Federal election guide 2021 How political parties Canada

Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare

An analysis of the party platforms ahead of a very important election.

Say what you will about Trudeau’s timing for calling an election this Sept. 20 amidst a rising fourth wave of COVID and a stressful back-to-school season — the results of this plebiscite will undoubtedly have a major impact on our lives for the next few years. The ongoing pandemic, the urgent need to act on climate change, the shocking discoveries of the unmarked graves of indigenous children at former residential schools, the soaring cost of housing in Canadian cities and increasing evidence of systemic race- and gender-based discrimination are just some of the headlines of a society that feels more on the brink than any time in living memory. 

We’ve read through the platforms of the four leading federal parties, focusing on the most substantive differences. We won’t be discussing the leaders’ personalities, hair-dos or whatever gossip you may have heard in the media, just their election promises as stated on their websites and platform documents — whether you believe they’ll come through on these promises is another matter.

So here it is, a last-minute election guide for a last-minute election.

Liberal Party

Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare
Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party (Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare)

Support for Trudeau’s pandemic response has waxed and waned since March 2020 — not only in relation to specific decisions but also to people’s general capacity to keep their shit together as each new wave has emerged. What could be seen as a reasonably good track record, considering the circumstances, may, after a summer reprieve and subsequent fourth wave, be seen by some in a less generous light. It’s anyone’s guess how long the Libs will extend their popular CRB program if re-elected, but popular opinion seems more concerned about the ongoing labour shortage and the cost of housing. Their new 26-week EI program for self-employed workers is intended to fill gaps in the social security net exposed during the pandemic, but we won’t have details on that until January — if they get re-elected.

Nonetheless, the Liberals have made many specific promises that will appeal to progressive voters: eliminating student debt interest and raising income thresholds for repayment, raising corporate taxes for financial institutions, an “anti-flipping” tax for housing speculators, increased funding for the CBC/Radio-Canada and even free tampons in federally regulated workplaces! Their 2021 platform builds on ongoing policy items like their 10-year plan to end gender-based violence, plans to remove charity status from anti-abortion groups and Quebec-style $10-a-day public childcare (in the next five years). They have also created a series of new policy commitments including a national plan on combating hate (to be released next year) and a critical review of the RCMP.

Environmentalists will be cautiously pleased to see that party rhetoric seems to have decisively moved away from pandering to the Alberta oil industry, with plans to end federal subsidies for fossil fuel industries by 2023 and end sales of gas-fueled cars by 2035 among a series of plans that will supposedly bring us to net zero emissions by 2050.

For the complete Liberal platform, please visit the party’s website.

Conservative Party

(Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare)
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party (Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare)

The Conservative Party platform emphasizes above all restarting the economy in a post-COVID Canada. They claim they’ll curb the fourth wave through faster testing “regardless of vaccination status” and provide immediate support to small businesses in hard-hit sectors through loans, tax credits, wage subsidies for new hires and targeted measures like, for instance, covering part of restaurant bills for dine-in customers. They believe it’s necessary to reduce or cut COVID emergency benefit payouts as soon as possible. They also plan to have “gig economy employers” pay into an EI scheme for self-employed workers.

Their platform states that Health Canada needs to “partner with the private sector rather than over-rely on government.” The bulk of the Conservative educational commitments revolve around job training in skilled trades funded ostensibly by tax credits and loans. They’ll also appoint a “Minister Responsible for Red Tape Reduction” to make sure that major (natural resource) projects don’t get bogged down in lengthy (environmental) assessment processes. Using rhetoric reminiscent of Cold War hardliners, they’re committed to safeguarding Canadian interests from the looming menace of the Chinese Communist Party by promoting “free trade with free nations” (like the Commonwealth, Israel and the Emirates). While the Conservative party won’t regulate access to abortion, they are planning on creating a National Adoption Strategy and hiring additional RCMP officers to combat gang violence and locate “crime guns.” They’ll also enact legislation to prevent protesters from blockading major transportation infrastructure. 

The Conservative Party acknowledges the need to fight against climate change, but not at the expense of Canadian jobs. They are unique among the major parties in asserting that they will not phase out the fossil fuels industry in the foreseeable future. They intend to build the Trans Mountain pipeline and other pipelines to export Canadian oil and more broadly commit to ending the “political targeting of the Western Canadian energy industry.” After all, Canada only produces 2% of the world’s emissions, unlike “the world’s worst polluters” (specifically China). They’ll replace the Liberal carbon tax plan with a Personal Low Carbon Savings Account so that “Canadians can do their part to fight climate change in the way that works best for them.”

