Monday, January 23, 2012

Just how big an electoral challenge do Liberals face in 2015?

Buoyed by the energy of this month’s policy convention, Liberals across the country might feel compelled to look forward to the next election with enthusiasm. By then Stephen Harper will have been in power for almost 10 years and Canadians may embrace the next leader of the Liberal Party rather than one of the eight contenders currently vying for the NDP’s top job. However, for the Liberals to defeat the Conservatives in 2015 they need a comeback of historic proportions. 

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

Some Liberals at the recent convention seemed to realize the enormity of the task ahead of them, but the idea that the Liberals could return to power in 2015 seems extremely unlikely. As this article shows, the Liberals would need to overcome the largest margin in Canada's federal electoral history to defeat a sitting government.

History is always ready to be re-written, and considering the exceptional nature of the 2011 election it is certainly possible that the 2015 election will be just as historic. At this point, though, it doesn't look like 2015 is lining up to be this sort of historic election, though admittedly 2011 wasn't looking like a historic year even a couple weeks before the vote.

That means 2019 should be the Liberal target. A sensible strategy would seem to be a return to Official Opposition status in 2015 and then a to return to power in 2019. Another minority in 2015 and some sort of governing coalition with the New Democrats, however, would radically change things. That is a far more likely outcome than a Liberal-led minority or majority government in 2015, but is something that the Liberals should probably not be exclusively pursuing.

Being second fiddle in a coalition makes it more likely that, in a subsequent election, the leading party in the coalition (i.e., the NDP) would be given power alone or that the opposition party (i.e. the Conservatives) would be returned to power. Unless the Liberals are setting their ambitions low, this is something that, for their sake, might actually be better avoided.

But 2019 is very far away. According to the polls, Bob Rae has been doing a good job as interim leader and if he becomes permanent leader he could do very well in 2015. He will be 71 years old in 2019, and if elected Prime Minister that year would be the oldest since Charles Tupper, who was 74 years old when he was sworn-in in 1896. Rae would actually be the second oldest Prime Minister in Canada's history. That means 2019 could be a historic election if 2015 doesn't make the cut.