This week marks the one-year countdown to Canada’s next federal election (slated for Oct. 21, 2019), and while you might be thinking more short-term — finding a new pair of fall black booties, for instance? — political parties are swinging into gear. Here, answers to all your burning questions about the players, the parties, and the policies that will dominate the coming election cycle.
Wait, wait, wait… Burning questions?! Isn’t it a little early to be talking about October 2019?
Here’s the thing: You don’t need to stay on top of every breaking political news update for the next 365 days (unless you're a #cdnpoli junkie), but it’s equally sucky to wake up a week before election day with no clue how to cast your ballot. There is a happy medium! The best way to make sense of the coming onslaught of campaign coverage — what to read, what to ignore, and what to rage at — is to nail down the basics now.
Starting with the party leaders. Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will be looking repeat their 2015 victory, but the prime minister’s “shine has come off,” says Melanee Thomas, a poli-sci prof at the University of Calgary. Gone are the “dreamy Trudeau" sweaters and the novelty of a gender-balanced cabinet. Now Trudeau is dealing with controversies like the Trans Mountain Pipeline, plus a list of unmet promises (electoral reform, clean water access on reserves) and faltering ones, like the contentious National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Then there’s Andrew Scheer.
Exactly. Scheer has been the Conservative leader since the spring of 2017, but many Canadians still don’t know who he is. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is also struggling with name recognition, according to Thomas. Singh is the first person of colour to lead a major national political party — a history-making moment that raised hopes for the NDP. But he’s had a choppy ride, including recently losing his chief of staff.
So Trudeau’s basically got it locked-down then?
The Liberals are in decent shape to hold power. Canadians favour Trudeau as their prime minister by 40 per cent, Scheer by 21 per cent and Singh by a dismal 7 per cent, according to a recent Nanos poll. But it’s still too early to tell.
What do the Liberals need do to win?
In a word: turnout.
Trudeau’s meteoric rise from drama teacher to global leader rested on two key demographics: Women and Millennials, among whom voter turnout jumped 18 points between 2011 and 2015. Millennials are now the largest voting block, and Canadian women tend to vote more for left-leaning political parties. If those two groups show up to the polls, the Liberals are bound to benefit.
What about this new party I keep hearing about?
That’s the People’s Party of Canada. And aside from the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party, it’s perhaps the key small party to watch this year. Founded by Maxime Bernier, the People’s Party has a far-right ideology (and an oddly communist-sounding name) and will attempt to challenge the Conservatives.
What kind of far-right ideology are we talking about?
Bernier, a former Conservative MP, has attacked the Liberals for “extreme multiculturalism,” argued immigration is eroding Canadian identity, and claimed to be leading a movement of “intelligent populism.” Thomas sees him as part of a rising right-wing preoccupation with the idea of “pure Canadians.” (See: Toronto mayoral candidate and white nationalist Faith Goldy.)
Thomas says race will likely be politicized in 2019: “I think it’s coming, and I think it will come under the auspices of populism. So I’m watching Maxime Bernier.”
Meanwhile, Anna Esselment, chair of the department of political science at the University of Waterloo, expects Scheer to tread more lightly on immigration and identity (a contentious issue for the party given the Conservative's history of “barbaric cultural practices hotlines” and its attempt to ban niqabs at citizenship ceremonies).
Singh’s performance will be closely watched for what it says about race in the country as well. Namely: Will he face the typical challenges new leaders expect, Thomas asks, or will his candidacy bring evidence of “a racial dynamic we haven't probed the contours of yet?”
Let’s hope not. The world feels like it’s in crisis mode right now! Will that matter?
Elections aren’t typically won on foreign policy issues, but Esselment says that could change. (Ahem, Donald Trump.)
The Liberals might frame themselves as a progressive, global-warming conscious, multicultural rebuke to the international trends of nativism, xenophobia, protectionism, and right-wing populism, she said — a kind of Canadian beacon of light.
Yes! While voter turnout for Canadians 18 to 24 was the highest in a long time for the 2015 election, young Canadians are still the least likely the vote. Make your voice heard, and make sure you’re registered at elections.ca.