Summer break's almost over, but not for federal politicians. With last week's news that the House will prorogue and not return until October, our federal leaders have to find something to do in September and it won't be sitting around watching the leaves turn.
At the halfway mark of this government's term, with a federal election two years down the line, the leaders are planning for their eventual showdown -- and every moment counts.
So what will they be doing until the House comes back? What should they be doing? Here's a sneak peek, some predictions and some advice.
Mulcair: Build an A team
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair continued his "Roll up the Red Carpet" tour this week and will travel the country preaching the abolition of the Senate. "Today we're here to mark the beginning of the end of a discredited, outdated and undemocratic institution... Unelected party hacks have no place writing or rewriting the laws of this country. It's as simple as that."
Perhaps if Mulcair had his own hacks in the Senate, he'd feel differently, but nevermind: the public is with him on this, as a majority favour reforming or getting rid of the Red Chamber.
Such a tour also keeps the Senate scandal alive, when the Tories would rather bury it in the RCMP and Auditor Generals' investigations. And since Mulcair can't actually deliver on his pledge, even if he formed a government, the exercise is completely no-risk.
But low-hanging fruit isn't enough. Starting... yesterday, the NDP leader should focus on a crucial priority: candidate search. The Liberals seem to have no trouble attracting star power, and while heavy hitters are also coming forward under the NDP banner, watch for the Grits to work overtime building their A team between today and 2015.
Open nominations mean anyone can be in -- and the Chrystia Freeland situation shows that the leader's office is not above "encouraging" big names to test the political waters. The NDP needs to match star power with star power, a more difficult feat considering they have fewer open contests in potentially winnable seats.
Trudeau: Court the middle class
Speaking of Liberals, leader Justin Trudeau's recent confessional in the Huffington Post continues to puff up his popularity, with the latest poll putting his party ahead with 38 per cent of the vote, to the Tories' 29 per cent.
Trudeau's pro-pot stance also smoked the late summer news cycle with every commentator offering their toke on the matter. But it may not be all about marijuana: the issue appears to have been a first step in the Liberals' campaign to brand themselves "the party of transparency."
At their caucus retreat in P.E.I. this week they will unveil new templates for making Senate and House expenses public online (though presumably, illegal drugs will not qualify as eligible expenses).
Beyond Oprah-fying his party, however, Trudeau will also work toward another goal: capturing the middle class vote. That's a trickier play. It's no secret the Tories are hunting that same Holy Grail and assuming they manage to balance the budget by 2015, they already have their promises lined up, including income splitting for families.
What will the Liberals offer that's new and different? National daycare is too expensive. Income tax reductions are so... Conservative-sounding.
Pharmacare is already a project of the provinces. Trudeau's challenge is to come up with something fresh, believable, and Liberal. One can already hear the wheels in Gerald Butts' head turning.
Harper: Craft a mea culpa
And what about Prime Minister Stephen Harper? He's the one who bought time this fall and will spend it crafting his party's most important document of the next two years: the throne speech.
At mid-term, it will serve several functions: reminding Canadians of the priorities his government has achieved, setting the course for the next two years and looking ahead to the next election.
Watch for the PM to remind us of the fragility of the world's economy, call on the provinces to partner with Ottawa's job creation plans, and set a course for a balanced budget.
What else should Harper be doing? Gearing up the troops for the party's Hallowe'en policy conference in Calgary.
Postponed after last spring's terrible floods, it is the chance for Conservative faithful to gather and re-energize themselves for the battles ahead. Harper needs to smooth ruffled feathers and come out of the exercise as a leader in control. Otherwise, speculation on his potential departure before the next election will continue to percolate.
And another word of advice: take a page from Trudeau and play the honesty card. You don't need to admit smoking pot, because voters likely wouldn't believe it anyway. But you have to own up to your mistakes, such as defending the indefensible during the early days of the Senate scandal.
A well-played mea culpa can pay major dividends -- no matter how calculated the revelation actually is.
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