Want my advice? Keep Trudeau out of the limelight for a while

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This may seem counterintuitive, as their charismatic leader is still the Liberals’ best weapon. But the longer he stays in politics, the more Justin Trudeau runs the risk of becoming just another boring politico.


First published on Monday, January 8, 2018 in The Hill Times.

OTTAWA—The new year comes with new resolve. The most important resolve for political parties is to win the next election.

More than halfway through the current Liberal mandate, now is the time to consider a new year’s victory resolution for each party.

Let’s start with the Liberals.

In my New Year’s list, resolution number one should be to keep Prime Minister Justin Trudeau out of the limelight. This may seem counter-intuitive, as their charismatic leader is still the Liberals’ best weapon. Trudeau is a sought-after international draw, stalked for selfies at every turn. He has the ‘it’ factor, that combination of charisma and mystique that casts him in the unique role of a non-politician.

But the longer he stays in politics, the more Trudeau runs the risk of becoming just another boring politico.

Less exposure would position Trudeau to preserve his wow factor for the election circuit. By Canada Day this year, the prime minister will have followed up on his all-important promise to legalize marijuana. He will also be basking in the afterglow of a successful G-7 summit in the heart of Quebec.

Facing an election on Oct. 21, 2019, Trudeau should spend the last year of his mandate promoting his team. Nobody would expect any Trudeau to hide his light under the bushel, but to remain fresh, that should be his New Year’s resolution.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has the opposite problem. He needs to keep his mug front and centre, in an effort to build more personal visibility and positive feedback in the run-up to the election.

To achieve the kind of popularity that could eclipse Trudeau, Scheer needs to play down his ‘aw shucks’ family man image and focus on appealing to more urbane voters.

That also means toning down the hard-core Conservatism that marginalizes his potential voter appeal. His decision to name an anti-choice member to chair the parliamentary status of women committee was a huge mistake. During his leadership bid, Scheer said he would not reopen the question but his pick for status chair casts doubt on that claim.

Thus far, Scheer has not made many mistakes and he comes across as personable and approachable. His personal warmth is a far cry from the unappealing, frigid demeanour of his predecessor, prime minister Stephen Harper.

But there is concern that under that teddy bear exterior is another right-winger who wants to determine what a woman can do with her own body.

Scheer needs to dampen down that perception, if he stands any chance of upending the governing Liberals come October, 2019.

As for Canada’s third place party, the New Democrats, their challenge is to get their leader into the House of Commons. Jagmeet Singh’s most crucial new year’s resolution should be to get a seat in Parliament as quickly as possible.

One of his deputies needs to step aside in order to give their leader a fighting chance in a must-win by-election effort.

A Toronto area seat would be his best bet, preferably one with a strong NDP history. That will be hard to find as the party was swamped in the Liberal sweep, losing every GTA seat. Perhaps one of the two New Democrats in neighbouring Hamilton could step aside. The most senior and well-established David Christopherson represents a riding with a long New Democratic history.

The longer he remains outside the House, the more Singh fades into oblivion. He is a bystander in the two-way parliamentary duel between Trudeau and Scheer.

Singh’s own charisma cannot shine through as long as he is travelling the country while the other main protagonists are battling it out on the floor of the House of Commons.

Last but not least, Green Party leader, and long-time veteran in the House, Elizabeth May, should resolve to turn her party over to a new leader before the next election. She made departure noises last summer after her party passed an Israel sanctions resolution that she opposed. But in the end, the lure of the political arena was too strong.

May has made a fantastic contribution to the country and to her party. But national Green momentum has stalled, and she might be happier in provincial politics, working in the coalition government in British Columbia. Her skills would certainly be put to good use and she could thrive in government.

Of course, May could simply ignore my advice and stay on to fight another day.

After all, free political advice is usually worth what you pay for it.

Happy New Year.

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