Though it may seem the political parties and leaders have been campaigning for months, the official election period just began. On September 11th, 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau officially asked for the election writ to be issued, giving the parties a period of 41 days to officially campaign. As the incumbent party, the Trudeau Liberals had many important calculations to make in terms of when to drop the writ and begin the official campaign period, which affords various restrictions and permissions to the campaigning parties.
With new regulations mandating the length of the writ period, the official campaign could have lasted anywhere from thirty-six to fifty days, with election day fixed to Monday, October 21st. These regulations made it impossible for Trudeau to follow in Harper’s footsteps by holding a long campaign period. In 2015, the 76-day campaign was the longest in Canada’s history and ended with the Conservative Party’s demise and the end of Harper’s nine-year tenure as Prime Minister.
Longer campaign periods leave more time for opponents to bring up unexpected issues in an attempt to sideswipe other parties. In addition, they cost significantly more money, which is especially a problem for the New Democrats, who are struggling with reaching fundraising targets. As the official writ period just began, parties have an $28 million spending limit imposed, an increase from the $2 million pre-writ advertising budget which is available to the parties in the pre-election period, which began on June 30th.
Short campaigns have the luxury of being more predictable, but in the case of a problem arising, they leave parties less time to recover before voters head to the polls. In addition, short campaigns pose a lower risk of voter fatigue, which might in turn lead to higher turnouts.
Anybody’s Game: What the polls tell us
Turning to the polls, the Liberals and Conservatives are neck-in-neck, with the Liberals favoured in seats. Prior to the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Liberals had a comfortable lead over the Conservatives. Come February, the Conservatives took the lead in the polls, but their lead has steadily narrowed, now leaving both parties neck-in-neck 42 days out from the election. With polling results this close, it is a toss-up whether any party will win a majority.
As for the NDP and Greens, they are polling historically close as well. The New Democrats are a distant third, while the Green’s support has levelled off after reaching new highs across the country.
Party Plans: Meanings behind the campaign slogans
With the writ period underway, the federal parties have released their campaign slogans, all with slightly different spins on the same narrative. Affordability is shaping up to be a central issue to the campaign, with each party offering its own plan.
The Liberals released their slogan, “Choose Forward,” to perhaps emphasize the choice voters have between building on Trudeau’s record of accomplishments – such as cutting taxes for the middle class, creating the Canada Child Benefit plan, and the climate change plan – or rolling back to the Harper era. Through their slogan, the party is promoting their promise of affordability, with a focus on the middle class.
Staying with the theme of encouraging voters in the same direction, onwards, the Conservatives released their campaign slogan “It’s time for you to get ahead.” The slogan perhaps has the intention of framing the Liberals as working in the interest of the wealthy and the well-connected, not you, the average voter. Similar to the Liberals, the Conservatives have a focus on affordability, as they promise to lower the cost of living and leave more money in your pockets.
The NDP has been falling short in many aspects of the campaign, and were perhaps hoping the release of their slogan, “In it for you,” would help differentiate them from other parties. The slogan is an ode to everyday people, showing them the party is not for wealthy executives and corporations. Singh hopes his party’s message of expanding health care, making housing and post-secondary more affordable, and taking on big polluters and corporate tax giveaways will resonate with voters.
Regions and Demographics to Watch
As the elections nears, many are paying attention the the number of candidates nominated by each party. Achieving a full slate of 338 candidates early on, a finish line first reached by the Conservatives in early September, allows maximal time campaigning and increasing name recognition of candidates in each riding. However, the number of nominated candidates isn’t the only thing that matters. Who the candidates are can also indicate challenges or advantages for a given party. The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP are all running more rookie candidates, with several incumbents stepping away from politics this election. While Liberals are losing incumbents in toss-up regions – where it matters most – the Conservatives are mainly lacking in safe seats – seats they are projected to win regardless of the individual candidate. In this sense, lack of incumbents may be a bigger issue for the Liberals than for the Conservatives.
With significant holes in the NDP candidate nominations – particularly in Quebec where there has been a drop in 16 points since 2015 – many wonder if the party is facing an existential crisis, especially as Quebec served as ground zero for the NDP’s successes in 2011 with the Orange Wave. Quebec’s history of voting for a variety of parties, the province’s large number of available seats, as well as the added player of the Bloc Quebecois makes it an especially important region to watch.
Another blow for the NDP comes from New Brunswick, were NDP candidates appear to be defecting and throwing their support behind the federal Greens, leaving the NDP with no nominees in the province.
Turnout is another key consideration for the parties this election. The average voter turnout for Canadians in the last election was 66.1 per cent. In 2015, the Liberals in large part earned their victory thanks to the relatively high levels of turnout amongst the youth, who reached around 57.1 per cent, a rise of 18.3 percent from 2011. The Conservatives, on the other hand, rely on a voter base that historically has a higher-than-average voter turnout, ranging anywhere between 66.6 to 78.8 per cent. If key Liberal constituencies, like youth, don’t turn out in high numbers, the Liberals may have a difficult time building the electoral coalition needed for a majority.
Word on the Street: Key election issues
The key issues – which will play out during the debates on October 7th (English) and 10th (French) – include climate change, foreign policy, and affordability.
On July 17, thousands of Canadians turned to the streets to call on CBC to organize a federal leaders’ climate debate during the October election. Organizers called on the news agency to provide Canadians with information about this “unprecedented national emergency so voters can clearly see where leaders stand on climate and what they’re prepared to do about it.”
Along with the two official debates, there have been attempts by Maclean’s and Munk to hold two more debates, which Justin Trudeau will not participate in. Other candidates, such as Jagmeet Singh, Andrew Scheer, and Elizabeth May have agreed to participate in both, meaning the debate will go forward regardless. Whether this helps Trudeau by allowing him to coast through the election period without making any major gaffes, or whether failure to attend the debate is itself viewed as a high-profile mistake, remains to be seen.
Adding to the salience of environmental issues, the federal court has agreed to reassess Cabinet’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline, a controversial decision made earlier this summer. The legal efforts by First Nations groups to halt the pipeline coincides with the interests of environmental groups and activists, and goes against the Liberal government and the interests of Alberta’s landlocked oil industry. The timing of the Trans Mountain pipeline court process may further foreground the environment as a key election issue.
Another issue that may potentially feature prominently throughout the campaign, and especially in debates, are the social views and histories of politicians. In late August, the Liberals revived a 2005 video of Scheer denouncing same-sex marriage, claiming these couples are unable to possess the inherent qualities of marriage, such as the natural procreation of children. Scheer has yet to denounce his 2005 statements, nor comment on the evolution of his personal views. If the other parties effectively foreground this during the debates, this may become a key factor in voters’ support for or against Scheer.
T-minus 41 Days
Compared to other countries, including the neighbouring United States, Canada has an extremely short campaign period. Nonetheless, a lot can happen in 6 weeks. In this campaign season, it is difficult to say how things will play out, and more importantly, how they will end. As the parties campaign to convince you to “Choose Forward” or decide “It’s time for you to get ahead,” remember to head “Forward Together” on October 21st to your polling station and cast a ballot for the party you believe is “In it for you.”
Edited by Catharina O’Donnell
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.