The next Canadian federal election isn’t until October, but the 2019 election campaign is already (unofficially) underway. Members of Parliament, and candidates, are out meeting as many constituents as they can every day, and political party leaders are all on the barbeque circuit. Where are the parties starting from and what are the biggest factors that will impact this year’s election campaign?
While the governing Liberals enjoyed an extended ‘honeymoon’ period after their 2015 majority victory, support for the government has fallen in the past year as it has dealt with the frustration of unmet expectations, accusations of scandal, and deep party divisions. This falling public support for the government has created an unpredictable electoral landscape, and we find ourselves looking at a very competitive election race.
Beyond dropping support for the incumbent government, there are other important trends to take note of at the outset of the election campaign season. The number of minority governments in Canada is at an all-time high (four), suggesting that Canadians are less wed to traditional voting patterns and are considering all their options. According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, nearly 14 per cent of Canadians are prepared to vote for parties or candidates that have never formed either a government or an Official Opposition. This must be sobering news for the Liberals, Conservatives, and New Democrats. Given this new voting intention, smaller parties may have an outsized impact on the election outcome; consider that in a June poll, 12% of Canadians say they would vote for the Green Party, and 44% say they would consider voting Green.
The increasing support for the Green Party is arguably shaping up the be the biggest disruptor in the coming election race. Identified as a top issue for young voters, a growing concern for the environment in the broader population may significantly impact the election outcome at the federal level if that concern translates into votes for the Green Party. A recent Forum poll found that 26 per cent of respondents identified the environment as their top concern in the coming campaign, ahead of more traditional issues like the economy and health care and a recent Abacus poll found 9 million Canadians identified the environment as a top election issue. Will that level of concern translate to votes for the Green Party on election day? No one is certain, but all parties are taking the issue of the environment and climate change seriously and we can expect vigorous debate about the merits of each party’s plan to protect the environment.
Another notable factor that will shape the upcoming election is the regional political division in the country. Where you call home often affects how you see the issues, and how you might vote. For instance, the economy is the top issue in western Canada, while the environment ranks higher in central Canada. Where Canadians stand on pipelines, a carbon tax, immigration, agriculture, housing and trade, is in large measure determined by where they live in Canada. The threat of regional alienation is as real today as it has been at any other time in our country’s history. Bridging these regional divides will require a careful balancing act by politicians and we should expect these regional divides to impact the parties’ policy commitments and the broader election campaign.
As significant as regional differences are in this election, demographic differences may be as important. A CBC poll published in early July of this year showed that while new Canadians still favour the Liberal Party, many Indigenous voters have lost confidence in the Liberals, and first time voters are drifting to the New Democratic Party and Green Party. The level of support from Indigenous voters for the Liberal Party has dropped 17% since 2015, with the Green Party benefitting most from the drop in Liberal support. And while 39% of new Canadians say they still intend to vote for the Liberal Party, that is a 6% drop in support from 2015. Finally, while first time voters came out to vote in record numbers in 2015 and helped to give the Liberals a majority government, young voters are turning to the NDP and Green Party in almost equal numbers, suggesting the Liberal advantage with young voters may be dissipating.
Heading into the election campaign, Canada’s political story is a tale both old and new. Familiar regional differences are layered against new and emerging voting priorities and changing voting patterns. Our politicians should expect a campaign that is informed by traditional political dynamics but challenged by generational change and emerging existential global issues like climate change.