Many political observers are wondering what role the five Conservative premiers will play in the upcoming federal election. Will they have a positive impact on Andrew Scheer's federal Conservative campaign, or will their own provincial issues weigh him down?
When Justin Trudeau came to power in 2015, the geopolitical map of Canada was quite red. But since the departure of Liberal Premiers Philippe Couillard in Quebec, Kathleen Wynne in Ontario, Brian Gallant in New Brunswick, and the election of Doug Ford (Ontario), Blaine Higgs (New Brunswick), François Legault (Quebec), Jason Kenney (Alberta) and Dennis King (PEI), the country has turned blue, with only Newfoundland staying red to stem the tide.
Scenes from the July 9-11 Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatoon were telling, as five of the provincial premiers (Northwest Territories’ Bob McLeod, Alberta’s Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, Ontario’s Doug Ford, and New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs) openly denounced Justin Trudeau's government's carbon tax.
A sixth premier even joined the group, while Quebec Premier François Legault caused a surprise by adding his voice to the critical concert on the pretext that the issue of climate change falls within provincial jurisdiction. Will this issue dominate, or will other factors be more important?
To the good for Mr. Scheer, the presence of so many Conservative Premiers and governments means there is a solid and active infrastructure to leverage. Fundraisers, campaign volunteers, experienced campaign managers and elected provincial representatives are ready to help their federal cousins. This can be a substantial advantage, especially in a tight election where the ground game in key ridings is expected to make the difference between winning and losing, minority vs. majority. Having a motivated set of volunteers can make all the difference.
In the air war – TV, radio, newspapers, social media – the Prime Minister and his team have to compete against the substantial voices of provincial premiers who may more often than not contradict or disagree with what Team Trudeau is saying. Having opponents vs. supportive premiers can be impactful.
The flip side is each side actually now has the foil it needs. What do we mean? Trudeau, rather than running defending his own record, can attack Andrew Scheer on what he might do, based on the unpopular decisions being made by these same Conservative Premiers. Kenney, Pallister, Ford, Moe all have made and are making decisions that may or may not be good public policy, but they are almost certainly ones that sell well to their voters and may be complete anathema to potential Liberal voters. Even better for Trudeau, some of those decisions may actually make more moderate conservatives queasy and make them wish to stay at home on election day or even hold their noses and vote Liberal.
We see the manifestation of this as Liberals try to raise all types of social conservative issues as wedge issues against Scheer. Ford’s changes to sex-ed curriculum is flogged as evidence that he will take the province backwards for other things such as gay rights or women’s access to abortion. Similarly, Kenney and his position on conversion therapy caused Liberals to make an issue of it nationally, compel media to ask Scheer, and despite his being strong and clear on it, led to one misleading headline which made the rounds for days painting Scheer as less than strong on a ban.
Hence, the presence of Conservative premiers cuts both ways. The ground war is greatly aided by experienced and winning provincial campaign teams. The air war gets complicated as issues are raised that are not of Scheer’s own doing, but he must address them if they stem from unpopular provincial positions.
Like everything else, we’ll see which factors “trump” the others on election day.