Three provincial elections, three disastrous results for the Liberals.
Quebec became the latest province to oust a Liberal government as voters rejected Philippe Couillard’s government earlier this week at the ballot box, joining Ontario and New Brunswick, which have recently seen major Liberal losses in provincial elections.
A third vote recount has been ordered in New Brunswick where Brian Gallant’s government is on life support following an incredibly tight election race that saw the Tories, led by Blaine Higgs, finish with one more seat than the Liberals.
The recent results follow the 2017 B.C. election, which saw Christy Clark’s Liberals toppled by an NDP-Green coalition, and leaving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with few allies among first ministers.
With a looming federal election set for the fall of 2019, what do the dwindling number of Grits at the provincial level mean for Trudeau? Is it just a blip on the election radar or are mounting Liberal losses heading toward what some on social media are predicting will be a #LiberalFlush?
“The Liberals have to be more attuned that it’s not going to be a cake walk,” said Tim Powers, a conservative strategist and vice-chairman of Summa Strategies. “If an election were called, they would still be the prohibitive favourites, but there are some messages in those different victories they need to be conscious of.”
WATCH: Liberals ousted from power in Quebec
Powers said all three elections showed a “rejection of the status quo” as voters cast their ballots against the ruling governments.
There is a bit of anti-elitism at play in Canada,” he said. “If you’re Trudeau, how do you come at that and what impact might that have on you? Or could that be beneficial if the Conservatives and the NDP are wilted down a little by fractions in those parties.”
In both the Quebec and New Brunswick elections, voters bucked the traditional parties in opting instead for something different.
In New Brunswick, two small parties emerged as kingmakers. The People’s Alliance — a conservative populist party — and the Greens each won three seats, enough to give them a lot of sway in a legislature.
On Monday, François Legault’s centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec won a majority government with 37.4 per cent of the vote, marking the first time since 1966 that a party other than the Liberals or the Parti Québécois won an election in the province. Québec Solidaire, a left-wing sovereignist party, also made a breakthrough as Solidaire captured 16.1 per cent of the vote and elected 10 MNAs, pushing the PQ to fourth-party status.
The results could be a sign of things to come in 2019 and continue a pattern of anti-establishment voting. A September poll from Ipsos highlighted that a majority of Canadians, 52 per cent, said they are ready for a leader who would “break the rules” or a type of anti-establishment leader.
Daniel Bernier, a principal with Earnscliffe Strategy Group, called this a “major change” and a devastating loss for Trudeau, who saw Kathleen Wynne and Philippe Couillard — two of his closest allies — soundly defeated. Couillard announced this week he was leaving politics
“You had multiple parties that started to emerge,” Bernier said. “In the New Brunswick case, they had the balance of power and represent a good proportion of the population. In Quebec you saw the same thing. They are far from being marginal.”
If the NDP under leader Jagmeet Singh are hoping for a breakthrough, they face a monumental challenge with the election just a year away. The party has struggled to fund raise and has also seen Singh face question about his leadership. Earlier this week Singh’s chief of staff resigned citing personal reasons.
And in the election in Alberta due by the end of May 2019, the NDP’s Rachel Notley will have a street fight on her hands against the United Conservative Party (UCP) led by former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney.
A UCP win in Alberta, along with PC governments in Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and the CAQ in Quebec, could tilt the federal election in favour of Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.
“If all of those entities are working together and are able to marshal their forces provincially for Andrew Scheer, then the game becomes more competitive,” Powers said.
Meanwhile, Trudeau’s approval numbers have continued to slide in provinces across the country.
Shortly after the Liberals swept to a majority victory in 2015, Trudeau was polling anywhere from 50 per cent in Alberta and Saskatchewan to as high as 84 per cent in Newfoundland, according to the Angus Reid Institute. As of March 2018, those numbers have fallen to 25 per cent in Saskatchewan and 59 per cent in Newfoundland.
The Trudeau government will have a few wins heading into next year’s campaign, including a renegotiated NAFTA deal — the USMCA — and the Canada Child Benefit. But the uncertainty over the future of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, coupled with perceived inaction on climate change, and broken promises on electoral reform and First Nations, could push voters away from the Grits.
“The Liberals are very good at finding what are the issues that Canadians are looking for,” Bernier said. “But if you promise everything to everyone, at some point it catches up to you.”