In advance of the fall election, and on schedule, Trans Mountain Corporation – now federally owned – has begun letting contractors know the project will be proceeding this fall so that they can put together the necessary workforce and supplies to complete the project. In Alberta especially, it is expected that the project could provide a needed economic boost after years of decline. In some parts of British Columbia, approvals are still needed, but at marine terminals where product can be shipped out, work will begin immediately to lay the groundwork for a completed pipeline. It is expected that by the end of 2019 over 4,000 workers will be on the job in some fashion.
The Conservatives have been highly critical of the timing, noting that with an election looming it seems convenient that a government-controlled corporation would pick now to ramp up activity. Polling remains limited on what, if any, effect the announcement could have on the election. Following another week of scandal in which the Ethics Commissioner released a report finding that the prime minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act, the two leading parties remain locked in a dead heat for control of the House of Commons later this fall.
There is no question that the Conservatives and the Liberals are preparing for what could be the most divisive – and nasty – election in Canadian history. Not only will both sides look to attack the shortcomings of party platforms, but an already personal campaign will see leaders attacking each other’s personal convictions with even greater frequency.
The Liberals have recently seen support drop among women, a key demographic for their reelection. Justin Trudeau’s popularity has been low among men, and high turnout among women will be a top priority, particularly in urban ridings. Given that his popularity with women has fallen since he kicked former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould from the cabinet, and seeing high-profile women caucus members resign, his best bet will be to paint the Conservative leader as a much worse choice on women’s issues. The Liberals’ efforts to surface evidence
that Andrew Scheer would reopen the abortion debate, or curtail LGBTQ+ rights and programs, will ramp up over the weeks ahead.
The Conservatives, for their part, have been more even-handed with their personal treatment of Trudeau. In 2015, the Conservatives attacked Trudeau’s inexperience, his heir apparent privilege as the son of a former prime minister, and even his hair in an attempt to drive down support and paint him as less than serious. In some circles there has been a sense that those tactics backfired and looked desperate to an electorate that needed very few excuses to look for a change. As such, the party’s reluctance to personally attack Trudeau has led to a stronger focus on overall affordability challenges that the carbon tax, among other initiatives, is creating for Canadians. Political onlookers in Ottawa have reason to believe that this is the setup for attacks that could contrast Andrew Scheer’s humble roots with Justin Trudeau’s wealth and privilege.
Pollsters will be delivering more results for pundits, reporters and citizens to chew on as the weeks leading to election day dwindle. It remains important to look at the election not as one national vote, but as 338 individual elections where different issues, candidates and the mood of local voters matter.
Just as an MP can be elected with far less than half of voters in their riding supporting them, so too can a federal party win a majority or minority government without necessarily winning the national vote. The Conservatives see their base of support concentrated in the Prairies. The 62 seats in all of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are just nine more than the 53 located in the Greater Toronto Area, where the Liberals have held a steady lead. Keeping other trends in mind, even if the surge of the Greens in popular support does not translate into many more seats, it could soften support for the Liberals from coast to coast. At the same time, sluggish support for the NDP on the left wing of the political spectrum could result in strategic voting from progressives who do not wish to see Andrew Scheer elected.
The one thing we know for certain is that after the election it will be crucial to turn the attention of the next government to supporting growth and infrastructure as storm clouds gather over the global economy.