With the campaign at mid-point and the debates about to begin, the leaders and their parties have reached a pivot point. They will each be deciding how to sharpen their attacks on each other to maximum effect and how to appeal to the demographics and regions they need to target to win. These considerations will play into the strategies and tactics each take into the debates and these closing weeks of the campaign.
A guide for watching the leaders’ debates
There will be three debates – two French and one English – over the next week. Given the closeness of the race, it is inevitable that they will be portrayed as potential game changers. The leaders and their teams will spend precious campaign time preparing for them and developing debate strategy to target potential pools of loose or switchable voters. It is a complex process because there are multiple audiences for debates looking for different things. Our Elly Alboim has managed debate preparations for leaders in three federal and three provincial debates. And as he explains, the biggest gap in expectations lies between loosely or uncommitted voters watching and the journalists who are assessing the debates. Trying to meet the demands of both is extraordinarily difficult even for seasoned political leaders, let alone for those facing the pressure of a national debate for the first time.
To read the full column on Carleton University’s Capital Currents, click here.
How voters decide
While voters may make their ultimate choice on emotional and less than rational judgements of the alternatives before them, when they finally decide, basically they are looking for an option that they believe is “most like me” and “most for me”. So far in the campaign, all three major parties have tapped into the growing concern about making ends meet and have focused on “affordability”.
But with a population historically divided between one-third looking to the future with optimism, an equal number believing they will be stagnating and a remaining one-third fearing they will be falling behind and moving backward, the evidence suggests that the “small ball” game that the parties are playing of offering boutique tax breaks to targeted segments of the population is unlikely to motivate voters in any meaningful way. Our own Allan Gregg, who has played a central role in over 50 campaigns in three continents, speculates on the kind of move that might shake things up.
To read Allan’s full piece click here.
Climate change issue heating up
Climate change and the environment moved to the forefront of the campaign last week after languishing in the background of affordability for the first three weeks. Polls have confirmed that the grave threats posed by a warming world are among the topmost concerns of Canadians, placing third only after perennial favourite health care and the cost of living. The Greens have moved up from fifth party fringe status to begin to challenge the NDP and have emerged as a significant factor in several key ridings, particularly on the two coasts.
It has taken a while for the issue to heat up, with parties rolling out their policies along somewhat established lines with few surprises. The Greens are proposing authentic and hard choices, but even they acknowledge they are not going to form government.
There is a telling intersection between the environment and what has emerged as the ballot question in this election—affordability and the cost of living. The likely reason for the reticence of the Liberals and Conservatives to be bolder on climate change is Canadians’ views on what they are prepared to pay to respond to its threats. A recent IPSOS poll reported that only 22 per cent are prepared to pay even a meagre $100 a year to combat global warming and roughly half of Canadians wouldn’t spend a penny.
The other news of the past week also was also environmental. Inspired by the teenage Swedish dynamo Greta Thunberg, hundreds of thousands of young Canadians rallied in cities across the country to demand that governments take global warming seriously and take real action. Last week’s climate protest events were impressive but as Velma McColl points out in the attached feature, the parties are still largely playing to their respective bases while also prospecting for support in vote-rich provinces. But there can be no doubt that the cross-country demonstrations send a loud and clear message—that a new generation is coming, and that it intends to be heard.
READ: Will climate change move votes in 2019? Earnscliffe’s Velma McColl specializes in navigating the shift to a low-carbon economy. As she points out, last week’s climate protest events were impressive and called for bolder action. In the attached feature, the parties are prospecting for support in vote-rich provinces, hoping that their climate change positions will expand their base.
VIEW FROM QUÉBEC: The debut French debate
By Marie-Josée Audet
The first French-language debate will take place Wednesday on TVA. This will be the first face-off between Prime Minister Trudeau against the other party leaders in this campaign. In total the Prime Minister has agreed to participate in two French debates and only one in English.
