Canada's Parliament reconvenes Monday. With a majority government and no election until October 19, 2015, this may seem irrelevant to the lives of non-political junkies. That's only partially true. Parliament's laws impact us all. Besides, parliaments really do matter in keeping government accountable. When Parliament seems not to matter, the almost inevitable consequence is unaccountable government—when, cyclically, we should be paying most attention.
Still, concern about our country, and even its politics, requires attention to more than Parliament. Accountable government requires alternatives. That is why we have that important job called "The Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition." Right now the job is vacant. The results of the NDP and Liberal leadership races will shape our long-term political options. In the short term, while the N.D.P. deals with a leadership race for which it is organizationally and emotionally ill-prepared, the likelihood of N.D.P. missteps advantaging the Liberals seems likely. However, if any short-term advantages gained by the Liberals feed their "we-are-entitled-and-most-likely-to-soon-be-back-in-government" mindset, that short-term advantage may translate into mid-term foolishness and long-term extinction. The Liberal Party has a significant history and proud tradition but it will take more than a fresh face on an old brand for them to re-establish themselves. Their self-discipline in avoiding both the reality and all perceptions of smugness and entitlement will be tested.
Races to elect leaders should be proxies for debates about ideas. There are certain to be competing ideas within both the Liberals and N.D.P., not just about tactical questions of whether mergers or coalitions are the fastest way to replace the Conservatives as government, but substantive ideas about what to do when government is attained. However, that debate will also be ongoing, with even more intensity given its current relevance, within the Conservative Party. The first year's program is largely taken care of: economic and fiscal issues will dominate, followed by fulfilling election commitments on the Wheat Board, gun registry, and crime bills. What comes in years two and three is a much more open question which Conservatives will debate among themselves. Given the diverse make-up of the Conservative coalition, a unifying vision is no insignificant challenge.
There are five provincial elections (NL, PEI, ON, MB, SK) all scheduled for this fall which should not be overlooked (not to mention three territorial elections and an Alberta leadership race to elect a new Premier.) The make-up of provincial governments will change dramatically and given some of the most challenging issues involve how to pay for health care (a provincial jurisdiction), the climate of federal-provincial relations and the willingness of provincial governments to make changes to the status quo is core to the long-term shape of our country.
In other words, there's a bumpy political road ahead. How we navigate it has long-term consequences. Watch the battles within as much as between the parties. Don't overlook the provincial results—they matter federally too. Fasten your seatbelts—it will be an interesting ride.