It would be dangerous for Liberals to skew their campaign to millennial voters. That cohort was a winner in 2015, delivering a solid majority to the Liberals. But it is not likely to be as effective this time around.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 12, 2021.
Liberal Rainmaker Keith Davey led the party to multiple successful elections.
Such was the Senator’s electoral prowess that he is widely credited with the Liberals becoming the “natural governing party” in the last century.
Last weekend’s Liberal convention reflected Davey’s rule.
He always said that the key to Liberal success was campaigning from the left and governing from the right.
The party secured the best policies for a socially progressive country while remaining fiscally prudent, so as not to scare the business community.
But this century is turning politics on its head.
In an effort to guide Canada through the pandemic, the government is spending as widely and rapidly as possible.
So, when it comes to a pre-election message, the party will have to prove that it can also be fiscally prudent.
So do not expect a blanket endorsement of a guaranteed annual income, even though this has been on the agenda of many progressives for decades.
Instead, there will be a resolution to cost the plan, and incorporate the views of provincial and Indigenous governments before anything specific moves forward on the national level.
Such a resolution will give some comfort to Bay Street, which is already making noises about excessive Liberal spending. And main street will be reassured in knowing that national income support will be available at least through the pandemic.
The convention will also embrace near unanimity on a resolution calling for the implementation of national standards for long-term care residences across the country.
There was a time when such a resolution would have meant political death in Quebec.
And everyone knows that it is near impossible to secure a majority government without substantial support in La Belle province.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier François Legault have been making multiple joint announcements in recent time, so they will probably organize an opt-out clause to handle the claim of federal interference in provincial health matters.
But at the end of the day, the death rate in Quebec cannot be ignored and simply assuming that more of the same will be a solution does not make sense.
The sturm and drang of a convention will allow all sides to air their perspectives but, in the end, the party will come out united behind a policy that will ensure a national strategy for long-term care and no national consensus on the Guaranteed Annual Income.
Party organizers have been very pleased with the participation level at the convention, with more than 4,000 registrants, of whom 60 per cent are new members.
New members are good news, but the party also has to be concerned about the ongoing support of long-time, loyal Liberals.
I was chatting last week with a former cabinet minister, who was a very active political organizer in the past, and he is sitting the next election out.
In his words, the party seems a lot more interested in recruitment than in involving those who have been around for a long time.
That could spell trouble, because in most elections where the Liberals lose, their loyal voters don’t necessarily change sides. They just don’t bother to vote.
Pollsters have recently identified that the party is either behind or in a toss-up in 13 ridings which they need to form a majority government.
Most of those ridings are rural, with a population that is not likely as mobile so long-term, loyal voters are important to the victory.
New political participants are important for energy and excitement. The young generation is most likely made up of urban participants who will not carry the day in the case of a tight election.
It would be dangerous for Liberals to skew their campaign to millennial voters.
That cohort was a winner in 2015, delivering a solid majority to the Liberals. But it is not likely to be as effective this time around.
The longer any party has been in government, the harder it is to keep everyone happy.
Marijuana legalization is a distant memory, and that policy will not persuade those new voters to support the Liberals again.
Instead, the party will depend on older people to carry tight ridings in rural areas.
Seniors are usually most likely to vote in large numbers, but the pandemic has altered everyone’s habits.
Trudeau’s Covid hotels have also cost support among snowbirds who represent up to 500,000 voters.
Hopes for majority could depend on whether the Trudeau glow is losing lustre with loyal Liberals.
The convention could kickstart that renewal—or not.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.