December 7, 2019

Well-Versed: Lessons from our reporters, and a final goodbye
Well-Versed: Lessons from our reporters, and a final goodbye

Samantha McCabe and Jack Denton

Hey! It’s Samantha and Jack, the editors of Well-Versed. We hope this e-mail finds you well, and we’re happy that you’re joining us for what will be our final edition.

Once again, we’ll be attempting to guide you through the postelection madness, but this time with a special twist: We asked our reporter and columnist colleagues, who either went along on the campaign trail or followed and analyzed it closely, to talk us through it. Their expertise and willingness to work back-to-back-to-back days with little sleep was crucial to The Globe’s coverage this election season, which is what made them the perfect people to ask about the issues to watch, the future of the parties and what might be overdramaticized.

Those people are Kristy Kirkup, a parliamentary reporter based in Ottawa who covered the Conservatives on the campaign trail; Janice Dickson, another parliamentary reporter based in Ottawa who travelled with the Conservative Party campaign for more than two weeks and then spent the final 12 days of the campaign with the NDP; John Ibbitson, The Globe’s writer at large covering Canadian politics; and Gary Mason, a national-affairs columnist based in Vancouver.

Surprises (or a lack thereof) in the results

After the dust settled on election night, Canadians were left with a minority government in which the Liberals and NDP both lost a significant number of seats; while the Conservatives and especially the Bloc Québécois enjoyed gains.

Globe reporters and columnists were not wholly shocked by the election results. Dickson cited the Nanos Research polling, provided to The Globe and CTV News, that showed that this election would be a tight race. “I anticipated that the Liberals would get a strong minority government,” she said.

One thing Kirkup kept her eye on was how Jagmeet Singh and the NDP’s momentum would manifest in final seat counts. “Public-opinion support for Jagmeet Singh – according to the Nanos poll – was on the rise at the end of the campaign, and the question was, to what extent was that going to translate into seats?” Kirkup asked. “That was an interesting thing that came out of the campaign. … Their poll numbers were really low at the onset of the campaign, a lot of organizers admitted that it was kind of a doomsday scenario … They were facing a real uphill battle.”

As for The Globe’s opinion writers, neither Mason nor Ibbitson were surprised by the final outcome.

But Mason said he was “surprised that the Greens failed to make some real headway.” In a campaign where climate change and environmental policies were defining issues, Mason said that “this was their election to make serious electoral inroads … and yet they only gained one seat.”

Ibbitson said, “I’ve always found electors to be very wise. And if you look at the results, especially on a regional basis, they made an awful lot of sense.”

Ibbitson did note the slap to the Liberals with the election of opposition MPs in Newfoundland and New Brunswick amid the strong overall Liberal presence in Atlantic Canada.

As for Quebec, he reminded us that “Quebec always votes for the party that will represent the interests of Quebec. And they decided that this time, the Bloc Québécois should once again represent those interests.”

Where the parties stand in this new minority government

As we’ve discussed before, a minority government requires co-operation among the parties to pass legislation and avoid another, immediate election. Each of the parties will have a new role to play in this new Parliament as they advance their own agendas and look to stand out.

As Kirkup said, “It remains to be seen exactly how the Liberals are going to define themselves in a minority situation.”

Mason will be keeping a close eye on the tone that the new government takes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, from the outset, made it clear that he won’t form a coalition government – choosing instead to forge co-operation on big bills ad hoc. This could clash with Trudeau’s governing style, Mason said, because “the first Trudeau government was arrogant in the way it pursued its agenda. I don’t think Mr. Trudeau will be able to adopt that attitude this time around. He will have to build consensus around the issues that are important to him. I wouldn’t say, based on what we’ve seen so far, that collaboration is one of his fortes.”

“He will have to learn the art of the deal.”

In a bit of a different take, Ibbitson also wanted to make it clear to readers that this should be a very stable minority government.

The Prime Minister, he said, “can govern with the support of the NDP, or he can govern with the support of the Bloc, or he can govern with the support of the Conservatives. So it should be easy for the Liberals to govern. And remember as well, once you get past the Speech from the Throne, there’s only one vote a year that matters: The budget bill. They have months and months to prepare it, and provided they can find one party to be onside with them, then the budget bill will pass and the government will be secure for another year.”

“It could be a longer Parliament than people expect.”

But the party that Mason will be watching most closely is the NDP – the party that lost seats but is positioning itself as stronger and more influential than before. “Going into the election campaign, many thought Jagmeet Singh’s days as leader were numbered. They lost a ton of seats,” Mason said. “And yet his performance during the campaign is looked upon very positively. I think the NDP membership is prepared to give him more time in the leader’s chair and see if he can build on the positive momentum he established during the election.”

