The #43 federal election is well underway.
The Liberal and Conservative party leaders have traveled the country with their national tour, posting to their social feeds and targeting identified supporters. Local candidates are busy with their respective campaigns in generating a ground game to mobilize supporters. Against this backdrop public opinion polls, including that undertaken by H+K, demonstrate a low level of interest and engagement in the election to date. Some pundits have already started to forecast lower than normal voter turn-out which bodes well for the incumbent government.
So what has influenced voter turn-out in other elections? Debates? A gaffe by a party leader and/or the campaign? Or a lack of understanding by the mainstream media about what voters are really talking about?
This is where the ‘other’ (or, ‘fourth’) parties come into play. These ‘fourth’ parties are looking for at least 12 seats – the magic number to join the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP in gaining official party status, money for researchers and increased Parliamentary profile.
In this election, we have three party organizations considered to be ‘fourth’ parties: the Bloc Quebecois, led by Yves Francois Blanchet, the new People’s Party of Canada led by Max Bernier and the Green Party of Canada led by the long-serving leader, Elizabeth May. While each of these parties work to run candidates in every riding, have a national profile and a comprehensive national platform, none are considered viable governments in waiting. What they are considered is a possible partner in a minority government.
Going into the election, some predicted the NDP could be eclipsed by the Green party, however, a better than expected campaign performance to date by party leader Jagmeet Singh may have changed this dynamic.
The fourth party leaders are appealing to voters on regional and/or issue-specific appeals.
Over the last number of years, the Green’s have staked out their ground as the poster party for environmental action. Voter interest in climate change and the environment is at an all-time high and this interest has contributed to the growth in the Green support, particularly in Quebec where disenfranchised NDP supporters look like they are parking their vote with the Greens.
Based on her exposure at the Maclean’s debate, May effectively demonstrated her hot button differentiation – she is the voice for climate change action – and is projected to attract NDP and Liberal votes. Her foreign policy and economic policy statements were less convincing for a national leader. However, given the public interest in climate change mitigation, we can expect to see growth for the Green’s in at least British Columbia and in Quebec as regional polling numbers have them running ahead of the NDP today. If there is a minority government, of either Liberal or Conservative, the Green Party is expected to use their position to force environmental priorities, spending on clean technology and to stop the pipeline expansion projects.
Maxime Bernier, leader of the newly formed right-leaning People’s Party, is having less national impact but is resonating with disaffected conservative voters. It is tough to break through with limited financial resources including for a national tour and limited ad spend. Bernier certainly used earned media to make headlines and attract ground support with the anti-mass immigration billboard in Halifax in the latter part of August. The ad spawned significant media attention and sparked interest in the PPC’s other policy positions of ‘less government’ and ‘pro-free market’ positions. Pockets of support for the PPC are strongest in AB and the Maritimes. What the PPC are likely to do before the national debates in early October, is preview other right-wing policies like enforcement of firearm laws with criminals, supply management and immigration policies ensuring Bernier’s platform is advanced prior to the debate. He is likely to be the disruptor given his newfound podium at the national debates differentiating his position from that of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
If there is a minority government, the PPC is expected to support the Conservatives, although at this stage that support may not be enough to provide the Conservatives with a viable mandate.
The Bloc Quebecois, Quebec’s only regional party, is attracting disenfranchised Liberal and NDP supporters. Tied with the Conservatives for support, they are working to mobilize voters with a new leader and a visible message related to Quebec’s economic independence. Considered a safe haven for voters unsure of who to support, the Bloc will have a chance to grow their support at the French language debate with a targeted appeal around ethics and Quebec-first interests. The Bloc’s growth objective is 16 to 18 seats. This could definitely impact on the Liberal’s re-election strategy and balance of power in a minority situation.
Watch for the divide and conquer strategy from each of the fourth parties.