Don Martin: How to give Trudeau what he needs the most – a stronger Official Opposition
OTTAWA -- Justin Trudeau deserves better.
Specifically, the prime minister deserves a much better Official Opposition.
With so much going so wrong for this prime minister, the Conservatives should be hauling in a bounty of first-place ribbons from a parliamentary field day on this, the first anniversary of a planetary pandemic.
But you’d never know it reading the gloomy state of the party as it approaches a policy convention already being billed as leader Erin O’Toole’s first and perhaps last gathering of the faithful should he, as the polls suggest now, face a leadership mutiny after losing the next election.
The Conservative coalition Stephen Harper built is in a shaky state under a leader most voters would only correctly pick out of a two-person lineup 50 per cent of the time.
Now it braces for the convention that will kickstart readiness for a campaign they should win, but won’t under the current polling drift.
O’Toole is facing a nasty outbreak of the twin challenges which confront all Official Opposition leaders, which is officially the worst job in politics.
To succeed, leaders need the MPs at their back or a solid shot at forming the government out in front. So far, Erin O’Toole has neither.
O’Toole’s disconnect with his own MPs and key insiders has released a gusher of internal grumbling into the headlines.
“If I was O’Toole, I'd be firing up my CPC Tinder profile and be asking caucus whether they like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain,” advised one witty wag.
But O’Toole’s best shot at redemption comes next week when he keynotes the virtual convention, a speech which could give his 200-day-old leadership a booster shot to immunity from internal strife.
With a lame list of policies up for discussion – there’s no hint of any abortion talk or a social conservative hijacking of the party’s direction – O’Toole has the opportunity to handcraft a better platform for the looming election being so transparently telegraphed by Trudeau.
While the floor might be primed to debate a national standard for training PTSD guide dogs and other policy oddities, defining issues remain undefined.
With Trudeau seemingly willing to fight the next election on a prohibitively expensive $100-billion post-pandemic vision, O’Toole needs to outline a think-big, clear, contrary, conservative agenda.
A national redesign of the health care system to better withstand the worst of any future pandemics is an obvious platform start.
A signature plan to bring down deficit spending without shredding the safety net for COVID-19 casualties is essential.
And he must clarify how a Conservative government would achieve major emission reductions without carbon taxes.
If the Conservative coalition so carefully crafted during the Harper years continues in this fragmented direction, it could split anew into a resurrected Progressive Conservative party and something resembling a Christian Reform Party.
That would again set up the Liberals as a long-term natural governing party over splintered opposition forces.
And this prime minister who would be spared what he deserves the most – an official opposition worthy of his conduct.
That’s the bottom line.