In exactly 6 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 May, 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. SNC-Lavalin Scandal Rages On
On April 2nd, Trudeau ejected Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus, citing broken trust with the liberal team. Trudeau referenced Wilson-Raybould’s controversial taping of conversations with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and alleged lack of confidence in Trudeau’s leadership. While the ejection of the two MPs was in the name of party unity, it is yet another knock against the Liberal government and Trudeau’s leadership, which is reflected in polling averages: the Conservatives first pulled away in late February and enjoyed a steady four-point lead for two weeks before Liberal and Conservative trends converged again. An election held today would likely see the Conservatives win a minority government. Trudeau and the Liberals still have time to recover from the scandal, and strategize for handling what will surely be a main opposition talking point throughout the election campaign.
Neither Philpott nor Wilson-Raybould have indicated whether or not they will run as independents in the fall. However, both the NDP and Greens have suggested that the two ex-Liberals would be welcome to run as part of their respective parties: While Wilson-Raybould continues to characterize herself as an “independent liberal,” Philpott has explored her options and had conversations with both the Greens and the NDP. Independents are rare in Canada’s democracy, but Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s roles in the scandal have painted them as politicians of principle in the public eye, which could be valuable for any party attempting to sway Liberal voters.
2. Updates on Foreign Electoral Interference (April 8)
The Communications Security Establishment (CSE) has issued updates to its 2017 report on foreign interference in Canada’s upcoming federal elections. Foreign interference in Canada’s federal election is now considered a “very likely” possibility. Cyber threat activity to advanced democracies like Canada is said to have tripled since 2015, and Canada’s government is taking such reports seriously.
The updates reaffirm that the results of the federal election itself are judged reliable due to paper-based polling that is not vulnerable to cyber threats. However, foreign interference can manifest as the promotion or misrepresentation of a certain party or ideology to the aim of creating general confusion and social polarization, which is increasingly done over social media. Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould has asserted that the government is expecting more from social media companies in terms of transparency and fighting against disinformation.
3. Ontario Budget Released (April 11)
The Ontario 2019 budget was published on April 11th, containing many austerity measures designed to balance the province’s budget by the 2023-24 fiscal year. Trudeau has drawn parallels between Ford and Scheer, claiming that Scheer “takes his cues from the Ontario premier” and that Canadians can expect “much of the same” should the Conservatives be elected in the fall – a tactic likely intended to mobilize voters who disapprove of Ford’s policies. Canadian partisanship is not always consistent at the federal and provincial level: by keeping an eye on the public reaction to Ford’s policies, federal parties can also gain plenty of insight regarding the preferences of the crucial Ontarian voter base.
4. Alberta Election (April 16)
Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party was elected premier of Alberta, ousting Rachel Notley of the NDP and achieving a majority government with 55% of the popular vote. The elections also drew nearly 70% of registered voters, the highest turnout in the province in decades, easily surpassing the 57% turnout for Notley in 2015.
Alberta is the latest province to elect a conservative government in what many are calling a blue wave that has swept Canada’s provinces in the years since Trudeau’s Liberals were elected in 2015. Kenney made scrapping the carbon tax a key part of his platform, as well as joining Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan in challenging the federal carbon pricing backstop in courts. Indeed, some have asserted that Kenney’s campaign signalled that Alberta and Ottawa would have a “confrontational relationship” under his leadership, further jeopardizing Trudeau’s climate plan and making provincial cooperation with the current federal government less and less of a possibility. Further, the proliferation of conservative governments across key provinces could give the federal Conservatives a head start, as the provincial elections could have effectively primed the electorate for upcoming campaign rhetoric.
5. Elections in Prince Edward Island (April 23)
On April 23rd, voters in PEI will cast two ballots: one in their provincial election and one in a referendum on electoral reform. Voters will decide whether or not to change to a mixed-member proportional (MMP) system from the current single-member plurality (SMP) system that is also used for federal elections. A previous non-binding plebiscite in 2016 suggested PEI was ready to switch to an MMP system, but this result was discarded by the current premier, Liberal Wade MacLauchlan, due to the low turnout rate of only 36%. A provincial win for electoral reform could put this hot-button issue back on the federal campaign agenda in October.
PEI could also be set to make history as the first province to elect the Green Party, which is currently leading in the polls. PEI politics have been a cycle of Liberal and Conservative governments whose favour among the electorate has tended to expire after three consecutive terms. The incumbent Liberals are seeking a fourth, and some have suggested that the unprecedented support for the Greens is founded in a desire to move beyond the two-horse race that has traditionally dominated island politics. A win for Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker could mean momentum for Elizabeth May’s federal Green party, which is projected to win a record number of seats in October.
6. Elections in Newfoundland and Labrador (May 16)
Liberal premier Dwight Ball has called an early election for Newfoundland and Labrador which, after having been scheduled for October, will now occur on May 16th. The announcement comes after the Liberals’ 2019 budget, which many have called “optimistic”, as well as the renewed Atlantic Accord agreement on offshore resource revenues, such as those from the Hibernia oilfield. This agreement between the provincial and federal government is particular is expected to bode well for both ruling liberals in their upcoming elections. However, the election is projected to be a tight race, with Ches Crosbie’s Progressive Conservatives at a close second with the NDP far behind. If Newfoundland and Labrador’s incumbent Liberals are not reelected, it will only add to the growing Conservative trend sweeping the provinces that could culminate in federal Conservative leadership this fall.
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.