With last week’s announcement that the Liberals are abandoning their promise of electoral reform, coupled with their out-of-control deficit spending, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have already burned the bridges he built, both to the left and to the right, that won him a majority government in 2015.
The Liberals cannot win a majority in 2019 without the support they siphoned from the Greens and the NDP on the left, nor without the soft conservatives and Red Tories who turned to them after a decade of Stephen Harper. After all, as much as we view Trudeau’s 2015 majority as a resounding victory, the Liberals captured less than 40 per cent of the popular vote. Subtract five per cent and all bets are off.
With their about-face on electoral reform, their recent pipeline approvals and the aftertaste from the cash-for-access frenzy, it’s doubtful that the Liberals can recapture the progressives who came over from the NDP and the Greens. On the other side of the spectrum, Trudeau’s ballooning deficit spending is likely to send soft conservatives back to their natural allegiances.
To NDP and Green voters, Trudeau has revealed that his posturing on progressive issues is just that — posturing. Progressives are asking themselves what Trudeau’s own party’s Open and Accountable Government guide meant to him after the cash for access spree and his out-of-touch responses to critics. It requires true cognitive dissonance to write the Open and Accountable Government guide and then flagrantly disregard it. And after the recent pipeline approvals, progressives are asking if the Prime Minister is truly committed to transitioning away from fossil fuels.
It’s clear that Trudeau never had any intention of fulfilling his promise of electoral reform. Rather, it was a cynically built phantom bridge to the left that cost a lot of time and money — and perhaps even the reputation of a promising young minister. The NDP is rolling out the word “liar” and they have a strong case to back it up.
For many on the progressive left, electoral reform is not just another item on their bucket list — it is the item. First, because it would result in a more equitable system and the left obsesses over nothing more than equality; and two, because it would finally guarantee them real power in parliament.
The promise of electoral reform is so important to the left that it provided some political cover for the Liberals to go ahead with pipeline approvals and a massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia without losing NDP and Green defectors. However, with electoral reform off the table, we can expect a much more vigorous and purposeful opposition to Trudeau from the left in the coming sessions of Parliament.
On the other side of the spectrum, anyone with a fondness for fiscal conservatism will not be getting over Trudeau’s massive deficit spending anytime soon. Many soft conservatives who were suffering from Harper fatigue gave Mr. Trudeau a shot on the premise that he would run modest deficits; then the first budget came in at three times the initial projections.
While the great hope for the Liberals is that infrastructure spending, however slow to trickle out, will be the Keynesian trick to thrust the economy into hyperdrive, it’s likely such investments will take years to yield returns in terms of real economic markers, and should never be viewed as a viable long-term job strategy regardless.
The chances of infrastructure spending turning out real economic growth by 2019 and convincing soft conservatives who voted for Trudeau that the deficits were worth it are slim to none. When soundbites of debt projections as large as 1.5 trillion start regularly rolling off the tongues of critics and pundits, the prime minister has a problem.
Trudeau, only a year and a half into his mandate, may have already burned down two crucial bridges of support he built to both sides of the political spectrum. The left might be willing to trade a couple of pipelines for a carbon tax, but it’s unlikely they’ll forget how Mr. Trudeau played them on electoral reform. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s unlikely that soft conservatives will get behind Mr. Trudeau’s out-of-control deficits. Progressives and soft conservatives alike are already going home.
Of course, this all hinges on the opposition parties producing a viable alternative before 2019. If the Conservatives give us Kellie Leitch, and it turns out that no one actually wants to lead the NDP, it won’t matter what bridges Mr. Trudeau burns in the next couple of years.
Hailing from Newfoundland, Greg Squires is an educator, writer and adventurer who is interested in the intersection of education, culture and politics, with an eye for media criticism. He has lived and worked in multiple provinces, the U.K., Qatar and the U.S.
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Image: PMO/Adam Scotti