As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau surveys the electoral landscape for signs that a national vote would be advantageous to his party, there is room for optimism in a region of the country not known for its warmth toward the Liberals – the West.
For that, he has the pandemic to thank.
Mr. Trudeau shuffled his cabinet this week ahead of what many believe will be an election call sometime this spring. Of course, the timing could be affected by the progress, or lack thereof, in fighting COVID-19 and getting people vaccinated.
While the Liberals received criticism for their early-stage handling of the pandemic, overall they have received good marks on this front. Canada was among a trio of countries to secure and receive doses of the first available vaccine. It has since locked up enough vaccines to inoculate every Canadian and then some.
Of course, the vaccines will never come quickly enough for most Canadians. People are fed up of being cooped up. But they are also tired of the often disastrous handling of the crisis by various provincial governments, which have been responsible for the day-to-day management of the pandemic inside their jurisdictions. To that extent, Ottawa has been shielded from much of this rancour.
In Manitoba, Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister has endured stinging rebuke for being late to invoke measures during the virus’s second wave. Consequently, the province temporarily became ground zero for the virus in the country. As deaths mounted, the Premier’s popularity plummeted and remains dreadfully low to this day. This certainly creates a scenario where people in the province could look more favourably toward the federal Liberals then they have in the past.
Saskatchewan has seen the largest per capita increase in cases in recent weeks. And while Premier Scott Moe’s approval ratings have certainly dipped, his centre-right government remains in good standing with the general public. In other words, Saskatchewan is not likely to open up its arms to the Liberals as a means of punishing its government over its handling of the pandemic, but one never knows.
Then we come to Alberta, where no government has been as severely discredited over its handling of the COVID-19 emergency than Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party. The Premier’s problems began with an absolute explosion in cases in the fall, a development for which the government seemed completely unprepared. Public disdain exploded after the Christmas holidays, when it was revealed that a number of UCP MLAs and staff members had travelled abroad in the previous weeks.
Mr. Kenney’s initial reaction was to do nothing. But public outrage reached a point where he was left with no option but to censure those who had ignored edicts about venturing outside the province over the holiday period.
We have seen Albertans defy the political laws of nature in the province before, namely in 2015 when they elected an NDP government. Alberta is far more demographically diverse than it used to be. The province elected four Liberal MPs the same year it put the NDP in power – the most ever. That total was reduced to zero in 2019 – a number we’re most used to seeing out of Alberta.
But Mr. Kenney’s relentless criticism of Mr. Trudeau has begun to ring hollow of late, seen as a diversion from his often inept and bewildering handling of his own affairs. As Alberta continues to struggle economically, it’s dawning on many that the province might need Ottawa more than ever in the years ahead. Consequently, many Albertans may be ready to embrace Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals the way they did in 2015. The province is no longer an electoral black zone of death.
Mr. Trudeau could also reap big dividends in B.C., where the NDP government of John Horgan has generally received widespread praise for its pandemic response. Mr. Horgan was rewarded for it with a huge majority in a fall election he called a year ahead of schedule. A progressive like Mr. Trudeau could well piggyback on some of the goodwill the NDP government has engendered over the last year.
Of course, Mr. Trudeau has a million and one other considerations to factor in to any decision he makes regarding the timing of an election. There is always the all-important 905 region of Ontario to consider, the suburban beltway we are repeatedly told decides who the government of the day will be in Ottawa. Perhaps.
But the West is important also. And seldom has the ground been as fertile as it is right now for the Liberals to make inroads in traditionally unfriendly territory.
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