What do you do with two years left in your mandate and a new political leader emerging who continues to do well in public opinion polls? What do you do when this opponent has the potential to challenge you in some hard-won ridings, possibly putting your majority at risk?
That's the question Prime Minister Harper and his advisers are grappling with as we prepare for a return of Parliament. How they plan on resolving that question will undoubtedly drive the government's agenda over the coming months.
Like it or not, the emergence of Justin Trudeau and his staying power has changed the political dynamics in Ottawa. As Brian Mulroney stated:
"Anybody who ... treats Justin Trudeau with scorn or derision or underestimates him, does so at his own peril." (Mulroney, April 8, 2013)
"We'll see what happens in the future; it's a long way from here to there. But no one should underestimate Justin. He's a man of some consequence." (Mulroney, April 8, 2013)
It is not just the Conservatives who have to be concerned. Tom Mulcair and the NDP are undoubtedly feeling the political heat from Trudeau as well. They too must come up with a way to not only stop the Trudeau Liberals from eating into their support, the NDP has to find a way to get the hard working Mulcair more exposure, shore up their existing ridings and expand into regions outside of Quebec.
Otherwise they risk the fate of the NDP in Nova Scotia where hard-won gains were rolled back and the NDP went from government to third party status.
It would be interesting to know how many days Trudeau campaigned in Nova Scotia and if there was a Trudeau effect in the voting outcome. The Mulcair NDP have some tough choices ahead, as tough as those facing the Conservatives.
The Liberal focus on middle class Canadians does resonate with that segment of the voting population. How then do the Conservatives move to counter that momentum? We have seen reports of a "consumer's agenda" as the government lays the groundwork for the 2015 election. That is probably a good move, what consumer doesn't complain about service charges, bank charges, airline service or cell phone prices? The government radio ads which go after the Telecom companies on the cell phone issue may be a sign of what is to come. Voters will be asked to decide who can be trusted to look after the interests of the little guy and their financial concerns? Will it be the Conservatives or as they will be painted by the Conservatives, the tax and spend Liberals?
What about the Conservative base? Where do they stand in all of this? Will they rally to the government's defence to keep the Trudeau Liberals out of power? Will they turn out to vote in spite of some of their disappointments with what they see as Harper's failure to balance the budget or move on some social policy issues? You can't have disgruntled supporters staying home at election time. How then does the Conservative government reinvigorate their base?
A consumer's agenda would help, but more is needed. Does Harper loosen the reins and allow more Private Members' bills on topics dear to social Conservatives? Are there outstanding justice issues that will allow them to push their law and order agenda? Are there economic items, pension issues etc. that can be brought forward that appeal to senior citizens, as this age group does get out to vote?
Will the Conservatives shift to the right to solidify their base? If they do, they risk leaving the broad middle ground to the Liberals who could potentially pick off the so-called red Tory voters while also picking up those NDP supporters who will do anything to stop the Harper Conservatives.
There are lots of questions and difficult choices both strategic and policy wise for the Harper Conservatives. We don't have the answers just yet, but we will start to see the direction they are taking once we read the next Throne Speech and watch for their new policy initiatives over the next six months. Interesting times await as the clock ticks down towards the next election.