the public pension system, and install a permanent and refundable Green Renovation Tax Credit – which will allow families to help the environment while saving on heating costs, and claim tax refunds for home renovations. The newly elected leader also pledges to run a clean ethical campaign in 2015 and to stay away from attack ads.

The first week back will busy for the new Leader. It is expected that Trudeau will meet with his transition team beginning on Monday as he appoints his Shadow Cabinet, hires new staff, and most importantly sets the direction of Canada‟s Third Party.

What’s Next?

After a successful weekend for the Opposition, all eyes now turn to the governing Conservatives. As we move into the spring session of Parliament, the Government is preparing to pass its seventh budget while attempting to keep Canadians focused on the state of the economy. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have surpassed seven years as the governing political party, most anticipate the end of this session will be met with a cabinet shuffle and prorogation, in an attempt to hit the refresh button on this government’s mandate.

In anticipation of the government moving toward the second half of their mandate and reacting to a new Leader of the Liberal Party, the government will be looking to craft new policy initiatives that are electorally palatable. Now is an opportune time to be part of the government policy making process and have an effect on the decisions setting the stage for the 2015 election. Further, both opposition parties will be looking for voter friendly policy ideas to put in their own electoral platforms.

With a fixed election date, all three parties will be starting the work of crafting electoral policies, positions and messages earlier than we have traditionally seen in Canada. H+K Strategies has the knowledge and expertise to help your organization position its issues both with the government and the opposition parties. Now is the moment to start taking advantage of these opportunities.