Stephen Harper’s Conservatives will reach the midway mark of their governing mandate later this summer. When Canadian politics crests that hill, it starts rolling quicker and quicker towards the next election.
The pieces have already moved into place.
The last slot in the lineup that will contest the 2015 federal election was filled when Justin Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party in April.
The trio of Harper, Trudeau, and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is probably one of the strongest Canada has seen since the arrival of the Reform Party and the Bloc Québécois broke-up the three-party system that previously prevailed.
Now that every party has their next leader in place, the jostling for position can begin in earnest. Harper has to keep his government on track against the slings and arrows of the opposition leaders if he is to have a good record to run on in 2015, while both Mulcair and Trudeau will try to present themselves and their parties as the only legitimate alternative to the Conservative government.
The byelection in Labrador, over-shadowed by the results of the provincial election in British Columbia, was the first salvo of this new era of Canadian politics. Though primarily decided by local factors, it was nevertheless the first time Tories under Harper lost a byelection in which they were the incumbent party. In the grand scheme of things, it was a minor set back. But it breaks the Tories’ image as an invincible electoral machine, and it gives the third-place Liberals a reason to strut.
The “gift” of some $90,000 from Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s chief of staff, may not compare to other scandals that have taken down governments before. Tax dollars are not directly involved. But in terms of the conflict of interest questions, and the horrible optics of it —Conservatives originally praised Duffy’s “leadership” on his re-payment — this is something that could hurt the government considerably.
More significantly as we look towards 2015, this sort of affair is just another mini-scandal that can be added to the pile. None of these have been enough to sink the government, but the accumulation (and this is certain not to be the last) may prove fatal.
Elections at the provincial level may also set the tone for the 2015 campaign. After the re-election of Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberals, pipelines from Alberta to export oil to markets overseas are more likely to go ahead. The importance of the West in Canada's economy, then, will only grow, and the Tories’ contrast with the resource development policies of the federal Liberals and New Democrats will grow as well.
In Quebec, the weakness of the Parti Québécois and the sovereignty movement will limit the effect the Bloc Québécois and the national unity issue will have on the campaigning there, leaving the playing field mostly clear for Mulcair and Trudeau.
And in Atlantic Canada, resurgent provincial Liberal parties in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, not to mention the Grit government in Prince Edward Island and the vote of confidence in Labrador, will help give federal Liberals the kind of base needed to mount a real challenge for government.
Perhaps conditioned by the years of minority government between 2004 and 2011, the Conservatives have kept their party and their approach to politics on a campaign footing even with a majority in the House of Commons. As the New Democrats and Liberals adopt the same attitude under new leaders, it is little exaggeration to say that the 2015 campaign is already underway.
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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