Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday December 30, 2021
Ottawa’s New Pastime: Leadership Speculation
No wonder there is a sense of déjà vu on Parliament Hill. The minority Parliament elected in September met for just two-and-a-half weeks before taking its holiday break.
Perhaps that business-as-usual post-election vibe in the House is why one of the favourite political discussions among insiders is speculation as to who will lead the two main political parties into the next election. Some may think this a waste of time. With a second consecutive minority government no one knows when the next election might be. And neither of the major party leaders, Justin Trudeau or Erin O’Toole, plans to step down. Quite the contrary. Both have said they are determined to lead their parties when voters next go to the polls.
However, circumstances might dictate otherwise. A leadership change in one party might trigger a change in the other. And new leaders in one or both parties could very well trigger an election. Either by the Liberals, again thinking they have another chance at a majority, or the opposition parties defeating the Liberals on a confidence motion. Given voters anger about the September election itself, all parties should want to avoid blame for another election — at least until the pandemic has exhausted its immediate supply of variants.
O’Toole is obviously the most vulnerable leader. The first call to replace him came right after the election. O’Toole has fought back. He has dropped dissident MPs from his shadow cabinet and had the original rebel who called for the review thrown off the party’s governing council. But under pressure, he also supported a caucus vote that allowed for a leadership review to be launched if 20 percent of MPs sign a formal agreement to trigger the process, and then 50 percent of the caucus supports the proposal in a secret vote.
With that sword of Damocles over his head, the speculation is already rife about who might succeed him.
At the moment there is only one candidate who has a chance of beating O’Toole. Pierre Poilievre is the darling of the party’s base, a fierce if not always accurate questioner of Trudeau in the House. Last spring, O’Toole replaced Poilievre as the party’s finance critic but has reinstated him since the election, apparently following the Sun Tzu maxim to keep one’s friends close and one’s enemies closer. A leadership race would produce other candidates, some serious and some less so, and a new Conservative leader might put pressure on Trudeau to consider his future.
Some are wondering whether Trudeau has fought his last national election anyway. Two minority governments in a row have increased that speculation, but even if the current minority runs to a four-year term, Trudeau will be nearing the “best before” date most leaders face. After 10 years, Canadians usually want a change at the top. Parties often try to meet that desire by changing leaders. If they don’t, the electorate sometimes does it for them.
After Trudeau, who? He is obviously trying to set his deputy prime minister up for the succession. Chrystia Freeland has already taken on some of the trappings of the job. In addition to her web page as minister of Finance, Freeland now has a deputy prime minister home page similar to the PM’s. Freeland’s high profile has its advantages, but can also have its drawbacks. By being so close to Trudeau, she can claim part of any successes. But it also means if the mud starts flying at Trudeau, she is also in line to get hit.
But a future Liberal leadership race will attract more than one cabinet minister. Industry Minister François-Phillipe Champagne is not making much of a secret that he wants to succeed Trudeau. And neither is Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly. Freeland represents a downtown Toronto seat and has western roots, which plays better to the Liberal tradition of alternating leaders from English Canada and Quebec.
Interestingly, Mark Carney’s name does not get mentioned much. The fact that he has twice backed out of an active political career may be why. He came close to running for the leadership in 2012, then decided not to. And last summer, he said he would do everything to help the Liberals win the election, then again declined to run.
But Carney or no Carney, the jockeying is already starting for a leadership sweepstakes in both the Liberal and Conservative parties. It turns out there are good reasons for the speculation about what, and who, might come next. (Policy Magazine)