Breaking Out Of The Ottawa Bubble – A Review Of The Fall Sitting Of Parliament


Ensight’s Matt Triemstra looks back at the past fall sitting of Parliament and examines how the Conservative’s great performance doesn’t translate into support outside of the Ottawa bubble.

Christmas has finally arrived in the House of Commons. Christmas poems have been recited by both Liberal and Conservative MPs, new Commissioners (Language, Ethics and Lobbying) have all been confirmed and stakeholders have jammed in as many meetings as they could in the dying days of 2017. MPs have now left Ottawa to return to their ridings and the House will remain empty until their return on January 29th, 2018.

But before we prognosticate too much about 2018, we ought to review the fall sitting of Parliament.

For the Conservatives it was exciting. They finally found a narrative that worked and upped their game in question period by keeping the pressure on Finance Minister Morneau, both with regard to changes to small businesses and his own personal financial dealings. Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Kent Hehr is in the hot seat for being unsympathetic, Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly is not seen to be handling her files well and to top it all off, there is a rink on the grounds of Parliament Hill that is being ridiculed for costing 5.2 million dollars.

With so much ammunition, the Conservatives had every right to be excited and press their attack and they were rewarded by surging in the polls. Except they didn’t and they haven’t. December is ending just as September began, with the Conservatives still trailing in the polls. What’s worse for Conservative fortunes, is that their caucus was reduced by two MPs, as they lost what should have been safe Tory seats in recent by-elections.

So we are left with this conundrum: a successful Conservative sitting of Parliament doesn’t translate into votes or momentum for them. There is really only one cause for this effect: The Ottawa Bubble. Things that happen in the bubble can defy logic and don’t translate into mainstream momentum in the rest of Canada.

The current Conservative strategy is ‘death by a thousand cuts’, and while it may be effective in the bubble and in the long run, it is not proving to move votes in the short term and outside of Ottawa and that’s problematic for Andrew Scheer, who has less than two years to change the narrative if he wants to win in 2019. The Liberals know full well that if you are riled up over Morneau and small businesses, that you were never likely to vote Liberal in the first place. In the bubble, the Conservatives may have the edge, but the in the real world, Liberals know that their core vote hasn’t changed.

Conservative MPs now have 44 days to get back in touch with their constituents and find out what is resonating outside of the bubble, before the House resumes in January. And while the current strategy of death by a thousand cuts may work…eventually, no Conservative wants to spend a day longer than they have to on the opposition bench.

But in order to invigorate the nation, the Conservatives need to show Canadians not where the Liberals are failing, but where their policies provide a better and more compelling vision for Canada. The Conservative party needs to outflank Trudeau on the issues that they claim to own. And until they can come up with progressively conservative views on issues like marijuana, LGBTQ2 and the environment (to name just a few) they simply won’t be able to capture the attention of Canadians.

So while most Canadians view Christmas as a break, Conservative MPs should be using the time wisely by retooling their messaging and looking for issues that define them and not ones that slowly cut down the other guy.

Matt Triemstra is a Director at Ensight where he provides public affairs advice. He has over a decade of experience consulting and working for Conservative Members of Parliament and the Conservative Resource Group on Parliament Hill.