Those of us who feel as though we have been living in perpetual election anticipation and/or recovery deserve to be forgiven. After all, in the past couple of years, we have lived through an American presidential election with shocking results, an Ontario provincial election from which we are still reeling, a Quebec provincial election with a sobering outcome, the Brexit vote(s) in England, a disturbing election in Brazil and more.
But, like it or not, Canadians head to the polls again; this time for a federal election, which will take place on October 21st. As the year begins, I find myself wondering what to expect.
Before we get to the excitement (or not) of the election proper, we have a starter to whet our appetites for what lies ahead. Prime Minister Trudeau is expected to call at least three by-elections sometime in the next few weeks, the outcomes of which could provide a hint of what to expect in the fall. These seats are vacant because the incumbent MPs have resigned: Outrement, Quebec, was held by former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, York-Simcoe, Ontario, was held by Conservative Peter Van Loan and Burnaby South, British Columbia, was held by NDP Kennedy Stewart, who resigned when he was elected mayor of Vancouver.
It is likely that York-Simcoe will remain in the hands of the Conservatives, but it is quite possible the NDP could lose both the seats it currently holds. The Burnaby South seat is of particular importance to the New Democrats, because it gives leader Jagmeet Singh the opportunity to finally claim a seat in the House of Commons. While he swept into the leadership position in October 2017, his popularity has been on a downslide ever since, so there are very real concerns that he may not win this by-election. A loss in what should be an easy-to-win by-election would have a significant impact on the NDP’s chances to gain or even hold seats in the fall election.
Populism vs democracy
We live in a time of increasing populism globally, from which we will not be immune as we begin several months of electoral posturing by all political parties, whose positions will be defined by the success of populist politicians in Canada and around the world.
Maxime Bernier, in creating his People’s Party, has not shied away from stating his populist leanings. He says his party will run candidates in all 338 ridings and, while the People’s Party is unlikely to win very many – or any – seats, far-right candidates will nonetheless have an impact on the outcomes in a number of ridings.
Who can you trust?
As in any election campaign, the issues politicians want to talk to us about are not necessarily the ones we want to talk about. Even when they are, official party platforms will do no more than skate across the surface of those issues, taking vague positions in an attempt to satisfy a broad spectrum of voters while not making any commitments that can’t be broken later.
Remember the last federal election, when Trudeau campaigned hard on a promise to introduce electoral reform? In 2015, he said:
“We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election to use first past the post.”
This commitment was reiterated in written campaign materials and, after the Liberals won a majority in the election, in the speech from the throne, by Trudeau and by Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef. And yet, within 18 months, Trudeau had completely abandoned the idea of electoral reform, saying it was no longer needed.
Especially given the outcome of B.C.’s recent referendum on electoral reform, in which 61% of those who voted rejected the idea, it seems unlikely that what should be the single most important election issue will cross the lips of any politicians between now and October 21st.
Taking care of business
One of the most frustrating realities of election years is that, for months before the election, real government business slows down and eventually grinds to a halt. Especially where the outcome of the election is uncertain, this means that important work already underway may never make it across the finish line. Bills that have not passed the Senate, for example, will die once the election period officially begins and, if the Liberals are not re-elected or lose their majority, are extremely unlikely to reappear.
Bill C-78, which will introduce important and positive reforms to Canada’s Divorce Act, is one such bill. It has passed First and Second Reading and the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has completed its hearings, but its legislative journey is far from over. It still must pass Third Reading in the House of Commons, then move to the Senate, where it goes through a similar process.
Now, before the election is officially underway, is the time for us to press politicians to move quickly on this and many other matters the government is currently working on.
Once those politicians hit the campaign trail, they will be too focused on the finish line of the election to pay much attention to what they promised to do when we elected them the last time.