Written by Robin Sears for The Star. Click here to read the original.
When you deliberately raise expectations in a campaign of hope, you are compelled to govern boldly. When you do, you necessarily break a lot of eggs. This was the reality that U.S. president Barack Obama faced in 2009, and he paid heavily for it in the midterm elections two years later.
It was part of the dilemma that the Liberals faced in Monday’s humiliating election. Although many progressives would have wanted Trudeau to have moved further faster on reconciliation, on climate, and on inequality, he moved far too hard too fast in the minds of more conservative Canadians.
Liberals also pride themselves at striking a balance between left and right, between social justice and economic health. But the first Trudeau term was seen by many in the West, in Canadian business and especially in the oil sector, as tilting far too heavily against their interests.
Now the prime minister must manage in a minority with three parties to his left on most issues. If he tacks right and counts on the Tories to save him we could be in a new election before the summer. The Tories are the only party with a full war-chest at the end of a campaign, and a weakened leader anxious for a rematch.
If he tacks to the left on climate or tax fairness he has a half dozen premiers jumping on his head, along with Canadian and international business investors. This is why governing in a minority is always a delicate dance on eggshells.
Those who would argue that he has a “stable minority” and can walk a deal-by-deal path are forgetting one thing. The Liberal party needs to find a way back in Quebec and a means to rebuild in that vast chunk of Canada that lies between Winnipeg and Vancouver — where they have zero MPs and only slightly greater political influence. In short, what he does to survive in Ottawa may doom the party in huge chunks of Canada.
What is to be done?
First, adopt the more humble and listening tone that he tried to strike at his press conference on Wednesday, not his foolish triumphalism on election night. He needs to persuade some bruised and skeptical provincial Tories that they have any stake in working with him on anything. He needs to demonstrate that he will not demand all the bragging rights for any political achievement — his style in his first term — to get anyone on board with him.
Second, he needs to get much better at caucus management, with a far more seasoned house leader to reach into his own backbench with soothing messages and across the aisle to dampen angry partisan bellowing.
Pearson had great caucus and house managers through five years of minorities. Brian Mulroney was the consummate caucus master. Stephen Harper didn’t care about public or private criticism, and merely squashed those who got out of line. The Harper approach is not recommended as a style of minority management, unless you really are prepared to put political heads on lampposts regularly — not exactly the sunny ways brand.
This government could tack left and then right, share some glory with its partners in the house and across Canada, and easily sail through more than two years of success. If he follows his dad’s path he could even return with a majority. But Pierre Trudeau was convinced to bring in a new team in the PMO and the party after his near-death 1972 campaign. Jim Coutts and Keith Davey and their lieutenants saved the government and the Liberal party.
Justin Trudeau surprised some in delaying his swearing in for nearly a month, presumably to deal in part with some real holes in his cabinet and among senior political staff and officials. But it is far from clear that he is ready to take the route that his father did.
For many Ottawa insiders one important signal will be what decision he makes about the use of a highly valued Liberal asset, Ralph Goodale. Goodale, defeated in Saskatchewan, was the wise elder of the party on the prairies. He knows house management intimately. He has friends on all sides of Canadian politics, federally and provincially. He has the gravitas of an Allan MacEachen or a Herb Gray — “fathers of the House” as the British say.