Liberal hawks, like those of a generation earlier, are heatedly debating a snap election call. Not entirely surprising, since have not seen a decade since the ’50s when a government has not been forced by events, or decided to seize a strategic advantage, and called an early election.
The Liberal hawks’ arguments are getting stronger. Neither of their opponents is ready, and each will likely be stronger a year from now. The Federal Court and Donald Trump have both just stuck a finger in the Prime Minister’s eye. This is an opportunity to return the favour with a much harder counterpunch, a strong new political mandate.
Tragically, the court has just heightened the prospect of a just-elected Premier Jason Kenney stumping Western Canada next summer on behalf of the federal Tories, blaring a searing message on Western alienation. Single-handedly, he may attempt to return Canada to the angst and disruptive regional tensions in which we languished for more than two decades.
The hawks’ case doesn’t end there. This fall the economy is in good shape, a year after a blow-up with Trump with key Canadian economic sectors staggering under heavy U.S. tariffs, maybe not so much. A swaggering new right-wing Quebec government may have been elected, keen to challenge Ottawa on every front. Premier John Horgan may have called — and probably have won big — a B.C. general election between now and then, strengthening the federal NDP in that province and giving him a stronger anti-pipeline mandate.
If Keith Davey, the great Liberal rainmaker of Justin’s father’s era were alive today, he would have bellowed down the phone lines, “Carpe Diem!” As he did in 1974 in persuading Pierre Trudeau to seize his time two years early. And as Jim Coutts did to everyone’s astonishment at Christmas in 1979, leading to a big election win a few weeks later. It would be surprising if some of the hawks are not reminding those around this prime minister of those lessons. Audacious election calls — backed by a believable need for a mandate — are often rewarded.
“We are in the middle of a Quebec election!,” the doves will moan, but federal Liberals are famously disrespectful of their provincial cousins, and they could set a date just after Quebec. Canada fought dual federal and provincial elections in B.C. in 1979 — democracy survived.
Trudeau could conceivably seek approval for two tough decisions: A legislative counterattack on the Federal Court decision to allow work on the Trans Mountain pipeline to relaunch immediately. They could also ask voters to support a tough pushback on Trump on cultural protection and dispute settlement under any NAFTA deal.
Given that there was no breakthrough on NAFTA this week, and the red line remains dispute settlement, do not be surprised if Trudeau orders his negotiating team back home soon — just as Brian Mulroney did on the FTA. Ironically, the breakdown is on precisely the same issue: American refusal to accept a genuinely neutral legal structure to decide trade disputes.
As Parliament returns, we might expect trial balloons citing “usually reliable Liberal sources” whispering that an election is being debated. If the war drums do not generate strong internal resistance, the prime minister may decide to go anytime between late September and early next year.
The most dangerous period ahead in Canada/U.S. relations is now thought to be Nov. 12 to Dec. 20, when Trump, presumably defeated in the mid-terms the week before, will wreak havoc with his “lame-duck” majority. In addition to firing both his attorney general and Bob Mueller, this is when we might expect a trade war escalation, and even auto tariffs.