House Returns – Election Countdown Begins
The House of Commons returned from its holiday recess on January 28th. It will be a brief but busy few months, with only 14 weeks of Parliamentary business before the House of Commons is dissolved for the election.
The next six months are expected to be hyper-political as all parties vie for public support. The Trudeau government will look to finish key election promises from 2015 and manage complicated government issues including relations with China, the US and the EU. They will need to forge a budget that resonates with the electorate and prepares Canada for the global economic headwinds on the horizon. The 2019 election campaign has in many respects started, with each party leader focused on connecting with voters across the country. Expect to see leaders of all the parties increase their travel outside of Ottawa, and for MPs to participate in a series of pre-election campaign style events such as townhalls, rallies and community meetings.
The Trudeau government will be focused on results over the next six months. From pushing legislation through to managing key files, the Liberals are acutely aware that they need to demonstrate real progress in the lead up to the next election.
Top priority will be passing a Budget that helps reinforce economic stability, address the growing concerns around taxation and competitiveness, and provide enticements to voters (specifically seniors and those in the middle class).
The Liberals will also look to speed up passage of several pieces of legislation that have been stalled in the Senate. This includes the controversial environmental bills, C-68 and C-69, and bill C-71, the firearms legislation. The increasingly activist Conservative Senate Group have been stalling the passage of these bills and will continue to derail the government’s agenda this spring.
In addition to clearing the backlog in the Senate, the government has targeted four bills in the House of Commons to turn into law before June. These bills include C-87, the Poverty Reduction Act; C-78, reforming laws around divorce and child custody; Bill C-83, reforming rules around solitary confinement in prisons; and C-57, the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which was returned to the House by the Senate with amendments before the break.
To achieve this ambitious legislative agenda, the Liberals will need to negotiate with the Opposition in the Senate, while also utilizing more procedural mechanisms like time allocation to get their bills moving.
The Conservatives will be doing everything they can to derail the government agenda this spring. They will look to stall and delay legislation and will use parliamentary debates to highlight Liberal mis-management. The Conservatives will focus solely on Justin Trudeau, making every issue a question of his leadership and personal capabilities. Key issues that the Conservatives are expected to focus on include taxation, ‘every day affordability’, spending, competitiveness and immigration.
The NDP are largely preoccupied with getting their leader, Jagmeet Singh, elected. Singh’s leadership has been openly criticized by members of his party and morale among their caucus remains low. Eight NDP MPs have already declared they will not run again this fall, causing serious questions about the NDP’s unity. If Singh wins the by-election, he will spend most of the spring preoccupied with finding his footing in Parliament and building caucus unity. If he loses, the NDP could be thrown into a leadership convention that may help bolster their fledging polling numbers and elect a leader that could be more popular with voters.
When Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, over half the provincial governments were Liberal. Elections in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and BC have changed that and made working with the provinces much more difficult in 2018. Stormier seas are forecast in 2019, with the NDP struggling in the polls ahead of Alberta’s spring election and a potential election in British Columbia later this spring. Trudeau is now staring down an informal alliance among conservative governments in several provinces, which have already stalled the government’s national agenda.
An unpredictable global market poses the most significant risk factor to the government in the lead up to the campaign. The Liberals have boasted that their economic plan would withstand a recession, despite larger-than-promised deficit spending. However, a recession in 2019 would put that plan – and voters’ confidence – to the test. If businesses continue to close and more people lose their jobs, the growing anxiety among voters (particularly the middle class) could have significant electoral implications for the Liberals this fall.
Canada in the World
A series of serious diplomatic challenges are undermining the Trudeau government’s progressive trade and foreign policy agendas. Canada’s relationship with China is becoming a distraction and is testing Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership. This is on top of continued tensions with the United States and Saudi Arabia, both important trading partners that could seriously impact the Canadian economy. The Liberals will need to resolve these issues quickly to prevent their agenda from being sidetracked by foreign policy this spring.
The Trudeau government’s plan to introduce a price on carbon will face several important tests in 2019, including court challenges in Saskatchewan and Ontario. Carbon pricing is at the heart of the federal government’s environmental plan and will be a defining issue in the election this fall. The Conservatives will frame this as a pocket book issue that hurts the middle class, while the Liberals will attempt to tap into voters’ growing concern about climate change. In either scenario, Trudeau has gone all in on his plan to reduce carbon emissions in part through carbon pricing, and this leaves little room for failure in the implementation this framework this spring.
Growing economic anxiety and anger in Western Canada are creating real urgency around the federal government to get moving on the Trans Mountain pipeline construction. Protests on other pipeline projects in addition to Trans Mountain continue to complicate the situation, though negotiations with some Frist Nations groups have gone well. As public engagement wraps up, pressure will mount to get shovels in the ground this spring. Trudeau will be firmly focused on achieving fast progress on this file in the hopes of avoiding repercussions at the polls this fall.
The federal government has dedicated significant energy and resources to reconciliation with First Nations communities – attempting to address problems centuries in the making and seeking solutions unattainable in one four-year mandate. Skepticism on the amount of progress made on this file was already mounting before pipeline politics dominated the national conversation. The government now risks losing much of the goodwill it has built on this file as Indigenous communities, far from a monolith, are still divided on many questions related to the pipeline and other resource-based projects.
WHAT IT MEANS
The sprint to June leaves a narrow window for advocacy in Ottawa. However, by communicating to the right decision makers and influencers in government during this time, stakeholders can move issues forward in a rapidly shifting political environment.
The heightened political sensitivity around the upcoming campaign means elected officials and staff will be acutely aware of the political dimension for all issues. Messages brought to government during the coming months should focus on timing and impact, clearly articulating why action should – or should not – be taken before the campaign begins. Regional issues will also become more prominent as the Liberals look to increase their support in Quebec and maintain their presence in Atlantic and Western Canada. Stakeholders that can tie their priorities to these electoral battlegrounds (or politically sensitive ridings) will find more traction in the months ahead.
Now is when organizations should seek to engage with all parties on their issues. Files that have been stalled or problematic to stakeholders will be of interest to the Opposition as they look for issues to champion in the House and on the hustings. These same issues will be of interest to the government as they scramble to fix problems and tie up loose ends in an attempt to minimize the issues that will bubble up during a campaign period.
All parties are also developing their platforms this spring and will be looking for good ideas to build on. The Conservatives and NDP are refining their narrative before the election and seeking to demonstrate how they differentiate from Liberal government. Where appropriate, stakeholders should ensure all sides of the House of Commons are briefed.
The Senate remains the power broker for the next six months. They are sitting on a backlog of legislation, which includes major government bills that are important to the Liberal agenda. Organizations should focus their efforts on lobbying the Senate for amendments to legislation as they will have tremendous influence over legislative outcomes. The Senate will resume sitting on February 19.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Now more than ever, the government and opposition will be attentive to shifting public sentiment and public opinion. Results matter to voters and more people will be paying attention to government than the norm. Stakeholders have a unique opportunity to gain more traction and elevate their issues to a national level if they engage the right parties at the right time.
H+K is here to help clients navigate the complicated pre-election climate over the next nine months. We offer a range of campaign related services that help position our clients to take full advantage of the election climate, including:
- Government relations and strategic counsel;
- Digital advocacy and campaign development;
- Communications, public relations and content marketing;
- Media and legislative monitoring;
- Research and data analysis; and
- Issues management and crisis communications.
Campaigns are about issues and ideas. Make sure you are part of the conversation in 2019!