Provincial elections can be a bellwether for the fate of Canadian prime ministers. Generally speaking, prime ministers come to power amid a provincial landscape that’s broadly favorable — and leave against the backdrop of a hostile one.
Whether this is correlation or coincidence, it clearly has consequence. Provincial governments representing a partisan identity and ideology different from Ottawa’s can help undermine a prime minister’s rule at both a policy and philosophical level. When hostile provinces reach critical mass, a prime minister is in danger of losing moral authority as a national leader.
There’s evidence to suggest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, just three years into his first term, may be nearing this point.
The election of Doug Ford as premier of Ontario last month was among the most dramatic political earthquakes Canada has seen in a generation. The significance was not so much the rise of a conservative government after 15 years of Liberal rule — that was widely expected — but the election of this sort of conservative, a populist Trump supporter with little time for what has been dubbed the “Laurentian Consensus” of elite Canadian opinion. Though some pundits initially believed Ford would revert to the mild, compromised conservatism of Tory governments past, his administration has instead explicitly zeroed in on the hottest cultural war cleavages.
Ford has begun to dismantle what he calls the previous government’s “cap-and-trade carbon tax slush fund” and cut off green subsidies for business. He has scrapped the Liberals’ ultra-progressive sex-ed curriculum that had been the bane of social conservatives, and made headlines for demanding Ottawa front all costs for dealing with an influx of asylum seekers across the U.S.-Canadian border, since “this mess was 100 percent the result of the federal government.” In other words, Ford has shown scant timidness setting his sights on the intersectional issues Trudeau has made the core of his brand.
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