Regarding the Conservatives, Ibbitson is staying away from wading into the debate over whether Leader Andrew Scheer – whose apparent inability to connect with voters has some calling for his resignation – should continue to head up the party.

More than leaders, Ibbitson said, the Conservatives need to decide what they fundamentally believe in. “At the moment, there’s a lot of confusion about what [the party] stands for, and I think the voters recognize that confusion. So is it a party of economic conservatism, which is to say low taxes, small government, minimal regulations? I think there’s a general understanding that yes, with exceptions, that’s where the party is. But is it also a socially conservative party? Does it take a stand on a woman’s right to choose? Can it be trusted to preserve the gains that have been made by sexual minorities in this country? And there, the party seems to be ambiguous.”

Ibbitson said that every time Scheer made promises, it just raised more doubts. “I think the party needs to, in my opinion, be unequivocal in saying that it is a party of economic conservatism, but not of social conservatism. That’s the whole idea of a libertarian: Conservatism is your right to live your life as you see fit. And that means to marry whoever you choose, and to have control over your own body.

“I also think that the party doesn’t feel comfortable addressing environmental issues, especially the issue of climate change, and voters caught on to that, and they’re going to have to come up with something far more credible on global warming. And all-important, the party must convince immigrant voters who are so incredibly important in the suburban ridings, that they are a party that supports immigration and the rights of immigrants in this country.” (If you want to read more about his thoughts on this, he wrote a column recently.)

Crucial to the where the Conservatives will position themselves in a minority government will be the role of Opposition Leader in the Senate, which senators are currently jockeying for.

“The Conservatives had high expectations and are reflecting on what went wrong and what changes they need to make to better appeal to urban voters and voters in the Atlantic provinces in particular,” Dickson said.

What’s coming down the pipe(line)? Issues to keep an eye on

The key issues are easy to keep track of in the midst of an election cycle, when those issues are making daily headlines and the party leaders are furiously debating them. But which ones will be the issues to watch as we move into the next months, years?

Kirkup thinks that readers should watch for the pressure the minority government will face from the NDP on pharmacare and Indigenous issues, such as the Human Rights Tribunal ruling on children in family services, boil-water advisories in Indigenous communities and the reconciliation process as a whole.

“That is a file that I will be watching in particular, because a) I cover Indigenous Affairs, and b) this has been central to Justin Trudeau and kind of, I think, how he has tried to define himself as Prime Minister,” Kirkup said.

Earlier this week, Singh outlined those NDP priorities for the new minority Parliament Wednesday, after a meeting with his new caucus in Ottawa. “This government understands that they need our support,” he said.

As for the Conservatives’ role in the new government, Kirkup said that “you can anticipate they’ll be pressuring the minority government on that central question of affordability, which came up time and time again during the course of the election campaign.”

On Beijing, Ibbtson said, "The government has to try to do a reset on its relations with China, but it’s not going to be easy. They need to make a decision on whether to allow Huawei into the rollout of the 5G network, and they’ve got to make that decision sooner rather than later.”

And multiple Globe staffers think that the Trans Mountain pipeline will be the issue to pay attention to. Soon after he was elected, Trudeau confirmed that he would be pressing forward with the pipeline, but it’s too early to see what comes next.

The debate often centralizes around the Western provinces, and just this week, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called for a first-ministers meeting to discuss the pipeline. “If the federal government wants to know what Alberta is thinking, they have got my number,” he told The Globe on Thursday.

Mason said, “I think the whole Western alienation narrative will begin to quiet down as soon as the TMX pipeline gets under way – even the sight of it being constructed, at long last, should quiet things in Alberta. Now, if for some reason that doesn’t happen, look out. Then things could get ugly.”

He thinks a fight with Quebec in particular might be looming.

Dickson was less specific, but does think that the environment will be an issue to watch in the coming years.

“I’m not sure if any one issue will define the new government, but I do think that national unity will be a major topic of conversation.”

So, we’re done! Thank you so much to everyone who followed along. We hope you learned something new and enjoyed taking part in the conversation.

If you enjoyed having The Globe in your inbox every so often, you might want to consider signing up for some of our other newsletters: We have daily morning and evening updates that round up the biggest headlines, all in one place for your convenience; weekday politics roundups for subscribers, written by Ottawa bureau assistant editor Chris Hannay; summaries of The Globe’s most provocative columns to keep your opinions sharp and informed; and much more.

And of course, we want to hear what you thought about Well-Versed. Did we connect with you? Did you find this short-run newsletter valuable? Do you want to tell us how we could have done better? Send a note.

Stay well-versed,

Samantha and Jack

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