Mary Simon completed her first significant task as the newly installed Governor General yesterday, dissolving the 43rd parliament and issuing the writs for what has been a long-anticipated federal election.
The 44th federal election was not scheduled to take place until October 16, 2023, but Justin Trudeau and the Liberals will try to take advantage of solid polling numbers and the ‘halo effect’ that effective vaccine procurement and distribution has delivered to the party, in the hopes of securing a majority government.
At Rideau Hall on Sunday morning, Prime Minister Trudeau highlighted that the last 17 months have been like nothing we have ever experienced before, consequential decisions have been made, and Canadians should have the opportunity to weigh in on not just how the pandemic has been managed to date, but what the future looks like moving forward. In short, his justification for the election call yesterday, is that we are at a pivotal moment in history, and Canadians should have their say in how we end the pandemic and “build back better.”
Out of the gate, it’s clear that the tools which government might use to stamp out the remainder of the pandemic will feature heavily in the campaign, including conversations about mandatory vaccines and vaccine passports.
Why now? Timing is everything
The government’s ability to effectively procure vaccines was always going to feature prominently in their electoral chances, either now or down the line. Today, over 62 million vaccines have been delivered, 72 per cent of all eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated, 82 per cent of those eligible have at least one dose, and a plan to construct a domestic mRNA vaccine production facility was just announced. On vaccine procurement, the Liberals consider it mission accomplished (or at least, mission accomplished to date) and hope that in exchange for the jabs in shoulders they have delivered to Canadians, Canadians will in turn deliver an “X” beside the names of Liberal candidates on the ballot.
Further, with the talk of a fourth wave of the pandemic casting a long shadow over Canadians, the Liberals know they have a small window of opportunity in which a federal election could credibly be conducted. While we’ve seen pandemic elections across several provinces – and the incumbents rewarded– a federal campaign is always a bigger beast, and an outbreak in any region of the country will be of serious concern but will reinforce the opposition’s criticism that the Liberals’ motivation represents an opportunistic bid to secure a majority. If the looming fourth wave is like the last, case counts likely won’t begin to rise significantly until mid-fall, providing the Liberals the smallest of windows to act.
But why do we need an election, anyways? Events, dear boy, events
Canada, like all countries the globe over, has taken its lumps over the course of the pandemic. We’ve lost lives and livelihoods, and all Canadians have felt the pressures of lockdowns. The pandemic has left its mark on every inch of society and the economy, and while the current government’s response will no doubt be a topic of high relevance during the campaign, as vaccine distribution creates light at the end of the tunnel, this election may be more about how Canada will rebuild on the other side, and how each of the parties intends to do it.
For example, parties will have to detail to Canadians how they’ll deal with the fiscal toll the pandemic has imposed, including inflation; how they will build resiliency in our health care systems to ensure that from primary to emergency to long-term care, Canadians are protected; how we’ll build domestic capacity to manufacture critical goods; how we plan to bring the economy back to full steam, and; how Canada will respond to other threats that are lurking in the background, or as is climate change, already bearing down on us at full speed. The world changed forever with COVID-19 and this federal election will be a referendum on who Canadians can trust to take them through to the other side.
The Campaign Watch List
While it may yet be early to divine what the “ballot box question” will be, some of the issues we expect to see topping headlines and platforms alike are:
Health + Wellness: Health is currently front-of-mind for all Canadians, and how could it not be over 17 long months into a pandemic which has highlighted significant gaps in long-term care, mental health, and addictions treatment. While the Liberal government hasn’t moved on universal pharmacare, the issue of drug prices is certainly alive. Expect health to feature prominently.
Jobs: Much of the current $355 billion federal deficit is being driven by delivery of financial supports to individuals and businesses. Getting back some much need fiscal breathing room will necessitate bringing our job market back to life. Each of the parties has pledges to create one million jobs and no doubt we are soon to get some more meat on the bone outlining how they expect to do it.
Truth and Reconciliation: While reconciliation has been a high priority for Liberal government for some time, with the recent discovery of mass graves at residential schools, the issue is making waves across the whole of the public sphere. Issues around truth and reconciliation and the equity of Indigenous Peoples in Canada will certainly sit near the top of the agenda for all parties.
