Liberals in Canada Facing Difficulties as Election Looms

January 8, 2019 Updated: January 8, 2019

There is an old saw that the Opposition doesn’t defeat governments; governments defeat themselves.

The Canadian Liberal Party appears to be making a major effort to transmute this hoary maxim into a current political reality.

Or, from another optic, Liberals are learning charisma’s limits with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adding a chapter to “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”

October 2019—Canadian Election  

Although Americans may believe otherwise, the proximate North American election is scheduled for October in Canada.  Normally, a first term government secures a second mandate without difficulty.

Almost never has a Canadian government been jettisoned after a single term, the last being Joe Clark’s Conservatives defeated in 1980 after less than a year in office.  Consequently, analysts heralded Trudeau’s smashing majority 2015 victory as the first in a prospective string of victories by Canada’s “natural governing party.”

But Liberals entered office lugging a heavy load of promises, many of which have proved problematic:

  • Eliminate “first past the post” elections;
  • Reduce/eliminate federal deficit/debt;
  • Reconcile environmental concerns with the need to move Alberta’s oil to foreign buyers;
  • Review defense/security policy; revisit, i.e., don’t buy, F-35 “stealth” fighters;
  • Engage more vigorously in UN-related/sanctioned foreign policy; and
  • Legalize marijuana.

What has resulted, however, is a comedownance for Liberals.

Specifically, the commitment to end “first-past-the-post” national elections has been scuttled as no alternative system proved politically viable.

Eliminating the federal deficit has been abandoned with massive spending, theoretically to use low-interest loans for long term infrastructure projects.  No date for the “balanced budget” is extant.

Environmentalists and energy producers have proved unreconcilable; various pipeline proposals were cancelled with Ottawa ultimately purchasing the rights to build the Trans Mountain pipeline, but thus far unable to navigate the draconian legal/environmental/societal obstacles preventing any progress.  Meanwhile; oil sells at a massive discount, infuriating “severely normal” Albertans and prompting “born again” Western alienation.

Canadian defense/security policy has retreated from high profile activities.  Nominal NATO leadership roles (a battle group in Latvia) are peripheral to real performance.  A review of options to replace archaic fighter jets (while avoiding the F-35) seem designed to be completed about 2050; replacement of rusting out major naval vessels leaves a “next century” impression.

Emphasizing “peacekeeping,” Canada committed in 2016 to assisting peacekeeping organizations—and then began searching for one that would avoid any “body bags.”  After two years, the mountain labored and produced—Mali.  A token force of helicopters/support arrived in August and has done essentially nothing in the ensuing six months; it will depart in July, Trudeau having rejected requests to extend the mission.

And successfully legalizing marijuana on a national basis in October has left a scramble of confusion regarding sales locations, pricing, provincial jurisdiction.  Still pending:  anticipated U.S. arrests for Canadian border-crossing tokers.

Personal Trudeau Problems  

And Trudeau has made unforced errors.  The federal ethics commissioner found him guilty of breaking conflict of interest laws by his 2016 winter holiday vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island.  His February visit to India with “Mr. Dressup”-style appearances in ethnic costume prompted global ridicule for “over-the-top” activity devoid of substantive accomplishment.  And accusations of groping a BC female journalist in 2000, surfacing in July, eventually extracted a half-hearted apology from a self-described “feminist” who defenestrated Liberal MPs for comparable actions.

Substantively, Trudeau managed to insult President Trump after the June G-7 conference, ultimately prompting a poor outcome for Ottawa in NAFTA renegotiations.  Relations with Saudi Arabia are rock bottom.  Relations with Beijing are spiraling downward after Ottawa’s consideration of Washington’s extradition request for a senior Chinese business executive sparked multiple seizures of Canadian citizens.

Opposition Weak  

At this juncture, Trudeau’s strongest card is Opposition weakness.  Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer, are uninspiring.  Trudeau and Scheer are close in polls, but Trudeau’s numbers are lower than former PM Harper at the same point in his mandate.  Moreover, Scheer is being undercut by Maxime Bernier, who broke with Scheer to found a more libertarian, Quebec-based, People’s Party of Canada in September.  So far it has demonstrated no political traction but could steal Tory votes in key ridings.

Separately, the NDP appears in free-fall as its Sikh-Canadian leader, Jagmeet Singh, has failed to connect with NDP constituents outside Toronto.  Analysts predict dissatisfied NDP voters will back Liberals to Tory detriment.

For Canadians, Trudeau’s “courtship” passion is over; the first excitement of “marriage” has passed; now the question is whether they will stay together “for the children.”  (And Trudeau still has great hair, lovely wife, and charming children.)

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”


Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.