One year to the October 19, 2015 federal election

Brent Patterson
Dimanche 19 octobre 2014 - 13:50

A federal election will take place in Canada one year from today. At the very least, given there is some speculation that a snap election could take place this spring, we know that the opportunity to vote for a different federal government is no more than one year away.

By that time Stephen Harper will have been the prime minister for almost ten years (he first assumed office in February 2006). The polls would suggest that Canadians are ready for a change - and very likely toward a Liberal government. Earlier this month, an EKOS Research poll showed the Liberals at 38.7 per cent support, the Conservatives at 24.9 per cent, and the NDP at 24.4 per cent. And last week, a Nanos Research poll found 35 per cent of voters favoured Justin Trudeau as their prime minister, 30 per cent support Harper, and 17 per cent would prefer NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

Campbell Clark comments, "Ipsos-Reid found 49 per cent of Canadians approve of [Harper's] record – but 67 per cent want another party to take over. ...Clearly, many Liberals around Mr. Trudeau think that if there is a sentiment for change next year, it will not be driven just by disagreement with Mr. Harper’s policies so much as irritation with the way he does things after nine years in power. ...It will be a referendum on Stephen Harper’s persona, and Mr. Trudeau wants to be the other side. ...And if [voters] want a contrast of style, it is more likely to be Mr. Trudeau than Thomas Mulcair. The NDP Leader is sharp and strong-willed, but seen as scarcely more upbeat than the Prime Minister."

That said, it has been argued that Harper could win another majority with just one voter in four backing him - if four voters out of ten stay at home. Duncan Cameron writes, "The 25/60 rule says when only 60 per cent of Canadian citizens go out to vote, 25 per cent of the voters can deliver a majority government. In 2011, the Conservatives received 39 per cent of the vote, and won 53 per cent of the seats, because only 61 per cent of Canadians made the effort to vote. ...The disengagement from the electoral process is the key to the success of the Conservatives in Canada and of right-wing politics elsewhere."

And the Conservatives will work their base to keep power. Jennifer Ditchburn writes, "Groups that have long been regarded as the Conservative Party’s base of support have been getting extra attention as the 2015 election grows nearer." That includes statements supporting gun owners, funding for the conservation of recreational fishing areas, highlighting 'traditional family values' (as opposed to day care), and even reversing the RCMP decision to replace their muskrat fur hats with wool toques. But, "To secure another majority, the Conservatives must win over more than just their core supporters — pegged at somewhere around 30 per cent. To make up the next eight to ten per cent, Harper is treading familiar ground with an economic message that is focused on job creation, tax cuts and overall stability."

The war against the Islamic State could also make a difference. The authorization for this initial six-month mission would end in April or May, just a few months before the writ is dropped in September. A Global News/ Ipsos Reid poll conducted between September 30 and October 1 found that 64 per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat support Harper sending fighter jets to launch strikes against ISIS. And Trudeau's comment about Harper “whip(ing) out our CF-18s (to) show … how big they are" didn't play well. That said, the Globe and Mail has reported, "Pollster Nik Nanos said the mission carries a series of risks for the Harper government, in part because it could take months or longer to have any sense of how effective the combat mission has been."

And, of course, polls can change. Still, in studying federal elections back to 1979, Éric Grenier found that, "On average, PC or Conservative governments have gained 4.5 points in the last year of their mandate while the Liberals in Opposition have lost just under a point. ...But overall, incumbent governments have suffered at the ballot box compared to where they stood 12 months before, Harper's Conservatives are polling lower than most incumbents at this stage of their mandate and polls have generally not shifted enough to flip the identity of the eventual winner this far out from an election. The weight of evidence comes down against a Conservative re-election in 2015, but the case is far from conclusive."

If Harper were to win another majority government, Chantal Hébert argues, "History suggests that returning Harper to power could result in even more radical change." That's because, "The Conservative leader will return to office in the relative certainty that he will never have to face voters again." Among what we might expect in that scenario, Hébert lists, "A stalled pro-pipeline agenda that this prime minister has bet his economic legacy on. There are extraordinary constitutional powers that a federal government could consider to try to override provincial and local opposition to the pipeline projects." She also raises the spectre that Harper would be more open after an October 2015 election win to sending Canadian soldiers into a ground war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

While both Trudeau and Mulcair oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline and support a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, it is also true that Trudeau supports the Canada-European Union 'free trade' agreement and Mulcair is still studying the deal weeks after it was publicly released. So while a Liberal or NDP government, or even a coalition government, could bring some significant changes, would it mean an undoing of what Harper has done?

Thomas Walkom says, "The answer to that question is very unclear. Mulcair has said he would reverse some corporate tax cuts. Trudeau has said he would scrap the Conservatives’ latest Employment Insurance reforms and start all over again. ...But Canada Post is plowing ahead with plans to eliminate home delivery for almost 1.3 million households [and] neither Mulcair nor Trudeau is promising to reverse that decision... [And] they are crystal clear about Conservative tax cuts for individuals: They won’t touch them." Walkom adds, "[Harper's Conservatives] have shrunk government social programs while increasing government surveillance. They have reconfigured the penal and judicial systems. They have continued the process, begun under the Liberals, of scaling back the welfare state. Mulcair or Trudeau could begin to reverse these changes if either were to become prime minister a year from now. But would either do so?"

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow clearly makes the case against the Harper government in her Common Causes: Progressive forces acting together to build a better society report. In it she outlines Harper's long and (growing) list of attacks on democracy, environmental protections, public services, workers’ rights, indigenous communities, charitable organizations, independent scientists, civil liberties, and migrant, immigrant and refugee rights. She has also been critical of Trudeau. Barlow wrote in the Globe and Mail last November, "Canadians have a right to know where the Liberal Party stands on a variety of issues of far more import than whether or not to legalize marijuana." She pointedly asks five questions, including, "Will Justin Trudeau commit to a full funding partnership with the provinces and enforce the provisions of the Canada Health Act to maintain our public health care system?" And Barlow has criticized Mulcair considering support for the Canada-EU 'free trade' agreement to deflect Conservative attacks and appeal to centrist voters. She says, "We don’t need the NDP worrying about optics, for heaven’s sake. We need them standing up for the core values that they’ve always stood for."

Our plans to make a difference in the coming federal election will be outlined in the weeks to come, but our interventions are likely to include bringing social movement groups together to coordinate strategies, developing a people's platform of policies in the public interest, holding all parties accountable for the positions they take, producing a guide to clarify their policies for the electorate, responding in the media at critical moments, organizing all candidates meetings, and mobilizing people to vote through town hall meetings and door-to-door canvassing in swing ridings.