In exactly two 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 leader Yves-François Blanchet.
As we head into September, 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. Canada’s ambassador to the United States resigns (August 8th)
On August 8th, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, David MacNaughton, announced his resignation. The Prime Minister’s Office has confirmed that Canada is unlikely to name a replacement for MacNaughton until after the October federal election. The Prime Minister himself released a statement accepting MacNaughton’s resignation with ‘’great affection and gratitude.’’ In the meantime, Canada’s deputy ambassador to the United States, Kristen Hillman, will serve as acting ambassador.
MacNaughton is leaving with a tested track record. Since he presented his credentials to President Obama on March 3, 2016, the relationship between Canada and the United States has faced several tribulations including U.S. tariffs levied on Canadian steel and aluminum in 2018 and NAFTA renegotiations in 2017 and 2018. MacNaughton reflected on navigating this tumultuous relationship as an ambassador, stating: ‘’I have never done anything in my life that has been as difficult as this.”
Before he became an ambassador, MacNaughton served as a chair of Trudeau’s 2015 Liberal election campaign in Ontario. In the lead up to the federal election, MacNaughton has suggested he is keen to continue to provide counsel to the Prime Minister. Unlike previous elections, free trade with the United States is not anticipated to be a divisive issue. Though Andrew Scheer has been critical of the concessions Trudeau made during renegotiations, the official opposition has remained vague on an alternative plan to free trade with the U.S. In fact, after Trudeau issued retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports and Trump responded with attacks on Twitter, both Conservative and NDP MPs voted to ‘’stand in solidarity’’ with the Liberal government.
2. New debate commission excludes PPC’s Bernier from participating in official election debates (August 12th)
In a decision announced by the Leaders’ Debates Commission last Monday, it was concluded that Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada do not (as of now) meet the threshold required to participate in two official election debates.
The Commission, which was established by the Liberal government and is chaired by former Governor General David Johnston, said that Mr. Bernier must prove that his party has a “legitimate chance” of electing more than one MP in order to qualify.
Responding to the news, a spokesperson for the Quebec MP, who was the runner-up in the 2017 Conservative Party of Canada leadership race and went on to form the populist PPC, said that the decision was a “blatant betrayal of the democratic process” and that the invited leaders “will have nothing to debate”.
The Commission’s tentative determination will perhaps be quietly celebrated by Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, who may fear that the PPC could siphon off votes from the Tories come October. While the PPC has not polled higher than three per cent nationally, such a margin could make the difference between victory and defeat in key swing ridings across the country.
As of now, the debates, which will take place on October 7 in English and October 10 in French, will feature the leaders of the Bloc Québécois, Conservative Party, Green Party, Liberal Party, and NDP.
3. Ethics Commissioner releases report concluding Trudeau violated ethics laws in handling of SNC-Lavalin file (August 14th)
In a final report, Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion has concluded that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act when he attempted to influence former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to halt the prosecution of engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
In a conciliatory yet defiant tone, the Prime Minister said that while he took “full responsibility” for how the case was handled, he would not apologize for “standing up” for Canadian jobs. Key members of his caucus reflected similar sentiment, with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland iterating her “100 per cent” confidence in the Prime Minister.
Regardless of their tone in public, this recent development in the SNC-Lavalin affair should worry Liberals, who had been recently recovering in the polls following a significant dip in support at the height of the scandal. However, considering the timing of the news (a little over two months from election day), the Liberals may still be able to ride out negative coverage and sail towards re-election in the fall.
Meanwhile, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said in a statement that the report “confirms critical facts… and affirms the position I have taken from the outset.” The news could improve her standing in Vancouver-Granville, where she is running for reelection as an Independent in a close race with Liberal candidate Taleeb Noormohamed.
4. Provincial election called in Manitoba (September 10th)
On August 12th, Manitoba’s Premier and leader of the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party, Brian Pallister, called for a provincial election almost a year earlier than expected. In 2016, the PCs won the largest majority in Manitoba in a century after they secured 40 legislature seats out of 57. Pallister snagged Premiership from NDP leader, Greg Selinger after the incumbent government raised the provincial sales tax.
In the 29-day campaign period, it seems each leading party has established a policy niche. Pallister has declared a focus on ‘’trust and taxes’’ while the NDP campaign will center on health care investments, following PC tax cuts and emergency room closures the NDP have described as detrimental. On the other hand, the Liberals have struggled to raise money and nominate candidates during the 90-day notice given before the election call, while the Green party is looking to secure its first seat in Manitoba.
Recent polls suggest a tight race between the NDP and Progressive Conservatives, a contrast from earlier polls that indicated a PC lead. Conservative MPs are also concerned that the early election call will spread Conservative resources thin as federal Conservatives will also need to recapture seats for the general election.
Edited by Evelyne Goulet.
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.