19 October: Canada Votes

by on 5 August, 2015

FrontCanadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made history, calling the Canadian federal election for Monday, 19 October.

This in itself is not history making, although the campaign period is: a whopping 78 days. Yes, 11 full weeks of campaigning, which beats some rather remarkable feats.

And this is all to the advantage of the incumbent conservatives.

Recent changes to election spending laws mean that, for every day above the mandated 37 days, the spending limit increases by $675,000.

This is to the benefit of the conservatives, as they have campaigned hard to raise funds. However, the bigger difficulty faced by other parties is that, if Stephen Harper finally gets his way and ends all public funding to parties, the smaller parties would need to borrow to keep up with the Tories. Well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe then the left would learn about the need for balanced budgets.

Consequently, according to an analysis by The Canadian Press of the parties’ financial returns to Elections Canada, the Conservatives, at a national level, had raised $20.1 million by the end of last year. The Liberals followed with $15 million and the NDP with $9.5 million.

This naturally places the conservatives at a natural advantage, and they will milk it for all it is worth, given the Parliament will increase from 308 ridings (seats) to 338, the increases coming in Ontario (15), Quebec (3), Alberta (6) and British Columbia (6). Ontario and BC can swing, Quebec is a dead zone for the conservatives, while Alberta’s current 28 MPs consist of 27 conservatives and a single New Democrat, although the recent Alberta election result, from which I may have celebrated the death of socialism a little prematurely, will give cause to rethink some electoral strategies in the west.

 

LEADER BIOS

 

Stephen Harper (Conservative, Calgary Southwest AB)

Stephen Harper revolutionised Canadian politics by repairing the chasm which erupted most spectacularly in 1993, as the Reform Party played a major role in seeing the incumbent Campbell Progressive-Conservative Government all but wiped out, going from a majority government to two seats. Harper briefly left politics after this conservative implosion, but returned as part of the Canadian Alliance, which later merged with the Progressive Conservatives to form the current Conservative Party.

Harper immediately took the reins of the new party, reducing Liberal PM Jean Chretien to a minority government, resulting in Chretien’s replacement by Paul Martin. In 2006, Harper secured a minority government of his own by defeating Martin. Harper then won an increased minority in 2008 before winning a majority in 2011 after being forced to an election for, of all things to result in a majority, being held in contempt of Parliament.

Since securing a majority, the Toronto native has implemented a diverse policy agenda, including abolition of the long form census, abolition of the long gun registry, beefing up support for Israel, increasing military capabilities, income splitting for families for the purpose of income tax, funding reductions for the CBC (ABC), increasing the eligibility age for the aged pension,  abolition of many government agencies from the era of Pierre Trudeau and increasing tax credits for families adopting children.

 

Thomas Mulcair (New Democrat, Outremont QC)

Thomas Mulcair came to the New Democratic Party via a lengthy stint in provincial Quebec politics. A lawyer by profession, he served in the Quebec legislature from 1994-2007, serving as  Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks from 2003-06 before resigning after being demoted to Minister of Government Services. Mulcair announced he retirement from the Quebec legislature on 20 February 2007, before announcing exactly two months later he would be running for the NDP at the next federal election.

Mulcair entered federal parliament as only the second ever NDP member from Quebec, and quickly rose through the ranks to become the late Jack Layton’s “Quebec lieutenant” and was elected co-deputy leader alongside Libby Davies (The NDP is a socialist party, after all). Following Jack Layton’s passing after the 2011 election, Mulcair became leader of an NDP caucus of 103 members, of whom 59 hailed from Quebec after the ‘orange wave’ wiped out the Bloc Quebecois.

Mulcair has had to deal with numerous defections away from the NDP, and was recently accused of shopping himself to the conservative party as an environmental advisor, a claim he strongly denies. Mulcair has campaigned most prominently on women’s rights and environmental policy, struggling to gain traction on economic policy.

 

Justin Trudeau (Liberal, Papineau QC)

Justin Trudeau is the eldest son of the most polarising figure of Canadian political history, later former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau the younger came to prominence as an orator after delivering a eulogy at his father’s funeral in 2000, although Justin continued his career as a public speaker and public school teacher before entering Parliament in 2008.

Justin has had a rapid rise to the Liberal leadership, serving as Liberal spokesman for Youth and Multiculturalism, Citizenship and Immigration, and Post Secondary Education, Youth and Amateur Sport before taking the leadership in 2013 in a race many believed to be over before it had begun.