For the complete Conservative platform, please visit the party’s website.

New Democratic Party (NDP)

(Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare)
Jagmeet Singh, NDP (Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare)

The NDP steers clear of overtly criticizing Trudeau’s handling of COVID-19 in their platform (in stark contrast to the Conservatives). The guiding principle of their plan is, however, that the pandemic has exposed serious cracks in the social safety net and welfare of ordinary Canadians and that we shouldn’t go back to the pre-pandemic status quo. One of their most substantial promises is to fast-track a $10-billion investment in a federal public pharmacare program. They also allude to extending Medicare coverage to dental and eye care and generally combatting the privatization of health services. Their housing platform is similar to the LIberals: they suggest putting in place measures to tax foreign property investors, to lower mortgage payments and alleviate closing costs. They do place more emphasis on social housing and co-op housing, although their promise to construct 500,000 units of housing concerns the ever-elusive and ill-defined “affordable” housing.

They’ve tried to one-up the Liberals in education by offering lower tuition fees, a shift towards a grants-based rather than a loans-based student financing solution, as well as a “targeted” $20,000 student debt forgiveness program. Like the other parties, their EI platform is a little vague, although they claim they’ll make sure no one under the scheme receives less than $2,000 per month. In the long run, the NDP wants to move towards what they call “a guaranteed liveable income” for all Canadians. Their childcare program is virtually identical to that of the Liberals, although they claim they would institute it immediately rather than in five years.

In terms of fighting climate change, the NDP want to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 (vs. 2005 levels) — that’s 10% more than the Liberals (we think “10% more than the Liberals” might be a better platform slogan than “Ready for Better”). In a more quantifiable promise, they’ve said they want to double public transit funding and make all public transit electric by 2030.

For the complete NDP platform, please visit the party’s website.

Bloc Québécois

Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare
Yves-François Blanchet, Bloc Québécois (Federal election guide 2021: How political parties in Canada compare)

The Bloc Québécois have prepared a colourful 29-page pamphlet for their “election platform” this year — presumably they’ll use their considerable access to the francophone media to fill in any gaps. The #1 issue for them to get us out of the pandemic is, of course, by increasing the health transfer payments from the federal government to Quebec and other provinces. They’ll also weigh in on the living conditions of the elderly, the labour shortage and the state of the French language in Canada from time to time. While no federal party seems interested in seriously challenging Legault’s approach to “laïcité,” you can be sure that the Bloc will use however many seats they manage to scrape up in this election to prevent the feds from intervening in that matter. Oh, and they plan on carefully monitoring House of Commons debates to highlight any grievous instances of “Quebec-bashing.”

For the complete Bloc Québécois platform, please visit the party’s website.

So who should you vote for?

If you believe that creating jobs in all industries (including fossil fuels) is the best strategy for post-pandemic recovery, then you might as well vote Conservative — there may even be a tax credit in their platform just for you. 

Jokes and cynical comments aside though, there are a number of strategic factors you may wish to consider when you cast your ballot. Current polling has the Conservatives leading in the popular vote, with the Liberals leading by a very narrow margin in terms of seat projections. On the Island of Montreal, many ridings are narrowly led by the Liberals. If we believe the polls, any ridings in this city that go to the Bloc or NDP will deprive the Liberals of seats they badly need to prevent a minority Conservative government.

For left-wing voters, the NDP articulates a much less incrementalist and more ambitious platform in matters of social justice, environment and welfare than the Trudeau Liberals. That said, the NDP’s 100-page platform is painfully short on specific details for how they would implement the vast majority of these promises. That’s understandable, seeing as no pollster sees any statistical probability of that party forming the government. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have a remarkably “detailed plan” (one of the slogans of their platform) to bolster fossil fuel industries and roll back Liberal progress (however timid or limited) in combating climate change.Their platform broadly ignores LGBTQ issues and explicitly endorses a tough-on-crime approach, among other priorities outlined above.

The question really comes down to if you think the current Liberal government is so incapable of rising to the unprecedented challenges of our era that they need to be brought down, whatever the cost. Some may believe that building support for a more genuinely progressive party like the NDP will be more beneficial in the long run than propping up another Liberal minority, even if it means a Conservative minority in the short term.

This snap election has somewhat forced our hand in making that call. ■

To check your voter registration status and for more information about the forthcoming vote, please visit the Elections Canada website.

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