Monday, June 27, 2011

80 Days of Summer (give or take)

So, the summer recess has begun and our MPs have started to fan out across Canada. The ins-and-outs of Parliament are about to be replaced with the summer BBQ circuit, as MPs head home to meet with constituents. What makes this recess interesting is that it is the first one in some time where MPs can go home and not be haunted by the election around the corner.

Think about that for a moment.

Every recess since 2004 has occurred under a minority government. When MPs went home, they did so knowing that the people they were meeting might well be asked for a vote at any time. They therefore went home armed with talking points and backgrounders. It was like being on a job interview for seven years.

Not so today. As we enter into the summer recess, we do so knowing that the cards have been dealt and that an election will not occur for some time. So if our returning politicians are no longer doing their utmost to secure our vote, what can we expect? I would offer the following observations.

1. While last summer the Liberals embarked on their "summer express", this summer is more likely to be more of a "cap in hand" tour. The party needs to raise funds and build membership. Without the national theatre of QP or the spectre of an election, the Liberals will need to work hard to remain visible.

2. For the NDP, they are on their "summer honeymoon", with MPs still basking in the glow of their significant electoral gains. However, their attention will need to quickly turn towards two things.

First, new MPs need time to better connect in their ridings. Many are unknown quantities and will therefore want to use this break to build up credibility. It's an investment an MP makes to avoid being a one-hit wonder.

Second, they need to balance their focus on constituency and local issues with time spent learning about Parliament, about their responsibilities as a MP and about their party's positions on key issues. For these MPs, school is not out - it is only just beginning. They will want to hit the ground running in September.

3. And what about the Conservatives? Victors in the election, a majority in the House and Senate, and the strong possibility of a decade in power. With all that, might we expect a summer off? Not at all.

Their summer will, I suspect, see the party shift into consolidation mode. The Conservatives will want to build on the gains they made, and will continue their focus on ethnic communities and in key ridings.

However, don't be surprised to see select MPs starting to float trial balloons about government policy; to gauge their constituents' reaction to potential Conservative positions on the economy, health care and the Senate.

Of course, each of these parties will also spend their summer with one eye turned to the five provincial elections scheduled for this fall: Newfoundland & Labrador, PEI, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Party members, including MPs, will lend a hand and do what they can to support their provincial counterparts.


For many of us, the summer is a chance to re-charge and to re-connect. It's no different for MPs, particularly now that we have electoral peace for a few years.

However, each party will enter into the summer with a few key goals - raise money and maintain profile (Liberals); bask and learn (NDP); consolidate and sow seeds (Conservatives). And they will focus on the provincial elections.

For me, the provincial elections are a big story waiting to happen. The 2011 book on Canadian politics has two chapters. Chapter One was the May 2 federal election. Chapter Two will be the elections in those five provinces. Depending on the outcomes, Canada could look quite different by the end of the year.

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