As increasing media attention focuses on the current situation in Turkey and Syria as well as domestic American politics and the ongoing Trump-Ukraine situation, Canada’s upcoming federal election on October 21 has entered a new phase of intensity and bitterness. At a delayed rally held recently in Mississauga near Toronto, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is running for re-election to a second term, wore a bulletproof vest and was surrounded by a tactical team and plainclothes officers due to unspecified threats against him. It’s an unprecedented step for a Canadian politician. Even recalling the fatal shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and attempted storming of federal parliament by a lone gunman inspired by Islamic extremism in 2014, politics in Canada is generally fairly low-key compared to how politics plays out south of the border.
Nonetheless, Canadian politics has transitioned into a more American-style partisanship in the last few years, especially since Trudeau’s decisive victory in Canada’s 2015 election. In the lead up to this month’s election authorities say they have been tracking online posts advocating political violence and note that there has been an uptick in online commentary excusing or encouraging violence. Although many voters have been left unenthusiastic in what some are terming an election about nothing, it is clear that Canada’s political climate has become a little less polite this time around. Right-wing propaganda outlets like the Rebel have helped spark angry resentment and protest of Trudeau, while many left-wing parties and political figures have chosen to fully inhabit a place of childishly reactive and intense opposition to anything within a mile of the word conservative, especially on social issues which Canada’s centre and left parties falsely contend have already been settled by near-unanimous consensus among the Canadian public.
As can be seen from 338 Canada’s electoral projection map, the Conservatives and Liberals enjoy different pockets of support, with the Liberals enjoying strong backing in various urban centres and the Conservatives and NDP (democratic socialist party) getting strong support in various rural areas. Voters remain undecided in some cases and there is a good chance this race could go either way, but analysts agree the race is tight and it certainly could go to Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives, particularly in light of discovery that Trudeau engaged in blackface multiple times in the past. The resulting dip Trudeau experienced in the polls, as well as disappointment from his left-leaning supporters over his approval of a controversial pipeline project and a major scandal (the SNC-Lavalin Affair) involving resignation of Trudeau’s attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould and him kicking her out of the Liberal party add to his political vulnerability.
As parties to the left of Trudeau like the NDP and Greens gain support, the Conservatives benefit. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been clear about his openness to form a coalition against the Conservatives should they win, showing that he understands the very real possibility that Trudeau’s time is up. For his part, Trudeau has been telling voters that Conservatives will cut all sorts of government services and be bad for working families, pointing to the example of Ontario Premier Doug Ford and cuts he’s made to the province of Ontario. Conservative fortunes have been incrementally rising and enthusiasm for Trudeau does appear to be on the wane among some of his less committed past voters. With underwhelming voter enthusiasm, participation may also be low, and it all bodes well for the Conservatives.
As Scheer has remarked, despite a late release of the party platform, the Conservative strategy is quite simple: to pitch himself and his party as the party of working Canadians to make life more affordable and “put more money in their pocket.” Scheer has also been speaking out against foreign aid, foreign direct investment in the energy sector and “corporate welfare” as a symptom of high government spending especially going to profitable companies as unnecessary deficit ballooning. Scheer’s savvy strategy is to present Trudeau as untrustworthy and a high-taxing, corrupt leader who is detached from the lives of ordinary Canadians. This is a politely Canadian riff on the “anti-establishment” tack which has been showing up as particularly effective in elections around the world in our current political moment.
The federal leaders’ debate on Oct. 7 was mainly a stage of adults bickering and undercutting each other constantly like grade-schoolers, but did result in slight surges of support for conservative defector Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party and the NDP. Although the People’s Party has the potential to sap votes from the Conservatives, the bulk of Canada’s politics is on the centre and left, making it more likely that flagging support for Trudeau and the Liberals going to other left parties could result in a Conservative Victory next week.