Trudeau has been the target of an enormous amount of negative advertising from both the Conservatives and NDP, much of which has been ignored by the public due to the public’s knowledge of him from his pre-political days. However, Trudeau has also been responsible for some perplexing statements which have given cause for second thought, including his admission to smoking marijuana in breach of the law, claiming that tax cuts for all Canadian families is not fair, and expressing admiration for China’s dictatorship.

 

Gilles Duceppe (Bloc Quebecois, no riding QC)

Duceppe is an example of something we in Australia find completely bewildering to the extent it has happened but once: a party leader campaigning without a seat in Parliament. In defence of Campbell Newman, however, he at least knew what seat he would be contesting when the 2012 Queensland election was called. In contrast, Duceppe, at the time of publication is yet to confirm which riding he will contest.

Duceppe served in the House of Commons for 20 years, 15 of which were as leader of the Bloc Quebecois, a sovereigntest party with separatist tendencies, constantly and relentlessly focussed on achieving a better deal for Quebec. Duceppe was defeated convincingly in his former riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie in 2011 aftewr the NDP orange wave crushed the Bloc in the only province in which it contests seats.

 

Elizabeth May (Green, Saanich-Gulf Islands BC)

May was the first Greens MP to be elected to the House of Commons, after moving around searching for an in. She first ran for Parliament in 1980 in Nova Scotia before running again in Ontario in 2006 and Nova Scotia again in 2008, before finding her seat in British Columbia in 2011 (imagine Andrew Wilkie, except he found a seat on Rottnest Island after losing, rather than winning, in Denison if you need a geographic comparison).

May has found most prominence as an MP demanding equal airtime with other leaders in the leadership debates. However, May has also drawn attention for her personal opposition to abortion (Yes, it’s a true, a Greens MP who opposes abortion!), claiming that Stephen Harper’s inaction on climate change was akin to Chamberlain’s appeasing of Hitler, and a bizarre rant at a press gallery dinner in defence of Omar Khadr, which I am still trying to translate.

 

PARTY POLICIES

Rather than go into great detail on the party platforms, you can read a magnificent summary by the National Post here.

 

WHERE THE ELECTION WILL BE WON AND LOST

Bill Clinton wasn’t right about a whole lot, but he did get it right when he said it’s the economy, stupid. Although the Conservatives have the benefit of incumbency on their side, the Canadian budget isn’t tracking all that well. Stephen Harper has been making plenty of noises about the need for being restrained in terms of budget promises, although he has also been talking up the economy, creating some soundbite opportunities for opposition parties. Polling suggests that experience in Government is holding Justin Trudeau back, with the NDP favoured as best for the economy in recent polling. However, this has been put down to the Alberta NDP not totally screwing the provincial economy (yet), but if Alberta goes to hell within the next 11 weeks, Mulcair could be in for some trouble.

Naturally, given their proclivities on civil rights, both the NDP and Liberals avoided buying into the national security debate, which is always a big plus for any conservative party across the world. This is even moreso for Stephen Harper, who bought the media cycle back in February by introducing Bill C-51, his major anti-terror package. Harper won early support for the package, and drew total opposition from Thomas Mulcair, which was to be expected. What was not expected, though, was Justin Trudeau’s hand-wringing on the bill. Trudeau made much of the perceived flaws in the bill before announcing he would support the legislation. This put many in the party offside and turned them to the NDP, Trudeau unable, seemingly, to handle the nuances needed to guide a party which has not needed to stand for anything except being in power for the better party of a century.

Where the fight will get interesting above all, though, is on the question of leadership experience. Harper and Mulcair have their federal and provincial experience to fall back on, respectively, as they go toe to toe over policy questions. However, Trudeau has already found himself struggling against attacks on both sides for his inexperience. While the conservatives missed the mark early on given their attacks focussed on Trudeau’s charity fundraising efforts, the NDP took advantage by whacking Trudeau for needing on the job training. The latest effort from the conservatives, though, has found the mark, with polling for Trudeau going through the floor (although, apparently, it’s the people’s fault for being cynical…).

 

Provincial and territorial previews will be available over the coming weeks, but you can tune into the first leaders debate on Friday 7 August at 10am AEST by clicking here.

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