After months of anticipation, Canadians will be heading to the polls in a federal election on October 21 — the last possible date allowable for the current parliament under its fixed term election law.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Liberal party leader, called the election in the hope of winning a majority of the 338 seats in the House of Commons in Ottawa. His Liberals had 177 Members of Parliament in the federal parliament, which uses the British first-past-the-post voting system. Only the Liberals and opposition Conservatives can expect to head into the campaign with any realistic chance of winning enough seats in the new parliament — and it is Trudeau who began the 40-day campaign at an advantage. The left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) has a untried and untested rookie leader who has failed to spark voters’ imagination — leaving Trudeau’s centre-left Liberals as the only alternative for those who support progressive policies.
Given the size of Canada — it is the second-largest nation on Earth but with a population of 37 million, most of whom live in large urban centres close to the US border — regional factors are significant in determining electoral fortunes on the national stage. Distances can be vast too — one constituency is the size of France but has just 42,000 voters.
The Liberals will be looking to retake most of the 76 seats they held in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, while also claiming the lion’s share of seats in the neighbouring French-speaking province of Quebec.
If there is a wild card, it’s that some 10 per cent of Canadians have indicated they will be willing to back the Green Party — acting as potential spoiler in seats where races are tight with the Conservatives.
Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives begin their march towards winning a majority of 169 seats or more with 95 already in their column. It’s difficult to imagine any one of those seats being at risk, the Conservative base being as solid, reliable and motivated as it is.
Liberals will be looking to retake most of the 76 seats they held in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, while also claiming the lion’s share of seats in the neighbouring French-speaking province of Quebec
Traditionally, the Conservatives have always polled well in the western province of Alberta — the party held all 34 seats there — and will be seeking to make gains in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, provinces sandwiched between the Conservative powerhouse and the Liberal stronghold in Ontario.
While each Canadian province has its own legislative assembly, Ontario’s unpopular Progressive Conservative government led by Premier Doug Ford may scupper Scheer’s hopes of maintaining or picking up seats in the commuter belt encircling Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Ford’s late brother Rob was the colourful mayor of Toronto who garnered headlines worldwide for his criminal drug habit.
Trudeau, his MPs and Liberal party campaign material have been trying to paint Ford and Scheer with the same brush.
Scheer’s party holds 11 of the 78 seats in Quebec. The collapse of the NDP under Jagmeet Singh may see them lose all 14 seats they held there.
In Atlantic Canada, Trudeau’s Liberals won all 32 seats in the four eastern provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s unlikely they can do that again — but they are polling at 40 per cent in regional opinion polls, well ahead of the Conservatives.
If the Greens are to make a breakthrough, the westernmost province of British Columbia seems likely fertile ground, with the party polling well on Vancouver Island — again benefiting from Singh’s NDP who look certain to lose three or more seats in the province.
Trudeau’s Liberals swept to power in November 2105, riding a crest of a personality cult that viewed him as refreshing and new — the antithesis of former prime minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative leader considered too close then to Republican candidate Donald Trump.
The 47-year-old married father of three may have history on his side. Not since 1935 has a Canadian prime minister who won a parliamentary majority in his first term been booted from office in the next election.
But Trudeau may not win enough seats to govern by himself after a series of missteps that called into question his leadership while cutting into his once sky-high popularity. That would leave him and his Liberals weakened, relying on opposition members of parliament to push through legislation. A Nanos Research poll released earlier this week showed the Liberals at 34.6 per cent — not quite enough for a parliamentary majority. Scheer’s Conservatives are at 30.7 per cent.