A week before the 2011 election, I predicted an apocalypse for the Ignatieff Liberals. That dire prediction came from one small paragraph in a rather long newspaper story. The paragraph revealed that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien would be leading a rally to bolster the sagging fortunes of Ken Dryden in Toronto.
If a national figure, such as Dryden, was in trouble in the last remaining Grit fortress, I knew that they were getting decimated everywhere else. In his three national campaigns, the only times Chretien was in 416 was to raise money. I said that Ignatieff was in very real danger of losing his seat, which came to pass.
Look for that this fall. If you see Justin Trudeau on the hustings for his “star” candidates and MPs in deepest 416 (Chrystia Freeland, Adam Vaughan and Bill Blair), they’re finished. That will mean that the party is devoting time, money and resources that can’t be spent elsewhere, particularly the 905 suburbs and, more importantly, Quebec.
After the election, I suspect that you’ll see the once-proud Liberal Party of Canada rapidly disintegrate. Trudeau won’t be allowed to stay, but the party won’t have anyone left to replace him. Their professional talent will migrate to the New Democrats (if only because the Conservatives have more than enough of their own), and their financial and popular support will split between the NDP and the Tories, likely about 65-35% in the Dippers favour.
That’s where things get politically interesting. The vanishing of the LPC will open new worlds for the surviving New Democrats and Conservatives in terms of ridings. The Liberals have dominated the cities over the last thirty years, especially Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Since I’m most familiar with Toronto, I’ll concentrate my focus here. The Conservatives used to hold a number of seats here in the Clark-Mulroney years, and they can win them back. But they’ll have to be smart. The Tories shouldn’t fool themselves that a renunciation of the Liberals is an endorsement of them. It could very easily come to pass that the Liberals aren’t liberal enough for voters.
Nor will they win seats in urban areas with their current leadership. While the policies of people like Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney aren’t especially conservative, their tone is. While I don’t expect to see Harper in office past the end of 2016 or early 2017, I believe that Kenney is his most logical successor. And he won’t pick up traditionally Liberal urban ridings, such as Toronto-Centre and St. Paul’s. He would almost certainly lose Mount Royal in Montreal, which the Tories have been eyeing jealously for years.
As I plan to lay out in the future, Harper’s policies aren’t conservative, they’re designed solely to win elections and eradicate the Liberals. By becoming a hybrid of Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton, Stephen Harper has effectively forced the Liberals to marginalize themselves. To be fair, Harper has also been gifted in his choice of adversaries. Paul Martin was crippled by the ghost of Chretien, and Dion and Ignatieff weren’t very formidable. I don’t believe Trudeau the Younger will be, either.
But Thomas Mulcair is much better than he’s given popular credit for; he has been gradually been moving the NDP closer to the political center, while maintaining a reputation as a committed progressive. If I’m right about the death of the Liberals, it will largely be because Muclair will have managed to shut Trudeau out in Francophone Quebec, which is essential to their survival. And he’s at least as intellectually impressive as is Harper.
The Left will be more powerful in the absence of the Liberals, not less. They’ll be almost guaranteed 60 of Quebec’s 75 seats. They’re also showing surprising strength in the Alberta provincial election, which could possibly flourish federally in future elections. The NDP will almost certainly inherit Liberal seats in the Atlantic Provinces and British Columbia.
Mulcair will heavily contest the cities once the Liberals are gone, and Harper’s successor is going to have to acknowledge and reflect the change in the battleground. The base can’t have someone like Kenney, or even further to the right, and expect to maintain a majority in a new binary electorate.
Until very recently, I believed that Jim Prentice could do that. If he manages to survive today in any recognizable way, he still might. But the Conservatives are going to need someone very much like him in tone. In politics, you don’t expect the electorate to adapt to your leader, you adapt your leader to the electorate. And that electorate is going to be much more urban without the Liberals around.
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