On Oct. 21, we face a federal election with different characteristics than the previous one in 2015. We’ve had four years under Trudeau’s Liberals, and while the parties present ideological differences, this election is in large part a plebiscite on the incumbent Prime Minister’s re-election. In this run-down, we’ll look at the five highest polling parties, their outlook this year and why you might want to vote for them.
After a long period of decline during the Harper years, the federal Liberals seemed to be returned to glory in 2015. Justin was the darling of the international press, and the government he led stood in stark contrast to Trump south of the border with its large-scale reception of Syrian refugees, a gender-equal cabinet and planned deficit with increased social spending.
The honeymoon ended not long after: environmentalists and frackers alike were disillusioned with the TMX pipeline purchase, while the SNC-Lavalin affair brought back the taste of past Liberal corruption scandals and various PR flops, ranging from the ridiculous to the downright offensive (ahem “brownface” — see Toula Drimonis’s excellent editorial for cultmtl.com on that topic), have tarnished Justin’s public image.
Despite a substantial cool-down in Liberal popularity, polls suggest that Trudeau will get a second term and that we may keep a majority Liberal government. Many voters believe in the party, which is adamantly pro-choice, supports a carbon tax, has increased funding for social programs and accepted the largest number of new immigrants since World War I. Strategic voters may simply want to avoid Andrew Scheer’s Trump-inspired conservatism at all costs, and see the Liberals as their best bet — especially those living under Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford, who has probably done more damage to the Conservative campaign than any other single factor.
Why vote for the Liberals?
They have the most specific pro-immigration targets.
They are proposing national pharmacare.
While they have selectively supported pipeline projects, they have a plan that would exceed the Paris agreement targets and a carbon tax that would be one of the most ambitious in the world if enacted.
They have made the largest commitment to public transit funding, including Montreal’s REM and blue line extension.
They are in the best position to ensure that Andrew Scheer doesn’t get elected.
If you asked any analyst in 2015 what the Conservatives needed to win this year’s election, they would have answered “a major scandal.” They got that with the SNC-Lavalin affair, and for a hot second, it seemed like Trudeau was on the way out. While polls show them tying the Liberals in popular support, most have suggested for the past few months that it’s very unlikely the Conservatives will form the government. This is by far the closest race in over a decade though, and it’s still early days.
There has long been an adage in Canadian politics that the Conservatives and Liberals both straddle either side of an ultimately centrist platform, but this has never been less true. Andrew Scheer’s party says no to a carbon tax and wants to accelerate pipeline construction. They strongly prefer a hard-on-crime approach to gun bans and believe it’s up to provinces to reduce the cost of public healthcare. Perhaps their most dramatic social ideology concerns immigration. Like the Harper conservatives, they want to prioritize economic immigration and private sponsorship, but they also want to crack down on illegal border crossings and put in place more scrutiny for refugee claimants. If Scheer does get elected, a clear majority of the country would be under Conservative governments, with right-leaning parties in power in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and PEI — this would likely mean a more thorough alignment of Canadian politics with those south of the border.
Why vote for the Conservatives?
If you believe that lowering taxes and the deficit are more important than increasing health and social transfers.
If you want more active government support for pipeline development and don’t believe in a carbon tax.
If you’re on the centre-right and don’t trust Trudeau.
Note that this guide doesn’t cover the right-wing People’s Party of Canada, which splintered off the mainstream party in 2018. Polls suggest that while their leader Maxime Bernier may keep his seat, they’re unlikely to get more seats — suffice to say that they may dilute the Conservatives’ popular vote by attracting a small group of libertarians and climate change skeptics who have (even more) hardline views on immigration.
New Democratic Party
The NDP have fallen in popularity substantially since their high-water mark in the 2011 election with Jack Layton, where they replaced the Liberals as the official opposition for the first time in their history. The collapse in support for the party has been felt more strongly in Quebec than anywhere else in the country, and the “orange wave” seems not to have amounted to much in the long-term. Current polls suggest that they may lose all their seats here and several seats elsewhere in the country.
As they’ve resumed their traditional position as a third party, they’ve doubled down on social democratic campaign promises (in 2015, they leaned more to the centre than Trudeau’s Liberals in many areas). They’re currently promising a federal childcare program, a transition towards free tuition and public pharma dental, eye and hearing coverage. They want to build half a million affordable housing units, which is five times what the Liberals have promised. They haven’t made any specific promises in terms of immigration, but they do want to scrap the Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S. It’s a bold move that would likely stir up a diplomatic hornet’s nest down south — given the small chances of the NDP forming government, they have the luxury of making such suggestions.
The NDP have attempted to distinguish themselves from the Liberals in their climate change plan, although current leader Jagmeet Singh has flip-flopped on the Trans-Mountain project in the past year. In principal, the party believes fracking and the oil industry should be phased out, and they support the carbon tax.
Why vote for the NDP?
They are proposing the largest public healthcare coverage.
They support social housing more than any other major party.
They have promised national childcare and a transition to free tuition.
If you are left-leaning and believe that the SNC-Lavalin scandal and pipeline fiasco have irrevocably tarnished Trudeau’s accountability.
If you don’t believe in strategic voting and would rather see a minority coalition of parties than a majority Liberal government.
Elizabeth May has embodied the Green Party in Canada since she obtained the party’s first seat in Parliament in 2011. As their name suggests, the party has traditionally put their environmental priorities front and centre, while supporting a mix of right- and left-wing ideas in other policy areas. According to polls, the Green Party now rivals the declining NDP in popular support, with around a 10th of national voting intentions. They may take more than a handful of seats in B.C. and other provinces, suggesting that the NDP’s traditional position in the balance of power may be shaken up in coming elections.
Predictably, the Greens have the most hardline platform on climate change, suggesting a pipeline moratorium, a ban on fracking and an end to fossil fuel imports and subsidies. They roughly mirror the NDP in terms of some social programs, proposing universal childcare, free tuition and some pharma and dental care, although their housing promises are less grandiose than the NDP, and they haven’t made specific public transit commitments. The party wants to balance the budget via an increase in corporate taxes and taxes on foreign tech giants, an area where they go further than the mainstream parties.
Why vote Green?
They have the most ambitious environmental platform.
If you think the environment is the most important issue, ahead of social programs.
With the orange wave in 2011, it seemed as though the Bloc Québécois had lost all relevance. That year, they passed from 47 to 4 seats and haven’t managed official party status since. This election, polls suggest they may share the spoils of the declining NDP in Quebec with the Conservatives. Their campaign promises are of a different nature than the other parties, as the existential basis of the Bloc is to fight for Quebec in Ottawa, rather than form a federal government.
If they somehow resume the position they held in the province during Gilles Duceppe’s glory days, they would support a harder carbon tax, oppose pipelines and call for Quebec veto powers on them. They also want larger health and education transfers to the provinces. The Bloc under leader Yves-François Blanchet hedges their bets on matters of immigration, stating that the Safe Third Country agreement should be scrapped, but that Quebec should be exempt from the Multiculturalism Act.
Why vote for the Bloc?
They are anti-pipeline and pro-carbon-tax.
If you believe that Quebec should be an independent country or have more powers in terms of immigrant selection and tax collection. ■
To find out how to register to vote, whether you’re already registered, where to vote in advance or on election day (Oct. 21) — and what ID you need to register and to vote — go to the Elections Canada website.