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Campaigns Matter in Canada Too

Canada’s Parliament is closing for the summer and the next election campaign has begun in earnest. While the official campaign start is on September 14 this year—gearing up for the country’s first fixed date election on October 19—the major political parties have actively been in election mode in the past year with ads, promises and blatant posturing.

In the past couple of weeks, national opinion polls from Ekos and Ipsos Reid have indicated a tight race across the three major parties—the Conservative Party of Canada (the Tories), the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberal Party of Canada (the Grits)—showing a strong possibility that Canada may end up with a minority government, come October.

The current governing Tories, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper have been in office since 2006. Their nine-year rule is facing the normal fatigue associated with a long tenure. Many of Harper’s key ministers have either left the scene, or about to depart political life. The government’s approval ratings have held steady between 20 and 30 percent—not a recipe for holding on to a majority government.  The numbers may spell the end of the Harper era.

Recently, the buzz in Canada has centered on official opposition leader Tom Mulcair and the NDP’s surge in popularity among constituents. New polls show the NDP in first place, followed by the Conservatives in second and the Liberals in third. For the first time ever, there is real speculation of a potential NDP government.

The recent NDP victory in the conservative province of Alberta (Canada’s equivalent of Texas) by new Premier Rachel Notley has created a shockwave across the country. Normally the third party in Canada’s House of Commons, and referred to in history as Canada’s socialist party; the NDP has morphed into a leading progressive force under the leadership of the late Jack Layton and his successor Tom Mulcair. With the NDP holding the majority of Québec’s federal seats (courtesy of the 2011 general election) and Alberta ousting 44-years of consecutive Conservative party rule provincially, Canadians who have generally been reluctant to vote for a NDP government at the federal level are now taking a closer look.

The third-party Liberals have generally led in the polls since Justin Trudeau became leader in the spring of 2013. Since the parliamentary vote last September on a resolution supporting the coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), where Trudeau sided with the NDP against participation in the coalition, the Liberal edge has essentially evaporated. The NDP seems to have become the agent of change, if Canadians choose to defeat the presiding Harper government. However, considering the Liberal Party’s history of governance (they governed Canada for most of the twentieth century), it is too early to predict the demise of the Trudeau team.

All this creates much political discussion and it is fair to say the 2015 campaign may be the most exciting in Canadian history. In recent days, the pro-Québec separatist party, Bloc Québécois, changed its leader to become more competitive in the upcoming Québec portion of the campaign. Former leader Gilles Duceppe has returned to take over the reins of the Bloc Québécois and this could confuse the electoral picture in Québec. However, at this stage, there is no consensus among political analysts as to which of the three major parties will be most affected by the Bloc’s presence.

No doubt the upcoming campaign will matter. Debates among the leaders will likely play a more decisive role than usual, and we can expect a greater number of them. Pundits will have a field day trying to predict what will happen if the NDP win the election? Will they have to form a coalition with the Liberals in a minority government situation? Can Harper, should he have the highest number seats, form a workable minority government of his own as he did from 2006-2011?

Is it still possible, despite the current polls, that a majority government can emerge?  At this stage, no one can accurately predict what will occur. The campaign will ultimately decide. More than ever before, we can say that campaigns matter.

*John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Canada, 2015 Canadian Election, New Democratic Party

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