Innovation + Science: Vaccine development has put the benefits of investing in science front-and-centre for many. The Liberals recently announced a biomanufacturing and life sciences strategy and the Conservatives have released initial plans to invest in the creation of a Canada Advanced Research Agency. Expect all parties to frame innovation as a means of achieving much needed economic growth.
Domestic Supply Chain Resilience: The pandemic highlighted serious gaps in Canada’s ability to manufacture essential goods and exposed diplomatic fault lines where supply chain access was denied. Many countries, including Canada, are quickly realizing that in order to achieve dual goals of security and economic growth, enhanced levels of domestic manufacturing capacity will be necessary. Expect to hear words like on-shoring, re-shoring and ally-shoring a lot and expect all parties to put forth plans on what Canada can and should manufacture more of at home.
The Canada + U.S. Relationship: With the exit of Trump the Canada-U.S. relationship was expected to defrost, but there are still several issues keeping it thorny: Buy America, Line 5, and travel across the U.S. border. Any credible government will have a serious plan for dealing with our largest trading partner and closest ally, so expect the Canada-U.S. relationship to be a topic that comes up often.
Sustainability: The United Nations Secretary General sounded a global alarm this past week with the release of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that suggested the impacts of climate change are accelerating faster than anyone had predicted and without swift and coordinated action, the planet is at serious risk. Climate change credibility will be a necessity for any party to win in this election.
Heading into the campaign, here’s how we see each of the party’s priorities shaping up:
The Liberal Party
- Job #1: Win a majority government
- Priorities: Managing the pandemic; Jobs and economic growth; Affordability for the middle class; Climate change and clean energy; Childcare; Indigenous reconciliation; Status of women.
- Watch for: Both Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh like to spar – with a weakened Conservative Party and Singh’s popularity trending towards heavyweight, expect Trudeau will save at least a few haymakers for a surging Singh in the hopes that he can keep the NDP vote down for the count.
The Conservative Party
- Job #1: Win government
- Priorities: Jobs and economic recovery; Mental health; Accountability and ethics; Pandemic preparedness; Balanced budget over 10 years; Targeting rank and file union workers.
- Watch for: The Conservatives have positioned themselves early with the release of their Unleashing Innovation Plan – watch for them to take the reins on conversations about innovation as a key driver of economic growth and jobs. With a growing number of parties on the right side of the spectrum, also expect that leader Erin O’Toole will be watching his flanks to ensure the likes of the Maverick Party (formerly known as Wexit Canada) and People’s Party of Canada (PPC) aren’t siphoning off too many votes.
- Job #1: Keep up the momentum and grow their share of seats
- Priorities: Universal pharmacare and dental care; Curbing inequality; Supporting workers; Environment and climate change; Diversity, equity and inclusion; Affordable housing.
- Watch for: The NDP will put serious emphasis on pulling out the youth vote, where the NDP are particularly popular. Also watch for the NDP to highlight the role they played through the pandemic and frame it as forcing the government’s hand to increase and enhance the supports that were made available.
The Bloc Québécois
- Job #1: Be seen as the champion for Quebecers in Ottawa
- Priorities: Amplify Assemblée Nationale concerns in Ottawa; Benefit from François Legault’s popularity by supporting his issues; Climate change and the environment; culture.
- Watch for: The Bloc picked up a record number of seats in the last election – they currently hold 32 and see the Liberals as their biggest threat in the province. Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet will attempt to paint the Liberals as out of touch with the opinions of Quebecers on language, secularism and the environment as he tries to pick up seats, with a focus on Montréal.
The Green Party
- Job #1: Stop the bleeding and retain at least one seat
- Priorities: Environment and climate change; Transition to a green economy; social inclusion.
- Watch for: The Green Party has been their own worst enemy for months with infighting causing one MP to cross the floor and leader Annamie Paul’s future ever uncertain. To have any chance of retaining at least one of the two seats they currently occupy, the Green Party is going to have to come out with a new united front.