The Top Line
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ended weeks of speculation today and formally asked Governor General Julie Payette to dissolve Parliament. This kicks off the official campaign for Canada’s 43rd general election, which will be held on Monday, October 21.
While this election is shaping up to be a classic contest between Canada’s two governing Parties, the Liberals and Conservatives, the stakes are high for all parties. The Liberals and Justin Trudeau are in an electoral dogfight, with Trudeau facing the prospect of becoming the first PM since R.B. Bennett to lose power after winning a majority government in their first term. For the Conservatives and leader Andrew Scheer, the campaign offers an opportunity to recapture the momentum they had this Spring in the wake of the SNC Lavalin scandal. In his first campaign as party leader, Scheer is untested and for many still largely unknown. For the Conservatives to take power after October 21st Scheer must convince Canadians that he and the Party are ready to lead.
For the NDP the 2019 campaign will be vastly different than the last one. When the writ dropped in 2015, the NDP were jockeying to form government and actually leading in many public opinion polls. Today, under new leader, Jagmeet Singh, the Party is fighting to maintain relevance with their traditional support base. Finally, the Green Party finds itself on the brink of a potentially historic breakthrough, both in terms of the number of seats they could win but also in some cases finding themselves in third place in public opinion polls. The Greens have an opportunity to use this campaign to position themselves as a fourth major political party in Canada, running competitive campaigns across the Country.
As the campaign kicks off, the initial focus of the Leaders’ tours will give us a good idea of where each party sees the key battlegrounds. At it currently stands, the fight for a majority government will focus on the suburbs and exurbs of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, plus eastern and rural Quebec (where the Liberals need to pick up NDP seats and the Conservatives believe they can break through).
The stakes are also high for the Bloc Québécois, which seeks to re-establish itself in Quebec, and the nascent People’s Party of Canada, which is trying to at least win a seat. In sum, this campaign promises to be a bitter, tense battle for power between the Liberals and Conservatives with a number of intriguing subplots for the NDP, Green Party, Bloc and PPC.
The Parties and Leaders
For the Liberal Party the 2019 campaign promises much of the same from 2015. They have the same Leader, many of the same people in key campaign positions, and their policy focus of progressive positions that aim to support the middle class will also remain the same. However, the 2019 campaign will also see major change. In 2015 as a new Leader without a government record, Trudeau could afford to run an aspirational campaign that played to voters’ hopes and dreams. This time expect the Liberals to run a compare-and-contrast campaign that asks voters to weigh the pros and cons of a Government under Justin Trudeau versus an Andrew Scheer-led Government. In doing so they will seek to highlight their accomplishments over the last four years, including job creation, the negotiation of a new North American trade agreement and an improved Canada child benefit, while contrasting themselves with Conservative positions on environment, pharmacare and social issues.
Expect the Liberal message to acknowledge that while they are not perfect their government has seen major accomplishments and is a far better choice than the Conservatives and their untested leader. In addition, look for the Liberals to use the campaign to contrast the stylistic differences between Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer by running a campaign that capitalizes on Trudeau’s ease and charisma in large and small crowds.
Andrew Scheer, fighting his first national campaign as Conservative party leader, will start the campaign in eastern Quebec and finish the day in the Greater Toronto Area. These represent two key battlegrounds where the party needs wins in order to form government. Organizationally, the Conservatives are best prepared for the election as it kicks off, being the first party to have nominated candidates in all 338 ridings.
The Conservative campaign will emphasize affordability. Their message to middle class voters will be that a Conservative Government under Andrew Scheer is the best choice because it will lower the cost of living for Canadians and put more money in their pockets via targeted tax cuts. The Conservatives hope to capitalize on some of the Liberal missteps during their first term, notably the ethics scandal including SNC and the broken promise to eliminate the deficit by 2019. The Conservatives will seek to dominate western Canada, win back traditional Tory seats in Atlantic Canada and BC, while becoming competitive again in suburban Toronto and building on their recent appeal in eastern and rural Quebec.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is leading his first national campaign. At this point it appears that Singh’s goal will be modest: to maintain the NDP’s traditional base of support and seats. The NDP has struggled at fundraising and nominations, as of late last week they had candidates in less than 200 ridings and a $4.5 million debt. Singh’s challenges are numerous. Jack Layton’s Orange Wave in Quebec in 2011, appears set to virtually disappear to a combination of the Liberals, a more competitive Bloc Québécois and potentially the Conservatives. Worse, the surge in Green support is threatening to unseat the NDP as the traditional third party. However, all is not lost. Trudeau’s record provides the NDP with an opportunity to position the Liberals as ‘false progressives’, notably on issues like Transmountain pipeline and taxation. Yesterday’s promise by the NDP to implement a wealth tax provides a window into their strategy for this campaign.
