In three days of self-congratulatory speeches and panels at the Liberal Party’s virtual convention, one thing could be hidden no more: This is a party salivating for an election.
What big eyes they had! How they revelled in repeating to fellow Liberals that the Conservatives, at their own virtual convention three weeks earlier, had denied climate change. How they confidently declared themselves to be THE progressive party, waving a wrist at the irrelevance of the NDP.
When Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England, declared himself a partisan on Saturday night, Liberals in the partisan grapevine and Twittersphere reacted with such ravenous glee that Mr. Carney might have feared they would gobble him up.
For most of the online convention-goers, the significance wasn’t really that a person mooted as a potential future leader had entered the political ring. It was a boost for 2021. Mr. Carney is just the kind of recruit that Liberals long for, especially on the eve of election campaigns: a paragon of the business world giving a seal of approval to their “progressive” platform.
So by the time Liberal Party president Suzanne Cowan delivered her address on Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t surprising to hear her say out loud what Liberals want in 2021: an election that gives them a majority government mandate.
Ms. Cowan’s caveat was that it’s not clear when precisely the next election will be – which should be read as a concern among Liberal strategists that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout won’t be far enough along this spring to make it safe to campaign for a June vote, so an election might well have to wait till October.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s closing speech was streamed out, it included a section where he punctuated claims of Liberal accomplishments – revamping child benefits, increasing seniors benefits – with the phrase, “There’s still more work to do.” None of the partisans listening could doubt that he was talking about seeking another term.
Of course, we already knew the Liberals were looking for an opportunity for an election to win a majority government. But this weekend melted away the pretense that they weren’t. Or at least it is now so thin that it’s transparent.
It shouldn’t shock anyone, despite the protests from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, that now is not the time for an election. Mr. Trudeau leads a minority government, and minority PMs live with the knowledge that if they don’t call an election at the right time, the opposition will trigger one at the wrong time – the wrong time for the Prime Minister, that is. Shoot or get shot.
But even in a virtual, online convention, Liberals seemed almost giddy at the prospect of a campaign.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc mocked Mr. O’Toole for employing parliamentary manoeuvres expressing a lack of confidence in the government, all while insisting now is not the time for an election – saying Mr. O’Toole is a leader who wants to play chicken but always hopes someone else will swerve.
Party conventions are always partisan shows, and the main point, repeated often, was portraying the Liberals as the progressive, we-have-your-backs party, one that would follow the pandemic supports such as the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit with new postpandemic supports for child care.
And that’s where Mr. Carney’s appearance fit in: as an endorser of a new round of expansive spending.
It was watched as the debut of a potential successor to Mr. Trudeau, and some quickly compared Mr. Carney with Michael Ignatieff, who made his political debut at the 2005 Liberal convention before going on to lead the party to a disastrous third place in 2011.
But Mr. Carney’s role was more like that of another Liberal, Bill Morneau, the former chief executive officer of human-resources giant Morneau Sheppell, who made his political debut at the 2014 Liberal convention as a Bay Street recruit talking up Liberal policies. Now, Mr. Carney’s coming-out as a Liberal provides the endorsement of a financial-world star.
That is a building block for the election. The next is the April 19 budget, complete with a $100-billion recovery plan, including a child-care program. Mr. Trudeau set the tone in his speech, casting the Conservatives as backward and ignoring the NDP – the Liberal election-campaign goal, after all, is to displace it on the left. And there’s no more hiding that an election tops the Liberal agenda.