Most of the issues that will be raised are highly predictable: the balance between economic development and the protection of Québec’s environment, climate change, the controversial Bill 21, which bans the wearing of religious apparel, and immigration. More specific to Québec will also be the cultural exemption, media ownership, the taxation of internet giants FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) and the Francophonie.
Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh will face some challenges, with both largely unknown in large parts of the province and required to debate in their second language. Missing will be Elizabeth May and Maxime Bernier, but the shadow of Bernier will loom as questions around the constitution and immigration will be front and centre.
With 78 federal ridings, Quebec is key to forming government. There has always been an unpredictable nature to politics in la belle province with Québécois voting reactively and often in direct contrast to the rest of the country. This is what happened with Brian Mulroney in 1984 and during the “orange crush” of 2011, when the intensity and magnitude of support for Jack Layton surprised so many. Québecois voted with their hearts, parking votes with NDP candidates, some of whom had no political experience.
In this election, Bloc Québécois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet is running a strong campaign and with polls showing the BQ may well have a chance to double their seats, returning to official party status. Though not close to the success of 1993, when the Bloc formed the official opposition, Blanchet might well achieve a new lease on life for his party that seemed impossible only a few short months ago.
Quebec Premier François Legault is also injecting his voice into the campaign, seeking concrete answers from the future federal government. The Premier wrote letters to each leader reminding them that Bill 21 is a Québec law and that federal parties should not meddle with it. He also asked his ministers not to support any party. The CAQ government will continue asserting themselves.
An important part of the Québec political conversation happens around Quebec’s political talk show Tout le monde en parle (TLMEP). Bringing in an audience of around 1.2 million viewers every Sunday night, TLMEP’s audience is greater than any of the English national newscasts. And as a result, the show has a real impact on elections, and on the week’s discussions, both in newspapers and during Monday morning coffee breaks. Andrew Scheer appeared on the September 29th broadcast and was challenged by the host, who shared his concerns with Conservative policies on the proposed National Energy Corridor, taxes on Web-Giants, and his personal position on same-sex marriage. Justin Trudeau’s turn will come before the election and it may be an important cultural moment to secure the hearts and minds of Québécois in the final days of the campaign.
Next week we will provide more on a regional breakdown of the Québec races.
VIEW FROM ALBERTA: Alberta voters are mad as hell
This is a pivotal election, at least in the minds of those in Alberta’s oil and gas sector. There is real frustration and anger in the air toward the federal Liberals and in many corners, Justin Trudeau is deeply disliked. Rightly or wrongly, his policies are blamed for Alberta’s failure to recover from a five year-long economic slump.
This is also the election where Alberta voters may have a hand in determining who forms the next government. With projections showing an almost even seat count nationwide between the Liberals and Conservatives, Alberta’s five swing ridings may even decide who gets the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office, a thought that will warm the hearts of disenchanted Alberta Conservatives.
These electoral districts are currently in the hands of four Liberal MPs and one NDP MP. It’s possible and even likely that all of them will swing to the Conservative Party on election day. The 2015 Trudeau wave ebbed long ago. In 2019 Liberal candidates must defend his record in an economically depressed province that is used to leading the country in economic growth. They have a steep hill to climb.
- Calgary Centre is held by former Liberal Cabinet Minister Kent Hehr. In 2015 he narrowly took the seat back from the Conservatives, partially on the strength of his own name as a provincial MLA and partially because of the Trudeau wave. Since then Mr. Hehr and the Prime Minister have both been tainted by controversy but Hehr is a relentless campaigner with a big team. The Calgary Centre Liberals believe they are still in the race. It will be close. We give the edge to the Conservative candidate, Greg McLean.
- Calgary Skyview incumbent, Darshan Kang, also won election on the 2015 Liberal wave but this time he is running as an independent having left the Liberal caucus amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Former journalist Nirmala Naidoo will carry the Liberal banner and Jagdeep Sahota is the Conservative candidate. Ms. Sahota is likely to be the new Conservative MP from Calgary Skyview.
