Post-Labour day week marks the halfway point in this election campaign and the beginning of its second stage. Political parties begin to deploy more resources (ads and tours) and campaigns are fully operational. NDP and Liberal leaders’ planes are taking off and we’re seeing increasingly more significant policy and program announcements from all sides as they prepare for the second national debate focused on a key issue—the economy.
The tragic Syrian refugee crisis and Canada’s response has dominated media coverage this week—in many ways, deepening the perceived divide between Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats. Where Conservatives have approached the issue with a reasoned, rational appeal to voters’ heads, Liberals and New Democrats opted for a more compassionate appeal to voters’ hearts—a contrast that’s impacting the campaign’s overarching dynamic and narrative.
Conservatives have been stumbling with their approach to the refugee crisis. Prime Minister Harper’s tone and mood seems out-of-touch with how Canadians are feeling. While some foreign governments and provinces pledged support, Harper’s initial decision not to amend previously announced plans for refugee support had a negative effect on the Conservative campaign. As the week comes to a close, Harper is laying out a more detailed program to address what’s seen as a ‘head’ not ‘heart’ approach to the crisis.
Unrelated issues continue to negatively affect the Conservative campaign—such as candidates’ social media posts, Duffy trial remnants and campaign team changes—which has manifested into a loss of  support over the past week as Conservatives slip into third place in some polls. Tories started off the campaign with their traditional base locked, and were looking to grow support and take advantage of vote splits where possible. In the past month, Conservatives lost almost five points to the Liberals in national polling averages—sparking a number of targeted regional announcements such as support for the lobster industry and continued tax credits roll-outs.
In contrast to Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau has worn his heart on his sleeve throughout the campaign. Though initially mocked for promising to grow the economy “from the heart,” his approach has positioned him as more compassionate leader—demonstrated through his stance on the Syrian refugee crisis and during much of his CBC interview with Peter Mansbridge earlier this week.
Liberals are appealing to the ‘heart’ of voters through many of their policy announcements. Affordable housing and expanded employment insurance coverage are two social policy announcements unveiled just this past week. Liberals are also continuing targeted funding announcements to specific ridings—such as transit announcements for Richmond Hill, Edmonton and Vancouver—aiming at provoking issues and voting support.
Liberal polling numbers have increased, as seen by the Nanos Nightly Tracking Poll, which puts the Liberals in first place nationally, and ahead in the Maritimes and Ontario. Exceeding expectations on the campaign trail, Trudeau is continuing to differentiate his campaign with his economic policies and appeal to key regions. Trudeau announced he will not participate in the Munk debate, stating it isn’t “bilingual enough” and that tickets for attendance are too expensive—mostly dedicated to elite Munk Centre members.
In some ways, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has tried to strike a balance between ‘heads’ and ‘hearts’—making significant efforts early on to move his party towards the centre of the political spectrum, promising balanced budgets and recently, plans to boost the aerospace and auto sectors. These overt appeals to voters’ heads were intended to close the gap with Harper on the economy. Though, following the troubling images out of Turkey, Mulcair has pivoted to more emotional appeals to voters’ hearts, pledging to end Canada’s military mission in the Middle East.
To many, Mulcair—like Harper—lacks Trudeau’s personal charisma and does not appear as ‘friendly’ in some formats. When the NDP announced its plan for Syrian refugees, it was not publicized to the same degree as the Liberals’ response, ceding the ‘heart’ of the issue to Trudeau. The NDP’s approach to create equality for all is more difficult for people to grasp than the Liberal’s economic stimulus approach.
The NDP continues to consolidate its base. The party is ahead in B.C., amidst a slight drop from last week, and predicted to win about half of the vote in Quebec where it’s supported by the influential labour group, FTQ. In Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Labour is giving its unequivocal support to the NDP, while Unifor is endorsing incumbent New Democrat MPs, but urging its members to vote strategically in other ridings for whichever party has the best chance to beat the Conservatives.
Many key issues remain unaddressed in the election campaign, despite other stakeholder- and interest-group efforts. Pharmacare, home care and supply management have yet to be raised by the three main parties; however, a possible Trans-Pacific Partnership ministerial meeting announcement could re-ignite the conversation on the fate of the supply managed system.
We anticipate few policy announcements next week since party leaders will be gearing up for the Globe and Mail and Google Canada Debate next Thursday night, September 17. We expect the NDP will release its platform and cost-out its expenditures prior to the debate. The NDP and Greens are the only parties likely to release a policy platform document in this campaign. Liberal’s famed Red-Book and five key priorities from the Conservatives appear to be replaced by daily policy announcements, strategic media and targeted connections with Canadians.
The televised economic debate is expected to further differentiate the leaders’ approaches to balanced budgets, deficit management and taxation policy, as well as measures to stimulate job creation and economic growth. Harper’s appeal to voters’ heads through his rational economic management program will be contrasted to Trudeau and Mulcair’s appeals to voters’ hearts with targeted spending and a stimulus approach.