07/03/2012 06:12 EDT

Federal Leaders' BBQ Circuit: What Politicians Need To Do This Summer To Win


Now that Parliament's quiet for the summer, the federal leaders' BBQ circuit is in full swing, having started in Quebec last week and continues through to September. It’s a chance to meet voters, get good press with local media, and shore up support. So, what do the five federal leaders need to do over the summer while they are flipping burgers?

Elizabeth May has a good opportunity to capitalize on the increased attention she received during the tussle over the Conservative government’s omnibus budget bill. Currently, the Green Party is essentially Elizabeth May and unless she can increase support for her party within the rest of the country, it will remain that way.

While the Bloc Québécois has four times as many MPs in the House of Commons, their visibility might be even lower than May’s. Daniel Paillé still needs to ensconce himself as leader of the Bloc in the minds of Quebecers, but will be competing with provincial politics as all signs point to a September election.

For the Liberals, this summer is all about the party’s leadership race. Potential candidates need to determine whether they have the financial support needed for a long race and if they can put together a team should they decide to take the plunge. On the other hand, those few individuals who have already put their names forward, but are far from the inner circles of Liberal politics, will need to increase their profile, while people like Marc Garneau, Dominic Leblanc, and Gerard Kennedy need to gauge their chances. Justin Trudeau already knows that there is widespread support for a leadership run both inside and outside the party, but will instead mull over his decision with his family.

Though Canadians seem to be warming up to Thomas Mulcair and his party (they now lead in national voting intentions), there is some indication that they still know little about him. Polls on approval and favourability for the NDP Leader show good numbers, but still report a large proportion of “unsures”. The Conservatives have already rolled out attack ads in French and English against Mulcair in an attempt to form opinion before he can do it himself. This tactic was used with some success against both Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, but the attack ads against Mulcair are less personal and may not be as effective against a more experienced politician.

This summer is an opportunity for Mulcair to introduce himself to Canadians, particularly those outside of Quebec, where he is well-known. The New Democrats have made inroads in British Columbia and Ontario, two key provinces for them in 2015, and it might be wise for the NDP Leader to spend a good part of his summer there.

Canadians already have a well-formed opinion of Stephen Harper, and according to the polls that opinion is worsening. Harper already made a stop in Quebec to shore up his party’s sagging support there, but the return on his time is likely to be very small. With the changes to EI turning Atlantic Canadians against his government, the Prime Minister will need to concentrate on the province that handed him his majority in 2015: Ontario. If he loses the favour of voters in the GTA and in southwestern Ontario, his chances of re-election will be greatly diminished.

The BBQ circuit may seem inconsequential, but there is a reason it happens every year. Though far removed from the demands of governing and of holding a government to account, meeting with voters across the country is an important part of a politician’s job – and a necessity if he or she intends to keep it.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.

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