Our federal parties are in disarray

The end of the last full parliamentary year before a general election finds the NDP in dire straits, the Conservatives in dubious company and the Liberals in worse shape than many of them would like to believe.

It will make for an eventful campaign year.

Unless Jagmeet Singh decides to take a proverbial walk in the snow over the holiday break, the New Democrats will use the first few months of the new year focusing on getting their leader elected to the House of Commons.

More than a few NDP members — including too many for comfort in the federal caucus — would be just as happy to spend the time selecting someone else to lead them in next fall’s campaign. If Singh fails to hold the B.C. riding of Burnaby South in a byelection expected to be called for February, they may still get their wish.

But those who see a silver lining in the scenario of a Singh byelection defeat are misguided if they believe it would not come at some collateral cost to the party.

The riding he is vying for is a hotbed of opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Losing to the pipeline-buying Liberals would deal a serious blow to NDP morale.

That the New Democrats are unable to speak with one voice on one of the defining federal-provincial issues of the current times — the reconciliation between Canada’s reliance on the fossil fuels industry for its prosperity and the fight against climate change — makes for a malaise that a leadership change alone would not fix.

With every passing month since Maxime Bernier broke away from the federal Conservatives to form a rival right-wing party, there has been more evidence that he is getting under the skin of his former colleagues.

His nascent People’s Party may not be a force in the polls on voting intentions, but inasmuch as Bernier is mostly poaching for support in the conservative pond, he does have the potential to hold the Conservatives back next fall.

Over the last week of the fall sitting, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer had to fend off the perception that he was aping Bernier’s stance against the UN pact on migration. On this issue, the two warring factions of the federal conservative movement have chosen to cohabit with some of Europe’s most virulent anti-immigration parties and governments.

One of Scheer’s first post-leadership acts was to lead his caucus in a vote in support of the Paris agreement on climate change. But that was before President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the global accord. Bernier has been calling on Canada to follow suit.

The Conservatives are expected to unveil a climate change strategy at some point before the election.

If they use the opportunity to reverse their position on the Paris agreement, it will go a long way to confirm the suspicion that the tail is waging the dog.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals apparently continue to believe they are great communicators. In fact, as often as not, they tend to defend their policies with mind-numbing platitudes.

The small-business tax changes imbroglio, the controversy over Statistics Canada’s plan to mine the private banking data of individuals — among other issues — demonstrate the difficulty of engaging meaningfully from the height of a pedestal of self-righteousness.

The Liberal contention that voters should take it on faith that the Trudeau government is de facto on the side of angels could lead to unpleasant surprises for the ruling party next fall.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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