Within days, the battle for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada will begin for real with the entry into the race of the A-list contenders, not the least of whom are two former leaders of the defunct Progressive Conservative Party.
That former Quebec premier Jean Charest and ex-federal cabinet minister Peter MacKay are expected to run is proof that this leadership contest will be one worth watching. The past one, which saw the party narrowly choose Andrew Scheer, had all the gravitas of a student-council election. You didn’t get a sense anyone felt the party was picking a future prime minister.
This time will be different. Conservatives know that the person they pick to lead the party at their June convention must be ready to govern on day one. A federal election could come at any time, and a fresh Conservative leader – with mainstream views on climate change and social issues – would be widely perceived as the prime-minister-in-waiting.
What remains to be seen is just whom he or she would be running against. While most Conservatives still seem to believe they’ll be picking a candidate to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next election, the odds of that appear to be diminishing by the day.
Since winning a minority government in the Oct. 21 election, all while losing the popular vote, Mr. Trudeau appears to have lost whatever fire he had in his belly. He has never been the most engaged prime minister, vastly preferring the ceremonial aspects of his job over the sausage-making ones. Since the election, however, he’s essentially ceded all the tedious work of dealing with pesky premiers and hashing out policy matters to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Upon his return to Ottawa this week after a Costa Rican vacation, Mr. Trudeau did not have the air of someone champing at the bit to get back to work. He remained holed up in his office, emerging only when tragic circumstances forced him to. The airplane crash in Iran that killed at least 63 Canadians, and the investigation into its causes, required more than a written statement.
Where had he been, however, when Canadians were wondering about where their government stood on the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, and its implications for Canada’s involvement in the battle against the Islamic State? The silence out of the PMO was deafening.
In times of global crisis, a Prime Minister must demonstrate that he is in fully in command of the situation and reassure Canadians that their national-security interests are his utmost priority. All they got, however, was an Instagram post from Mr. Trudeau’s official photographer showing his boss sporting a new beard.
If Mr. Trudeau’s facial hair demonstrates anything, it is that his ability to command the world’s attention is vastly diminished. He has gone from global rock star to pop-culture has-been.
Under Mr. Trudeau, the Liberals were reduced to 33 per cent of the popular vote in the Oct. 21 election. That more Canadians opted for the Conservatives under Mr. Scheer, one of the weakest leaders any opposition has ever fielded, has many Liberals shaking their heads.
Does this Prime Minister have a second act in him?
The early signs are not promising. Even with a majority, Mr. Trudeau was the most risk-averse prime minister in memory. Apart from the Canada Child Benefit and a tentative move toward carbon pricing, nothing Mr. Trudeau did during his first term was very ambitious. There were lots of earnest declarations but precious little in the way of transformative policy.
Granted, Mr. Trudeau was never a policy wonk. Now, however, he appears to have grown tired of politics, too. The country is dangerously divided; perhaps he has concluded that he cannot do much about that. He has shown none of the passion of a Prime Minister determined to reconquer the hearts of Canadians, one selfie at a time, during a second term.
Meanwhile, there are a slew of tough files on his desk that he must be dreading. For starters, he must decide whether to approve Teck Resource’s Frontier oil-sands project and whether to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from Canadian 5G networks. There will be no easy way to spin either of those decisions. But that’s what governing is all about.
Prescient Liberals are already talking about Mr. Trudeau’s replacement, with one name above all others on their lips – and no, it’s not Ms. Freeland’s. Departing Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is returning to Ottawa within weeks. For many Liberals, it won’t be a moment too soon.
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