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Canada COMMENTARY: Canada’s next prime minister faces some seriously tough challenges

17:50  19 october  2019
17:50  19 october  2019 Source:   globalnews.ca

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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Entering the final days of what has been an acrimonious federal election campaign, and having dispensed with the formalities of policy commitments and debates, the main question left for Canadians to ask of the party leaders before deciding whom to cast their vote for on Monday is simple: why do you want to be prime minister?

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The answer is clear, at least from the three main party leaders: to stop the other guy from ruining the country.

We’ve long left the high road in the dust, and any pretense about “doing politics differently” has been abandoned in favour of proven fear tactics from previous campaigns. Earlier on, the tone was arguably more positive, or at least there were some vague policy announcements and some lip service being paid to the notion of improving the lives of Canadians.

Ipsos’ data shows that Canadians have not become especially enamoured with any of the leaders, despite close to a month of campaigning.

READ MORE: Tories viewed as most likely to keep promises, but voters remain cynical, Ipsos poll says

Setting aside all the character flaws and behavioural lapses brought to light during the campaign, each of the party leaders is a successful individual who would do well in any number of professions. Given the complex and difficult issues the winner of this campaign will face, why do they want to be prime minister? Looking at what is facing Canada in the next few years, it is going to be a tough job.

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Here is a quick run-down of what Canada’s next prime minister is going to face.

A Likely Minority Status

Right now, polling data suggests the path to majority for either Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer or Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is very narrow. Perhaps Monday will be a surprise, but most likely, whoever wins is going to have to cobble together support early and often throughout their mandate. This is hardly a position of power for whichever party leader ends up forming government.

Debt and Deficits

The next prime minister is going to inherit a mountain of debt and a policy platform that forecasts a string of annual deficits for at least four more years. The major parties are all saying that this is what Canadians want, but if you listen to what Canadians say in polls, it isn’t, and it never has been.

Avoiding the deficit discussion has made the issue disappear during this campaign, but ignoring the problem is not going to help when interest rates rise. Whoever is prime minister when that happens will have to explain how global markets are forcing cuts to the very programs they promised in the campaign.

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An Economic Downturn

If higher interest rates colliding with deficit spending isn’t worrisome enough, how about the likelihood of a prolonged economic recession?

Most Canadians believe that will happen within the next year and there is a view among Canadians that we have done nothing during the past 10 years of good economic times to prepare for a downturn. For example:

52 per cent of Canadians believe a recession is coming within a year

55 per cent doubt that they will be able to save for retirement

68 per cent feel they are not able to get ahead financially

When it happens, whoever is prime minister at the time will own that recession. It will be his fault, and his job to get Canada out of it. After 10-plus years of governments (both Liberal and Conservative) taking full credit for Canada’s economic growth, the next government — whichever party forms it — will need to be prepared to shoulder the blame of an economic downturn and present a clear plan on how they plan to get Canada back on track. Canadians are going to hold the next government accountable for whatever economic woes Canada faces.

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A Divided Canada

The Ipsos Disruption Barometer is a combined measure of economic confidence and socio-political stability. Since late 201,8 Canada has been in negative territory, suggesting lower economic confidence and setting the stage for political or social disruption.

Two provinces stand out. One is Quebec, which is 16 points more positive than the national average, and the other is Alberta, which is 34 points less positive than the national average. Both are worrisome trends that could have implications for the next government.

The rise of the Bloc may be driving an increased sense of optimism and pride for Quebecers, who feel the Bloc is standing up for their province. However, this support may come at the expense of other parts of the country.

In Alberta, where the Conservative Party may be poised to sweep the province — and to a lesser extent in Saskatchewan and Manitoba — there is immense anger at eastern Canada and a sense that the Liberals and progressive parties have abandoned the region in search for votes in seat-rich central Canada.

It is hard to see how either a Conservative or a Liberal government is going to keep Quebec happy while at the same time soothing the anger in the West.

READ MORE: Preston Manning warns Western alienation could spark separatist surge on the Prairies

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Despondent Canadians

Assuming the next prime minister dodges the recession and navigates a minority government in such a way as to avoid another referendum on separation, in Quebec or even in Alberta, there is still a lingering pessimism across the land. If any of the party leaders have been listening, they know that Canadians are not feeling optimistic about the future, or about their own personal situations.

In a 2017 poll Ipsos conducted about what the future looks like in 10 years, most Canadians believe that:

People will become more reliant on government to subsidize their lives as the gap between the richest and the poorest Canadians continues to grow

Housing will become increasingly difficult to find and renting will become the dominant form of housing rather than owning a home

Half of all physical bank branches and half of all retail stores will close

Climate change will not be controlled or reversed, and it will have a significant impact on our lives

Almost everyone will be the victim of an online data leak/hack

Robots will replace 80 per cent of all manufacturing jobs and will become commonplace at retail check-out counters

To say Canadians are worried and lack confidence in the future is an understatement.

Canadians see an aging population, advancing technology and a rapidly changing economy creating pressures on our social systems, threatening their jobs, their communities and their families. Some are worried, some are scared and only the wealthiest Canadians see opportunities in the future.

As noted, we have an answer from the major party leaders on why they want to be prime minister: to stop the other guy from ruining the country. We don’t have an answer to the challenges outlined above, challenges that must be addressed, regardless of who wins on Oct. 21.

By the time we reach 2020, Canada’s next prime minister might be wishing for a return to the campaign trail, where the answers were easy and the complex issues facing Canada could be avoided, at least for 40 days or so. After the election, the next prime minister won’t be able to avoid these issues anymore.

Mike Colledge is president, Canada Ipsos Public Affairs.

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