Do provincial premiers have any influence over a federal election? Liberals and New Democrats better hope they do not.
In Ontario, the federal Liberals have married themselves to Premier Kathleen Wynne's government. She has been at federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's side at public events. She has been blasting away at Stephen Harper's Conservatives, defending her provincial pension scheme against their attacks.
Ms. Wynne, however, is politically damaged goods. An online Angus Reid survey this week put her approval rating at a dismal 31 per cent, down from 41 per cent a year ago. The best that can be extracted from this survey is that her approval rating has stabilized since the spring. She was unpopular then, and she is unpopular now.
So why are the federal Liberals, whose national fortunes will rise or fall on Ontario, clinging so tightly to a premier whose disapproval rating outstrips her positives? Maybe part of the reason is that core Liberals still admire their premier, and these are the voters federal Liberals are after. Maybe it is because the provincial and federal parties are rather close in personnel and attitude. Maybe it is because the federal Liberals have borrowed from Ms. Wynne's platform by promising massive infrastructure spending as a cure for economic ills.
In any event, Mr. Trudeau has thrown in his lot with Ms. Wynne, whose support, judging by her popularity, is not an unalloyed blessing.
In New Brunswick, Liberal Premier Brian Gallant is staying out of the fray, apart from taking the odd shot at the New Democratic Party and the Harper government. That is just as well for the federal Liberals, given that the Premier's approval rating is 25 per cent.
The NDP has two provincial governments. In Alberta, new Premier Rachel Notley is so busy preparing a budget and trying to figure out how to square her election promises with reality that she has little time for the federal campaign. Her approval rating remains at 50 per cent, reflecting a honeymoon that might soon end when hard decisions arrive.
In Manitoba, the federal NDP has to say nice things about the NDP provincial government – through clenched teeth. The provincial party is terribly unpopular. Premier Greg Selinger's approval rating is 22 per cent, the lowest for any premier.
If Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is spitting into the winds of history trying to win again after nine years in office, the NDP faces gale force winds of history in Manitoba, where the party formed the government in 1999. The time for a change, the most potent emotion in politics, has arrived in Manitoba.
By contrast, next door in Saskatchewan sits the country's most popular premier, Brad Wall, with an approval rating of 63 per cent. It is quite a feat for Mr. Wall that since late 2010, his approval rating has remained between 59 per cent and 71 per cent.
Too bad the federal Conservatives cannot grab Mr. Wall's coattails, but the leader of the conservative Saskatchewan Party generally keeps a low profile during federal election campaigns. After all, why should he tie himself to a federal Conservative Party bumping along at 30 per cent in opinion polls? Moreover, the New Democrats might win some Saskatchewan seats courtesy of redistribution that created urban-only ridings instead of previously mixed urban-rural ones.
In Quebec, Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard (41-per-cent approval) has instructed his party to steer clear of the federal campaign. Instead, as Quebec premiers often do, he has released a list of Quebec's "demands" and asked the federal parties to reply.
All the premiers call for a more collaborative federal government. That is, one that will consult and meet with them more often. Parties in opposition – it does not matter which ones – always flay the federal government of the day for not paying enough attention to the provinces. If elected, they pledge to work closely with the provinces.
Progressive Conservatives and Harper Conservatives always made this promise while in opposition. They then got into power and found how awkward first ministers' conferences could be.
New Democrats and Liberals today decry Mr. Harper's refusal to call federal-provincial conferences and promise to sit down with the premiers on a range of issues. If the past be any guide, either party in government would do so in a flourish of early enthusiasm, but after listening to provincial whining and grandstanding, the enthusiasm would begin to wane.