Like a general manager seeking answers for a struggling sports franchise, the prime minister is facing an off-season filled with big decisions.
It’s safe to say that the 2023 season has been a tough one for the prime minister and his bench mates. The government is struggling to maintain focus on its narrative of economic resiliency, support for the middle class and Indigenous peoples, and climate change adaptation.
Throwing it off course are, amongst other things, election interference claims. While it’s not clear the issue is damaging the government politically, it has kept them busy through endless committee meetings, raucous Question Periods and a seemingly never-ending drip, drip, drip of news stories.
In fairness, all governments go through similar troughs – particularly after eight years in power. But letting the situation go on for months is not a recipe for long-term success, especially in a minority setting. Fortunately for them, while a complete rebuild may not be necessary, a reset is certainly worth considering. With that in mind, the upcoming summer break could be used to plan and execute the political and parliamentary changes necessary to position the Liberals for an eventual federal election. So, what would a reset look like?
In some respect, the work has already started. Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen significant changes amongst senior public servants, including the eyebrow-raising appointment of a new Clerk of the Privy Council, the country’s top public servant. Michael Sabia, brought in to help craft a post-COVID economic growth plan, also departed suddenly to take up the role as head of Hydro-Quebec. His replacement will play a crucial role in how the government manages upcoming economic and financial turbulence. These changes, while not always covered outside the Ottawa bubble, speak volumes in terms of the balance of power in the nation’s capital. They are leading indicators of what the government plans to do next and how.
The next phase in the reset could be a shakeup of the prime minister’s cabinet. While usually reticent to change horses midstream unless absolutely necessary, Trudeau could see the summer break as the right time to craft a ‘wartime’ cabinet. Moving or demoting underperformers to free up room for up-and-coming parliamentary secretaries, who also happen to represent key regions or voters, would make sense. Those up for a possible promotion include George Chahal, Greg Fergus, Rachel Bendayan, and Soraya Martinez Ferrada. One needs only to read the news to see which cabinet ministers the Prime Minister might consider moving on from.
The third piece of the government’s reset would be prorogation. It’s never ideal to shelve the hard parliamentary work put into often unheralded though critical pieces of legislation, like Bill C-27 for example. But in order to govern, you must first survive. To avoid a complete write-off, the government should pass as many of the current bills in front of Parliament before the House rises for the summer break, even if that means working late into June. From there, the 45th Parliament should be used to focus on bills that have the highest potential political return with the Liberal voting coalition of women, youth, big cities, and diverse communities. What about passing a bill that makes all menstrual products and birth control free?
The final piece of the reset would also be the riskiest – a re-commitment to the Supply and Confidence Agreement (S&CA) between the government and the NDP. There is nothing more important to this government’s survival than its relationship with the NDP. While the agreement has delivered dental care, healthcare funding, and affordability measures, the government should not take the NDP’s support for granted. They should not simply assume that Jagmeet Singh and team will simply stick around. The Liberals must ensure the NDP remains fully engaged and bought in. Like any marriage the relationship must be constantly tended to, worked on, and earned.
To its credit, the NDP has hung tough during rocky spells – whether that be on election interference or during the government’s negotiations with public sector unions. And while only over a year old, the two sides ought to sit down to take stock on how the S&CA is going and whether there are emerging priorities to be added and less-important ones to be removed.
A re-negotiation does come with some risk since if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But a good faith gesture from the government to show it appreciates the NDP’s partnership could go a long way to further strengthening the deal and re-affirming each side’s commitment. This would give the government a better chance to not only survive, but thrive until June 2025.
Executing any one of these pieces is easier said than done. Doing them all together would take considerable effort, focus, and planning. But for a prime minister looking for a contract extension they may be necessary to avoid being shown the door by voters at the next election.