Earnscliffe Election Insights: Issue #8

Earnscliffe Election Insights: Issue #8

The leaders’ travels

With the campaign now entering its final two days, the polls show the Liberals and Conservatives still locked in a tie and the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois surging towards the finish line. As a result, the leaders of the three major parties reflected their vulnerabilities and hopes in where they chose to campaign.

Over the past two days, Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh were in Quebec, desperately fighting to stem the tide of growing Bloc support, which is threatening the seats currently held by both of their parties.  Justin Trudeau hit several ridings close to Montreal and in the eastern townships, while Jagmeet Singh held a rally in Jack Layton Park in Hudson, evoking the memory of the late leader who led his party to the historic Quebec breakthrough in 2011.  Andrew Scheer of the Conservatives started Wednesday with star candidate Sylvie Fréchette in Saint-Jérôme and then moved to southwestern Ontario.

Yesterday, Justin Trudeau spent his second straight day in Quebec, while Andrew Scheer began his day in Toronto where met media outlets for morning interviews before an announcement in Brampton and moving to Nova Scotia for an evening rally. Jagmeet Singh was in Ontario for an announcement in Welland, a stop at a school in Toronto and an evening rally in Brampton. Elizabeth May was in B.C., with stops in Campbell River, Comox, Qualicum Beach, Courtenay, Nanaimo and Ladysmith.

While some leaders this week refined their calls for strategic voting, others had an eye for future positioning.  In an appeal to Liberal voters who might be wavering, Mr. Trudeau acknowledged that the Conservatives could win Monday’s election and accused them of running “one of the dirtiest, nastiest campaigns based on disinformation that we’ve ever seen in this country.”  Mr. Scheer called for a Conservative majority to prevent an “NDP-Liberal coalition” with the NDP calling the shots.

In Quebec, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Singh continued to duel over how best to support and strengthen the centre-left progressive option.  Trudeau argued that the only way to prevent a Doug Ford-style government under Andrew Scheer was to vote Liberal. Battling to save his NDP Quebec seats, Singh told Quebecois that he shares their values, including a belief in the “separation of church and state,” an obvious bow to strong Quebec support for Bill 21 which bans the wearing of religious for several occupations in the public sector.

On Wednesday, Andrew Scheer laid down a post-election marker when he told CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme, “We would expect that other parties would respect the fact that whichever party wins the most seats gets to form the government…(that) when Canadians endorse our platform, we will have the right to implement it.” Yesterday he called on Mr. Trudeau to resign if he obtains fewer seats than the Conservatives next Monday and claimed that practice has become a “modern convention in Canadian politics.”

Of course, that’s not at all the way Canadian constitutional practice actually works.  If Mr. Trudeau is returned with fewer seats than the Conservatives, as a sitting prime minister, he has the right to make the first attempt to form a government and seek to establish confidence in the House of Commons.

Barack Obama weighs in

In what one Canadian observer called a “unique intrusion” into another country’s election, former U.S. president Barack Obama tweeted his support for Justin Trudeau on Wednesday: “The world needs his progressive leadership now, and I hope our neighbours to the north support him for another term.”  In obvious reference to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump’s re-election committee mocked Obama’s support for Trudeau: “FOREIGN ELECTION INTERFERENCE.” Liberal party spokesperson Zita Astravas said the party did not pay for the endorsement.

Transition Planning

By Geoff Norquay and Elly Alboim

Several months in advance of the call of an election, Canada’s public service begins planning for transition, the process by which a new government assumes office and begins running the country.  Transition planning is important because it significantly influences the effectiveness and success of a new government’s initial weeks and months in office.

Within the public service, there are two different planning processes, the transition for the incoming prime minister and the department-by-department briefings for incoming ministers and their staff.  In addition, the major political parties designate transition teams in advance of the election.

Prime Minister’s transition

The Privy Council Office (the Prime Minister’s department and the nerve-center of government) must prepare two versions of its transition documents, one for a prime minster who is continuing on in that position and another for a new prime minister.  The first version assumes a prime minister fully knowledgeable of the basic workings of the federal government, while the second is used to guide a new prime minister through a more basic description of the systems and processes of governing.

