In just under 8 months, Canadians will head to the polls for the 43rd federal election. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are fighting for re-election against Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, currently in opposition. Also hoping to make gains are the New Democratic Party, under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May’s Green Party, and the Bloc Québecois under new leader Yves-François Blanchet.
As we head into March, with an eventful month behind us, MJPS has rounded up some of the most important election-shaping events of the last month, along with a preview of what to expect in federal politics over the next month.
1. Globe and Mail report marks the beginning of the SNC-Lavalin saga (February 7th)
A report alleging that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pressured former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to abandon prosecution of Montréal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin sent shockwaves throughout the Canadian political arena. Since it broke, the story has consumed Canadian politics and continues to cause headaches for Trudeau and the Prime Minister’s Office.
In the fallout from the initial news story, the effects of the growing scandal continue to snowball weeks after its emergence. The matter is under investigation by the federal ethics commissioner. Furthermore, the government has seen two resignations – Wilson-Raybould as Veterans Affairs Minister and Gerald Butts as Trudeau’s Principal Secretary – and calls for a public inquiry into the matter from opposition party leaders.
Subsequent election polls do not look great for Trudeau’s Liberals: some show Andrew Scheer’s opposition Conservatives slightly ahead of the governing Liberals post-SNC. A federal swing towards the Conservatives is most apparent in Ontario, where the two parties are now tied. Surveys of Québec, a traditional well of Liberal support, do show the Liberals ahead of the Conservations, but down overall. These results may strike some as surprising, as one might expect alleged attempts at protecting a cherished Québec company from prosecution to be seen positively. That a nation-wide decline in Liberal support does not leave Québec untouched could show that the SNC Lavalin affair has more of a national implication than perhaps anticipated.
Looking forward, if the Liberals struggle to shift the narrative away from the SNC-Lavalin affair towards more favourable issues for the party, winning re-election in 2019 may be more of a challenge than initially thought.
2. New Bloc Québecois leader meets with Québec Premier (February 15th)
On February 15th, newly-acclaimed Bloc Québecois leader Yves-François Blanchet was photographed cozying up to Québec Premier François Legault in a meeting. Blanchet was named the leader of the Bloc Québecois on January 17th, filling a hole in the party’s leadership caused by the resignation of Martine Ouellet in June.
Following a tumultuous 2018, in which seven of the party’s ten MPs temporarily quit caucus and Ouellet handily lost a key confidence vote, the development could signal a new direction for the previously embattled party.
With both being former Parti Québecois provincial cabinet ministers, an alliance between Blanchet and Legault could have subtle, but nonetheless significant implications for the federal election in Québec. For instance, Blanchet was quoted during the meeting proclaiming that “the Trudeau government is the main obstacle to achieving the mandates that Québecers have just given to the Coalition Avenir Québec”.
If Blanchet is able to effectively portray the Trudeau government as hostile to the popular CAQ government, while Conservative leader Andrew Scheer makes increasing attempts to appear friendly to Québec, this could spell electoral trouble for Trudeau. With this in mind, Québec’s internal affairs are a key indicator to watch in the run-up to the federal election.
3. Scheer rallies pro-pipeline protesters against the federal government (February 17th and 19th)
Making back-to-back appearances at protests against the federal government’s approach to pipelines, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer rallied pipeline supporters.
In Moosomin, Saskatchewan, alongside New Brunswick and Saskatchewan premiers Blaine Higgs and Scott Moe, Scheer presented a united, cross-provincial opposition to the federal government: The Resistance Part II perhaps? With this appearance, Scheer seemed to portray the federal government as hostile to provincial energy interests. Might he be trying to translate the rightward momentum of provincial politics across the country into electoral success at the federal level in October?
Later that week, Scheer spoke at the United We Roll protest in Ottawa outside Parliament Hill. The United We Roll convoy, which travelled to Ottawa all the way from Red Deer, Alberta was signalling its grievances towards the federal government’s energy policy. Also speaking at the protest was former Conservative MP and current People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier. In anticipation that the PPC could siphon off votes from the Conservatives in October, perhaps Scheer’s appearance marks an attempt at shoring up defectors.
4. By-election blitz (February 25th)
i) Burnaby South: Singh picks up a seat
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has finally secured a place in the House of Commons representing the Vancouver-area riding of Burnaby South. The result is significant for Singh, who will now have a more forceful voice in Ottawa as the face of the federal NDP. Far from a nail-biter, Singh won with 39 percent of the vote, thirteen points ahead of his closest competitor. Singh can now be assured that he will lead the NDP into the fall election, putting to rest speculation that a failure to secure a seat would lead to his removal as leader.
ii) Outremont: Orange Wave falters
On the other side of the country, Liberal candidate Rachel Bendayan won the Montreal riding of Outremont. As former NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s riding, the result is a symbolic loss for the party, contrasting with Jagmeet Singh’s success in Burnaby South. For the Liberals, the win is a welcome development that will perhaps alleviate fears of the party losing ground in the province.
iii) York-Simcoe: PPC falls through
In safe Tory territory, Conservative Scot Davidson carried the day winning nearly 54 percent of the vote – 25 points ahead of his Liberal challenger. With York-Simcoe having had Conservative representation since 2004, the results are not particularly shocking. What is interesting here, however, is the less-than-two-percent showing for the candidate put forth by the People’s Party of Canada. While the PPC was successful elsewhere – garnering nearly 11 percent of the vote in Burnaby South – this probably had much more to do with the local notoriety of the candidate. Shifting focus back to York-Simcoe, such a poor showing for the PPC could calm fears that the PPC may pull significant support from the Conservatives come October.
5. Liberal government to introduce federal budget (March 19th)
In the coming month, pay particular attention to the details contained in the Liberals’ upcoming federal budget. This is the final budget of the government’s current term, and thus could serve various strategic interests. The budget could aim to consolidate support from key electoral groups, as we have seen in the past. Alternatively, the budget could signal an attempt to make inroads with those who perceive the government negatively.
Whether the Liberals can use this opportunity to shift the narrative away from their troubles of the last month, and towards their accomplishments on trade and cannabis in 2018, remains to be seen.
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.