Trudeau’s Hamilton cabinet meeting sounds like a campaign rollout

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The Liberal cabinet’s decision to meet in Hamilton is not about tourism. It is about politics. If the party is to retain its position in government, or secure a majority, it needs grow its base in areas like Hamilton and Windsor.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on January 23, 2023.

OTTAWA—Canada’s cabinet is meeting in Hamilton this week.

It is the first time 39 ministers have gathered in the city of waterfalls.

I say city of waterfalls because most references to Hamilton focus on its role as the major steel-producing community in Canada.

They don’t realize that Hamilton actually has more waterfalls within city limits than any other urban centre in in the world.

Surprised? Don’t be. There are 156 urban waterfalls due to the city’s location on the Niagara escarpment, according to Conde Nast travel magazine.
Most falls are situated on the Bruce Trail, a hiker’s dream destination starting in the Niagara River and ending in Tobermory.

Bruce Trail territory in the city forms part of a UNESCO world biosphere reserve.

The Bruce is another hiker’s dream, offering a main 890-kilometre trail and side trails covering another 400 kilometres.

Another surprise: the main city employer does not make steel. Instead, the world-renowned medical research juggernaut McMaster University is the region’s top job creator, offering first-class health care to the locals and medical research opportunities for researchers from around the world.

Hamilton also happens to be a political epicentre.

Former Ontario New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath is the city’s mayor and every party has a foot in the door when it comes to elected federal Members of Parliament.

Liberals hold three seats, with the team led by Filomena Tassi, minister responsible for the federal economic agency for southern Ontario.

The minister’s father was a steelworker and her mother was an active Liberal who worked for cabinet minister John Munro when Justin Trudeau’s father was prime minister.

The Liberal cabinet’s decision to meet in Hamilton is not about tourism. It is about politics.

If the party is to retain its position in government, or secure a majority, it needs grow its base in areas like Hamilton and Windsor.

In order to beat the Tories, the Liberals need to attract support from the left.

If the last provincial election in Ontario is any example, most unions are no longer wedded to the New Democratic Party.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford went out of his way to court the vote of those in the construction industry, promoting investment in roads and housing.

He got that support and pretty much wiped out the Ontario Liberals.

In order to beat the federal Conservatives, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his team need to sideline the New Democrats, and that means going into the heart of their support and working to move voters closer to the centre.

In the case of Hamilton, there is a New Democrat in the riding of Hamilton Centre. But the party lost the Hamilton Mountain seat to the Liberals in 2019. The Conservatives edged out Liberals by a small margin in another Hamilton seat, currently held by Conservative Dan Muys.

All parties see Hamilton as an important area for political growth.

If the NDP new year’s polling numbers hold at 20 per cent, there is a good chance Matthew Green’s Hamilton Centre seat will remain orange in the next election.

For all parties, 2023 is an electoral springboard. Any investment in time outside the nation’s capital must be focussed in areas where parties can compete for political switchers.

All roads are leading to a potential majority government. But for whom?

Liberals are banking on the fact that during the election, the New Democrats will face slippage because voters fear the consequences of a Conservative majority.

Meanwhile, we can expect that most political travel this year will be carried out with the election in view.

The New Democrats seem to be more and more uncomfortable with the supply-and-confidence agreement they signed with the Liberals.

An end to the agreement would not necessarily spell an automatic election. However, it would certainly put the minority government on the knife’s edge as an election would be triggered when all the opposition parties decide to oppose the government.

The Conservatives are front-runners in early 2023 polling, but their numbers are always skewed by an over-representation in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

This year will be the ideal time for all leaders and parties to spend additional time in their must-win electoral targets.

Cabinet will be tackling many issues this week. According to an interview in The Hamilton Spectator, Tassi said there would be a focus on inflation, poverty alleviation and housing.

The Liberals intend to underscore their work in reducing child-care costs, hiking the minimum wage and introducing national dental benefits.

It sounds like a campaign rollout.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.