Both documents include an overview of the statutory obligations, key structures and governance of the federal government. Included are assessments of the domestic and international economic environments and ongoing “hot button” issues from a wider government corporate perspective, for example, pipeline construction, Canada-U.S. relations, Indigenous drinking water issues, prospective ratification of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement, major ongoing legal cases, etc.  There will also be a summary of potential time sensitive files, eg., court-imposed timetables, looming deadlines for contractual obligations, and due-dates for sunsetting programs that either need to be renewed or allowed to lapse.

During the election campaign, the political parties’ release of campaign promises that have been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office accelerates transition planning and enables departments to dig deeper into feasibility and implementation details, at least for major initiatives.

After the 2015 transition, there was a feeling that the bureaucracy had spent too much time assessing the environment and suggesting long term objectives, and not enough attention had been paid to how to implement the incoming government’s platform.  That led to concerns that officials had not done the homework to establish what was and was not feasible to implement, and what timing should be considered reasonable.

As a result, the focus in 2019 is on implementation of campaign promises and platform commitments to enable the incoming government to fully understand the relative ease or difficulty of implementation so that it can appropriately phase its work and understand the obstacles it might face.  These considerations will shortly be key in helping the government shape its Speech from the Throne. With a minority government an increasing possibility after October 21, we would expect PCO’s transition advice to include advice on the possible added impacts of a minority on the government’s implementation plans.

Finally, the PCO briefings for the Prime Minister may include recommendations on the potential structure of Cabinet committees as well as other machinery of government options (merging of departments, creation of new departments, or amendments of existing structures) that reflect lessons learned from the previous mandate.

Ministerial briefings

Each department of government is responsible for preparing transition briefings for new ministers; even in a returning government, chances are that the majority of ministerial assignments will change.

Minister’s briefings parallel PCO’s materials prepared for the prime minister but at a lower level, and include overviews of departmental statutes, structures and senior personnel, descriptions of “hot button” issues facing the department and a proposed timetable for implementation of platform promises.

Party transition teams

In advance of the election period, each major political party appoints a transition team.

Political transition planning is much simpler than the bureaucratic processes described above.  The party transition group tends to take the platform for its agenda and focuses on the politics of timing and phasing of policy items. It does not have to worry about policy implementation, since this is being planned on the public service side.  The political transition group reports back to the Leader’s team on what PCO is preparing on transition planning.

Most political transition teams propose a sequence of activities for the prime minister and key cabinet ministers for the first week, month and 100 days; these are issues that the campaign structure does not normally have time to consider.  They also generally have a view about departmental structures (combining, separating and/or renaming departments to reflect political priorities) and cabinet committee organization (which is a way to indicate political priorities).

Immediately after the election, the political transition team usually designs and carries out a political vetting process of potential Ministers. PCO organizes the security vetting. The political transition team may also assist the new government by starting the process of recruiting and vetting exempt staff for ministerial offices.

The Polls

The Conservatives and Liberals remain in very close competition, typically with neither party opening a gap large enough to be called a lead, but the intertwined tracking lines of these two parties are now a couple of percentage points lower than they had been for much of the campaign.  Statistically speaking, it has not been a large erosion, but shifting from battling at 35%-34% to battling at 33%-32% tends to be material for the number of seats won in a Canadian federal election and can have even greater impacts at the regional level.

The reason for the decline in the two leading parties’ support is that the NDP and BQ have both been elevated to new campaign heights.  In Quebec, the Bloc is clearly benefitting from a coalescing of opinion and making the provincial race a two-party battle with the Liberals.  Elsewhere, NDP support has been climbing in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and B.C.   In fact, in terms of national vote distribution, with most polls showing the NDP at or around the 18% mark, the party is now polling much closer the 19.7% of the vote they achieved in 2015 – and doing so while their level of support in Quebec is still well below the 25% of the votes they received last election.