In exactly 12 months, Canadians will head to the polls for the 43rd federal election. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will fight for re-election against Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, currently in opposition. Also hoping to make gains will be the New Democratic Party, under the new leadership of Jagmeet Singh, as well as Elizabeth May’s Green Party and interim-leader Mario Beaulieu’s Bloc Quebecois.
With just 12 months until election day, MJPS has rounded up some of the most important election-shaping events from the last month, along with a preview of what to expect in federal politics over the next month.
1. Goodbye NAFTA, Hello USMCA (September 30, 2018)
After more than a year of tense North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) re-negotiations, an eleventh-hour deal was finally reached. While the U.S. and Canada seem to agree that the new United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement (USMCA) is a “high-standard trade agreement” that will “strengthen the middle class,” several questions remain over the contents and ramifications of the new deal.
Reaching a deal provides better optics for Trudeau than a no-deal situation, but he may still have alienated certain factions of his voter base. Although the USMCA allows Canada to maintain its management system for protecting the dairy industry, the Dairy Farmers of Canada president argued that this deal erodes Canada’s dairy protections and uses dairy workers as “nothing more than a bargaining chip to satisfy President Trump.” On the other hand, the new deal likely satisfies other voters, like auto workers who have praised measures discouraging overseas imports.
Beyond alienating some voters while pleasing others, the USMCA deal is likely to impact the 2019 election by featuring prominently in the election discourse. Andrew Scheer has argued that he would have negotiated a better deal for Canada and is likely to bring this argument into 2019 in an attempt to regain control of the economy issue.
2. Liberal Loss in Quebec (October 1, 2018)
After 15 nearly-consecutive years in power, the Quebec Liberals have finally fallen from graces, being reduced from majority status to just 31 seats in the 125-seat legislature. Although the Quebec Liberals and the federal Liberals are not institutionally linked and do not agree on every issue, Justin Trudeau benefitted from having a relative ally in Quebec. Now that he will have to coordinate with the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s Francois Legault, it may be more difficult to spread Liberal rhetoric on issues like immigration (the CAQ ran on an anti-immigration platform) and Cannabis legalization (the CAQ wants to increase the legal age to 21 – much higher than in any other province). Trudeau’s team will therefore have to work harder to counter the anti-Liberal political discourse in Quebec as they attempt to re-sell the Liberal vision to voters in 2019.
3. Court Rules Government has no Duty to Consult Indigenous People in the making of Bills (October 11, 2018)
In 2015, Justin Trudeau ran on a platform of reconciling the relationship between Indigenous peoples in Canada and the federal government. Despite this promise, the Liberals’ efforts have attracted significant skepticism and criticism, especially in their failure to meaningfully consult Indigenous peoples in the process of approving the controversial Trans-Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project.
On October 11th, however, the Supreme Court settled a landmark case that argued that the government does not have to consult with Indigenous peoples when making laws that affect them. Instead, they are only required to consult with affected groups in the implementation phase – after the bill has been approved. This ruling was welcomed by Trudeau, who argued that legislative consultation would unnecessarily slow down the lawmaking process. This court ruling thus makes it easier to pass large projects similar to the Trans-Mountain pipeline, helping Trudeau to please some supporters. However, it may lead those who voted on the Indigenous issue in 2015 to stray away from the party.
4. Cannabis Legalization (October 17, 2018)
Justin Trudeau achieved one of his main election promises on October 17th when Cannabis legalization came into force. This is sure to feature among the list of successes touted by the Liberals throughout the 2019 campaign, but could also harm the party if negative repercussions from legalization enter the debate.
Just one day after marijuana became legal, several retailers ran out of stock. Furthermore, some raised concerns that the bill was rushed through without consulting adequately with Indigenous groups. Andrew Scheer has also hinted at the possibility of repealing the bill under a Conservative government, meaning that Cannabis legalization is likely to appear prominently in the 2019 election campaign and debates,as was seen in 2015.
5. Brian Gallant Tests the New Brunswick Legislature (October 23, 2018)
The September 24th New Brunswick election ended in chaos, with no party winning a majority government. Ultimately, it was determined that incumbent Liberal Brian Gallant would be allowed to attempt to form government first, despite having one less seat than the opposition Progressive Conservatives. Gallant will stand in front of the legislature on October 23rd and ask for the legislature’s permission to govern.
Currently, no party is willing to give up a member to become speaker of the legislature, meaning that Gallant will not be able to produce a functioning government (no business can proceed without a speaker). As such, Progressive Conservative leader Blaine Higgs will likely be asked to form government. If he wins, New Brunswick will become the third province in 4 months to switch from Liberal to a more conservative government (following Ontario and Quebec). Similarly to in Quebec, this could spell trouble to Trudeau in his attempt to maintain a strong base in the Maritimes in 2019.
6. Announcement of By-Election in Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes (October 30, 2018)
A by-election is expected to be announced in the Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes riding by October 30th. By-elections often act as referendums on an incumbent party’s performance, and also serve as a practice run for party campaign strategies. As such, the by-election will be an important one to watch in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
7. U.S. Midterm Elections (November 6, 2018)
American voters will head to the polls next month to elect one-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives. In other words, they will choose whether the Democrats or the Republicans control Congress. The election will act as a referendum on U.S. President Donald Trump’s performance and is strongly predicted to bring gains for the Democrats.
If the Democrats take control of the House or Senate (or both), it will become much harder for Trump to pass legislation. By dampening Trump’s power, this would allow Trudeau to turn some attention away from the United States and into other portfolios, perhaps helping his popularity at home. In any case, the results of the U.S. midterm elections will play a role in the future of U.S.-Canada relations, and therefore in the discourse during the 2019 Canadian election campaign.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Feature image by Ishmael N. Daro, via Flickr Creative Commons.