Finally, it is worth noting that Singh could emerge from this campaign with fewer seats in Parliament but holding the balance of power in a minority government. Ergo, following NDP campaign policy proposals is important. On the other hand, if the campaign goes poorly the NDP faces the prospect of losing official party status (less than 12 seats) and being supplanted by the Greens as Canada’s third party.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, first elected in 2011, sees her party on the cusp of a potential breakthrough as the campaign begins. May will be hoping for a strong showing, particularly in British Columbia, where the Greens could show strength on Vancouver Island. She will be positioning her party as a strong and effective opposition to the Conservatives and Liberals in the hopes of wooing traditional NDP voters. With many Provincial Legislatures having elected Green members, May has legitimate hopes of being competitive across Canada. However, with that new opportunity also comes newfound scrutiny. The media and Canadians will be scrutinizing Green policies on a range of issues beyond the environment for the first time. This has already led to a few difficulties for May; for example, she has stated Green MPs could vote their conscience on hot-button issues such as abortion and national unity. Expect this scrutiny to heighten during the campaign. Whether or not May and her candidates can withstand the scrutiny will be the ultimate test of a Green breakthrough in 2019.
The Bloc is looking to re-establish itself in Quebec as a political force, keeping in mind the Party used to win the majority of seats in the Province and in 1993 was the Official Opposition. Expectations are not so lofty today, but under new Leader Yves-François Blanchet, there are hopes for 15-20 seats, which would be a significant improvement over the 10 the Bloc held in the last Parliament. The strength or weakness of the Bloc also creates unique vote split dynamics in Quebec and in some cases four or five-way vote splits mean someone can win with less than 30% of the vote, as happened in a few cases in the 2015 election.
People’s Party of Canada
This election will likely determine the fate of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) and its Leader, former Conservative Minister Maxime Bernier. While the PPC appears to have a national organization and is poised to have candidates running everywhere, they are lagging in the polls and have performed poorly in recent byelections. They have a couple former Conservative MPs among their candidates, but as of now, seem unlikely to win any seats except perhaps that of Bernier himself. If Bernier wins, the PPC may stick around and continue to build. If Bernier loses, the future of this party is very much in doubt.
As of today, most polls show a dead heat between the Liberals and Conservatives with the NDP and Greens fighting for third place nationally. The Bloc Québécois enjoy significant support in Quebec under an effective new leader, Yves- François Blanchet.
Were an election held today, the result would most likely be a strong Liberal minority government given Liberal strength in Ontario and Quebec, home to over half of all federal ridings.
In this atmosphere, campaign performances will be all-important. A shift of just 2 or 3 points over the next five weeks could put either the Liberal or Conservatives into a majority position. If all four parties remain locked at their current levels, we will be looking at a minority government backed by some combination of NDP, Greens and BQ. Justin Trudeau will need to re-discover some of his magic from 2015. Andrew Scheer must show voters that while he is just 40, seven years younger than Trudeau, he is ready now to lead.
Recent Polling Averages
Liberal – 33.8%
Conservative – 33.8%
NDP – 12.9%
Green Party – 10.7%
Bloc Québécois – 4.4%
People’s Party of Canada – 3.3%
Source: CBC Poll Tracker, September 10, 2019
The old maxim that campaigns matter will be especially the case in this campaign. While the odds are overwhelming that Canada will wake up on October 22 to a Conservative or Liberal Government, whether that Government is a majority or minority and who holds the balance of power is very much in doubt. The answer to these questions will likely be found in the key battlegrounds discussed above. Given the relatively high odds of a minority government, the positions of every party should be taken seriously over the next five weeks.
What This Means to You
All businesses and organizations should be reviewing their plans for the campaign period. For example:
- Have there been any policy statements or commitments already from any of the parties that cause concern?
- Do you have any planned announcements that could generate unwanted attention from the parties during the campaign?
- Do you have any positions or issues that you want addressed during the campaign?
- Are you positioned to respond quickly if your organization gets dragged in to the campaign or if a priority issue for your organization gains traction during the campaign?
- If you plan on being active during the campaign period, ensure you check with Elections Canada regarding their new rules around political advertising.
TSA is ready to assist you in helping to navigate these questions and issues, as well as any other issues that may arise during or after the federal election.