- Amarjeet Sohi is Alberta’s last remaining Liberal cabinet minister and a vocal supporter of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. He is also blamed for Liberal failings. He is up against former Conservative cabinet minister Tim Uppal. Last time Sohi won by less than 100 votes. Every indication is that Tim Uppal will return to Parliament.
- Randy Boissonnault is the one-term Liberal M.P. for Edmonton Centre. He also carved out a reputation as a pit bull defender of the Liberal Government’s decision to demote Judy Wilson Raybould from her role as Justice Minister. But this is not an easy riding for Conservatives either where their support tops out in the low forties. The NDP in this riding have a strong campaign. They could steal votes from the Liberals and deny Boissonnault re-election. A narrow edge to the Conservative candidate, James Cumming.
- NDP MP Linda Duncan is retiring from politics, meaning Edmonton Strathcona is both wide-open and very divided with big blocks of support for the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals. The University of Alberta is also in the riding, suggesting that the Greens may have a strong presence in this election. While polling suggests that Conservative candidate Sam Lilly is leading, this riding is likely to remain in play until election day.
In the next three weeks, a lot can and will happen but don’t be surprised if all 34 electoral districts in Alberta go Conservative on election day. That would send a message that would be hard to misinterpret.
VIEW FROM THE PRAIRIES: Election 2019 on “The Prairies”
For those living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it is now accepted, sometimes with minor irritation, to see both provinces lumped together in public opinion polls as “The Prairies.”
Prairie people get to share this slight with the Maritimes; not big enough to have their own province-by-province breakdown, but a lump sum total of those who live “out there, near the water.” In the prairies’ case, it’s “out there where the wheat grows.”
This could lead one to conclude that there is homogeneneity of thought and action on political matters. In the politics of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, nothing could be further from the truth.
The election of 2019 sees a much different set of factors affecting each province’s attitudes, awareness levels, and expectations for this year’s election.
A near-constant drum beat on the federal carbon tax, lack of vigorous support for pipelines and opposition to Bill C-69–the federal legislation that recently changed how major resource projects are assessed and approved—remain looming factors in Saskatchewan, driven loudly by former Premier Brad Wall and sustained by his successor, Premier Scott Moe, but these issues do not necessarily carry the same level of angst in Manitoba.
That said, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, did announce this summer the province would continue its lawsuit against the federal carbon tax, despite losses in courts in Saskatchewan and Ontario in similar cases earlier this year.
One of the principal differences between the two provinces is the fact the Manitoba (to be clear, Winnipeg) voted for the Liberals in 2015 in record numbers sending seven Winnipeg-based members to Ottawa.
The reasons partially lay in the fact that Manitoba, unlike Saskatchewan, has a legacy of voting Liberal federally. The Liberals did elect five MPs in 1993 in Saskatchewan, but that election represented a tectonic shift away from the Progressive Conservative Party; it was not an affirmation or deep – seated, lasting affinity for the Liberals.
In Manitoba, high-profile cabinet ministers like Lloyd Axworthy and the late Reg Alcock delivered popular federal government funding and programming to the province over the years. Stronger Francophone roots also played a role in the Liberals maintaining toe-holds in ridings, particularly in St. Boniface-St.Vital even during lean years for the party.
Saskatchewan was able to return only one Liberal in 2015, the seemingly ever-electable, Ralph Goodale, to Ottawa for his 8th consecutive election since 1993.
So, what happens this year?
There are no Conservatives in peril in this election in either province. The peril lies in urban areas for both Liberals and New Democrats where the Tories will try to unseat vulnerable New Democrats and Liberal members. Sheri Benson – NDP, Saskatoon West, is one such seat where the Conservatives are pushing hard to unseat her.
