Hébert: Winds of change could impact Trudeau in 2018

When Alberta last went to the polls in 2015 the province’s voters removed a Conservative dynasty from power and replaced it with a majority NDP government.

British Columbians followed suit in 2017, ending a 16-year Liberal reign. Since last summer, a minority New Democrat government, backed by a handful of Green Party MLAs, is at the helm.

Will the other two major provinces join the movement in 2018 and do away with long-standing incumbents at Queen’s Park and in Quebec’s national assembly? If they do, polls suggest their voters might seek change on the right of the ideological spectrum.

The Ontario polls do not concur on the pre-election party standings but they do agree on the fact that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals will have a fight on their hands to keep the Tories at bay next spring.

In Quebec, the Coalition Avenir Québec enjoys a double-digit lead on Philippe Couillard’s ruling Liberal party among the francophone voters who determine election outcomes and sits in first place overall.

Next October’s Quebec election will be different, and not just because it could see the province’s youngest party – the CAQ was founded in 2011 – become the government. It will also be the first campaign in decades that will not be a vote by proxy on resuming the debate over the province’s political future.

The Parti Québécois had hoped its decision to put its referendum plans on ice until at least 2022 would free federalist voters dissatisfied with the Liberals to support it. Instead, the move seems to have made it easier for sovereigntists and federalists alike to get behind the CAQ.

In 2018, the PQ will be fighting for its life as a major political force on the Quebec landscape. Under the worst-case scenario for leader Jean-François Lisée, his party could join the federal Bloc Québécois as a marginal voice in the province’s conversation.

The spring Ontario election and the Quebec fall vote will be the main electoral events of the next Canadian political year and their outcomes will impact the national dynamics.

At this time next year, there may not be a Liberal provincial government outside of Atlantic Canada.

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that would make for a significantly less convivial federal-provincial table.

With more turbulence to be expected on the Canada-U.S. front in 2018, Trudeau may need all the help he can get to avoid various regions from turning on each other in the pursuit of contrary trade interests.

He could hardly hope for stronger allies in Central Canada than Wynne and Couillard. Given their uncertain re-election prospects, it is easy to see why the prime minister has been marching the provinces to a July deadline to legalize cannabis.

On and off Parliament Hill, much political energy will be expended on the implementation of Trudeau’s signature promise over the first half of the year.

The Conservative official Opposition is saying it will do all that it can to hold up the marijuana train. Except that it has already left the station. With the provinces and the industry gearing up to meet the federal summer deadline, it is not clear how helpful opposition attempts to throw roadblocks in the way of the plan would be.

For Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, a 2018 provincial conservative revival could be a mixed blessing. On a top-of-mind issue such as climate change, for instance, he could find himself caught between the Ontario Tories who favour carbon pricing and an Alberta wing that abhors the idea.

The federal New Democrats and their rookie leader, Jagmeet Singh, can testify to some of the difficulties inherent in having feuding members of the family in power provincially. They have been uneasily navigating between an Alberta NDP government that needs to show that it can get more oil to tidewater and a B.C. one that is committed to doing all that it legally can to prevent the expansion of the Kinder-Morgan Transmountain pipeline.

Since he became leader, Scheer has avoided internal policy tensions by mostly putting off any heavy policy lifting. But as the loss of two of the party’s seats in the fall’s byelections demonstrated, it will be harder to run as the anti-Trudeau in the 2019 federal election than it was for the Liberals to feature their leader as the anti-Harper in 2015.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer.

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