In the northern riding of Desnethé—Missisippi—Churchill, Saskatchewan Liberals have high hopes for star candidate Tammy Cook-Searson, five-time Chief of the Lac la Ronge Indian band. Expectations are that she will win, potentially doubling the number of Liberal seats in the province from 1 to 2. In spite of a concerted and visceral anti-Goodale pre-election billboard campaign in Regina, there is anecdotal evidence that he remains in reasonably good shape.
Liberals and New Democrats in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan have their hands full this election. Pallister and Moe have helped frame a federal election ballot question astutely, asking NDP and Liberal supporters how in a sputtering economy one could support the thickening of the regulatory environment, tepid support for pipelines, and a carbon tax that does nothing to alleviate climate change, but only is used as a political battering ram.
The urban-rural divide, as it has in years past, will not abate this time in either province. If fact, it’s likely we’ll see even more blue on that “The Prairies” map in this election than in 2015.
Fun with figures
Two parties released detailed costing of their platforms last week, the Greens and the Liberals.
The Greens’ document was an eight-page roll-up of the costs and benefits of their promises running through the 2023-24 fiscal year, which detailed 86 spending promises and 16 revenue changes. The platform calls for $69.9 billion in “spending changes” against $62.2 billion in new government revenues for the coming fiscal year, resulting in a deficit of $22.7 billion, but the budget would be balanced with a modest surplus by 2023-24.
Not included in the Greens’ estimates were the cost implications of two major initiatives, bringing in a guaranteed “livable income” for elderly and unemployed Canadians and phasing out oilsands production. Worse news was the judgement of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), which evaluated the party’s plans. PBO that rated ten of the party’s estimated price tags as having “moderate uncertainty” and another 13 promises as coming with “high uncertainty.” Other observers noted that the Greens’ costing was “riddled with errors” prompting the party to promise revisions “in due course.”
The Liberals tabled their full platform on Sunday along with PBO costing numbers. Their new investments in 2020-21 would total $9.3 billion and rise to $17 billion by the end of the new mandate. This would cause the deficit to increase to $27.4 billion for the next fiscal year, but it would decline to $21 billion in 2023-24. Under the Liberal plan, the federal debt-to-GDP ratio continues to decline, moving down from 30.9 per cent next year to 30.2 per cent four years hence.
Not included in the Liberal costing document was the commitment to bring in a national pharmacare program on the grounds that necessary expenditures will not be known until negotiations with provinces and territories are completed. The Liberals did launch some new promises with the platform release, including an increase in the maximum annual money available under the Canada Student Loans Program for $3,000 to $4,200 and a two-year interest payment holiday or until a graduate’s earnings reach $35,000 per year. The federal minimum wage will also rise to $15 per hour starting next year.
The Liberals are proposing a new tax on global digital companies with annual world-wide revenues of $1 billion and Canadian earnings of at least $40 million—a three per cent tax on income generated through the sale of online advertising and user data. They will apply sales tax to digital company products sold in Canada—the “Netflix tax” that both Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper both promised not to pursue. The Liberals also promised to review tax measures that “disproportionately benefit Canada’s wealthiest individuals and large corporations.” The PBO analysis warned that the platform’s projections for these new revenues come with a high degree of “uncertainty.”
This week’s polls
Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have broken out of the neck-and-neck race and remain consistently within a point or two of each other on the national numbers. Immediately in the wake of Friday’s climate change protests, one polling company (and so far, only one) had the Green Party up at least three percentage points, which would have it virtually tied with the NDP. As a result, that pollster showed the increased Green support coming from the Liberals. As we enter the third week of the campaign, it will be important to verify whether the Green Party rise is a trend or a blip and to consider the respective ramifications.
Election 2019 key dates
- October 2, 2019 – TVA French-Language Leaders Debate
- October 7, 2019 – Advance Polls Open
- October 7, 2019 – English-Language Leaders Debate
- October 10, 2019 – French-Language Leaders Debate
- October 21, 2019 – Election Day